Ask Ken Metrick how long he's been going to the Butler Farm Show and his response is swift.
"All my life,'' he said, laughing. "I don't think I've missed one since I was born."
Mr. Metrick is 45 and, for the past 21 years, has attended the show as a member of the board of directors.
"I can remember when I was a little boy, all the farm tractors that used to be there. When I was 3 or 4 years old, I had to sit on every tractor that was there, and I remember my dad picking me up on those tractors."
It's that rich history that brings so many people to the show each year. Mr. Metrick, of the Mount Chestnut section of Franklin, Butler County, starts getting calls during the winter from people who plan their vacations around the six-day show, which will open tomorrow, run through Saturday and offer something for everyone.
The show started 60 years ago as a plowing contest and grew into a full-fledged fair that includes a midway with rides, food and, most important, a wide variety of agricultural events.
Mr. Metrick runs Harvest View Farms, just a mile from the Butler Farm Show grounds on Route 68 west of Butler. He believes it's the highlight of the summer in Butler County and has watched as generations have brought their animals to the show.
"The same people are still there, but now we're there with our kids. And our kids are showing cattle and showing pigs and doing things at the farm show."
He stresses the importance of educating people who visit the show each year.
"Fifty years ago, a lot of the people who live in the city had a grandfather or uncle that lived on the farm," he said. "Maybe they got to go there on Sunday, but they still had that touch.
"But now we're a generation away from that. It's neat to educate them, where the food comes from and how safe it is."
Visitors can walk though barns and see just about any farm animal and chat with those who care for the creatures. The show has commercial exhibits, such as displays from home builders and landscapers. It also offers magic shows, bull riding, a bear show, a tractor pull, paddle boat and airplane rides, live music and a demolition derby.
Much of the show revolves around youngsters and 4-H.
Donna Zang is the county extension director for the Penn State Cooperative Extension Service in Butler County. She's one of a team of workers who coordinate everything about the 4-H events. For these kids, this is the culmination of a year of hard work raising animals and working on projects.
Ms. Zang said there's something special about the show.
"I like the community atmosphere, the emphasis on tradition, the livestock shows, the dairy shows. I just think it's a nice event."
Thursday night is when most of the livestock is sold. Ms. Zang considers that evening one of the most important of the week: "For the most part, kids are raising these animals to fund their college education.''
Ms. Zang believes the show offers something for both farmers and visitors.
"It's important for the agricultural community, it's an opportunity for them to come together. It's friendly competition, but it's also a means of evaluating what you're doing compared to what your neighbor might be doing as far as production."
She also hopes that people who come to the show get a sense of the role that family farms play in the food chain.
"I think it's as important now as it's ever been, maybe more so, that the general public understands what agriculture is all about -- what it takes to produce food, that we understand that milk comes from a dairy cow."
General admission for the Butler Farm Show includes all rides and will be $6 tomorrow and $7 the rest of the week. Some events in the grandstand cost $3 to $4 in addition to the general admission price.
For a complete list of events and more information, go to www.butlerfarmshow.com.
Doug Oster can be reached at 724-772-9177 or firstname.lastname@example.org .