When thinking about a typical work day at EPA, butter sculptures don’t generally come to mind. However, a visit to the 2014 Pennsylvania Farm Show forever changed my expectations.
Hosted annually in Harrisburg, the Pennsylvania Farm Show is the largest indoor farm show in the nation, boasting approximately 1,300 exhibits and 6,000 live animals.
Members of several EPA water programs—both from EPA headquarters in Washington and our regional office in Philadelphia—were invited to Harrisburg by PennAg Industries Association, which advocates for Pennsylvania agricultural producers. Our visit was part of EPA’s ongoing efforts to learn about agriculture and to work with rural communities and agricultural stakeholders. We want to both help agricultural businesses and promote healthier waters.
Entering the complex, we made our way through the dense crowds. My senses were awakened immediately by the contrasting smells of cooked bacon and fresh manure. PennAg staff gave us a tour of their “Today’s Agriculture” exhibit.
A makeshift barn had been erected where cows, pigs, chickens and ducks were held in conditions that simulate livestock operation conditions. Outside of the barn, a stream, complete with live fish, had been built to demonstrate the connection between agriculture and water quality.
As we took in the exhibits, we were able to introduce ourselves to agriculture producers and business owners. Each took time to answer our questions, and ask us questions of their own. Producers discussed best practices for manure storage and application, and the importance of clean water. We asked farmers for insights into technologies or practices that would help their productivity while ensuring water quality. EPA hopes to engage and empower rural stakeholders by connecting directly with industry members to learn what producers need to thrive in an environmentally-beneficial manner. To do that, we have to understand the conditions that producers face in the proverbial “trenches.”
Our visit left us with some important takeaways. First, our agricultural partners often go unnoticed. How many of us buy eggs without ever visiting an egg-laying operation? Second, agricultural stakeholders and EPA both want thriving businesses, healthy communities and clean water. Third, there are many more insights that EPA can glean from agribusiness, and much that we can share. Finally, every day at work without a butter sculpture is a minor letdown.
For more information about EPA’s work on animal feeding operations, visit
About the Author: Joseph Ziobro is an ORISE participant in the Rural Branch of the Water Permits Division at EPA. Joseph supports the National Permit Discharge Elimination System permit program for concentrated animal feeding operations.