HUNTINGDON - A young boy stood ready with a long wooden cane as a man lifted a cage from a 277-pound pig Friday morning.
The boy gave the pig a few sharp taps with his cane, pushing it around a fenced-off area as an auctioneer rattled off numbers for a crowd of farmers and Huntingdon County locals.
"A-hundred-ten, 10, 10, 15, 15 ... Forty-five, 45, five-five-five, 45 ..." the auctioneer chanted.
Mirror photos by Patrick Waksmunski
Carlee Hess, 9, of Huntingdon leads Littel Hawk in the Junior Miniature Horse Jumping
competition at the Huntingdon County Fair.
The Huntingdon County Fair, like so many others in Pennsylvania, revolves around young people's efforts. But with the face and science of agriculture changing, keeping children interested in farming is more important than ever, fair President Jim Davis said Friday.
"The biggest concern is that we don't lose the kids," Davis said.
Six animal species were available for sale Friday, he said, all raised by children and young adults. As the day progressed, children could be seen leading pigs, lambs and goats into the auction pit while adults tallied and photographed their work.
"The kids who've been raised around agriculture are really dedicated to it," said Barry Anderson, a worker at the fair's farm museum, a long, warehouse-like pavilion packed with antique farm implements and vehicles.
There's less interest in agriculture than in past decades, Anderson said, and where a small-scale farmer used to work the land full time, now he needs a second job just to support his plot.
But young people interested in the field today have access to more knowledge than ever before, he said.
"With the Internet, they can get information about almost anything. Before, your county agent gave you that information," Anderson said.
And for the generation selling livestock at this week's county fair, agriculture is at least as much about biology and hard science as it is physical labor, he said.
"Many of them today don't know anything but 'jump on a tractor and go,'" Anderson said.
Gone are the days when, for $175, a farmer could get a kit at Sears Roebuck that turned a Ford Model A into a makeshift tractor, or when woman made dresses from floral-decorated feed sacks, he said.
"It's country, yeah. But that's what agriculture is. It's country."
And at first glance, the fair is still solidly "country" - an RV parked along the fairgrounds sported a Confederate flag while kids in work boots and plaid shirts stomped through mud from stall to stall.
But behind that image, the agricultural education young attendees received is a bit more futuristic, Davis said.
Even with schools facing budget cuts, area 4-H and Future Farmers of America clubs remain well funded, he said.
And students at the fair could take in lectures on modern farming, he said, as society discusses the future of high-tech and genetically modified farm products.
"We have a ways to go yet," Davis said.
"But here is where we can bridge the gap."
The fair ends today.
Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.