Franklin County agriculture opens its doors for 25th annual event Saturday, Sept. 19

The Diehls bale lots of hay in the fields of Cornerstone Dairy.

The Franklin County Farm Bureau has reached a milestone in its efforts to share the story of agriculture with its neighbors. On Saturday, Sept. 19, the bureau will celebrate its 25th annual Franklin Fall Farm Fun Fest from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Cornerstone Dairy, 241 Mickey Inn Road, Chambersburg. Dennis, Lisa, Julia and Brandon Diehl are the hosts.

The county farm bureau has hosted the event each fall since 1991 when Hamilton Heights Dairy Farm and Hillside Poultry opened its doors to the public. Each year a working dairy farm has been opened to the public and for most of those years a second nearby agriculture or ag-related site has also been featured. Thousands of people come each year to get an up close look at a farm.

In 1997 an Agriculture Education Institute was added on the Thursday and Friday before the Saturday event. This year 2,100 fourth-graders from throughout the county attended the institute.

Through the years

Bill and Anna Swailes from the Path Valley area initiated the first farm fest. It was an immediate success.

“People wanted to come to the farm,” said Anna. “We opened the communication.

“Everything we were doing was interesting to people, things we didn’t even realize.”

Bill agreed that the event was just the ticket the public was looking for. “We didn’t think anything like that was being done. We have three generations, maybe four, who know very little idea of how their food is grown. This helps them find out.”

In 2004, Ernie and Anna Bert took over leadership of the event.

“We believe in ag education,” said Anna Bert. “It’s very important in our community today because of the fact that there are so many less farm kids and exposure to agriculture.”

Ernie added there’s a lack of awareness and people are so distant from production agriculture today. “That’s why anything we can do to open up a farm and create the education level in a constructive way is great. There’s not enough of that. It’s not going to get any easier or better.”

Still going strong

Vernon Horst and Melissa Keefer assumed co-leadership of the bureau’s Promotion and Education Committee a few years ago.

“I see this as a great way to tell our story,” said Horst. “We are so many generations removed from the farm compared to what it was 50 years ago, and we need to be able to tell people where their food comes from. We need to tell them what we do on a farm and why we do what we’re doing.”

Keefer is especially pleased the institute continues to be a vital part of the effort. “The kids are our future. If they're not involved, it just defeats the purpose. It's a year long in the planning, but it's very worth it.”

Horst added, “We have such a great message not only on the nutritional value of our dairy products, but also the sustainability message and what we are doing with our fields and how environmentally conscious we are. We need to tell them how we care for our animals. We have a tremendous story to tell.”

2015 location

Cornerstone Dairy is one of 440 dairy farms in Franklin County. Dairy comprises the largest part of agriculture in Franklin County, generating more than $187 million in production each year. Franklin County is ranked second among 67 counties for dairy production within Pennsylvania. There are 42,700 milk cows on Franklin County’s dairy farms. Each of those cows produces an average of 19,906 pounds of milk annually. That means Franklin County dairy animals produce 850 billion gallons of milk each year. Dairy is growing in Pennsylvania. In 2014 Pennsylvania was the only state in the United States to add dairy farms.

Milk from Franklin County farms is consumed in liquid form and is used to make dairy products, including cheese, butter, yogurt, cottage cheese and ice cream.

The Diehls have 120 cows in their mature herd. The original barn on the property is used for milking the cows and storing the hay. The facilities are efficient, well-planned and well-managed to make for a smooth operation.

Cornerstone Dairy Farm consists of 240 acres and the Diehls also rent 50 more acres. The land is used for pasture and it is also used to grow corn, alfalfa/grass hay and barley. While there are more than 100 cows which consume much of the workload, dairy is not the only enterprise at Cornerstone. It also runs on diversity.

Livestock hauling, along with growing and marketing hay to horse owners, provides added commercial production for the agriculture operation. An added bonus is a variety of smaller farm animals on the premises.

The future

Micah Meyers attended the institute as a fourth-grader in 1999. He is now the president of the farm bureau.

“It’s very exciting. It’s a great event. There’s so much that can be learned hands-on from the event,” he related. “It’s such a unique event. Every farm is different so it gives the kids and the community the opportunity to see a farm that may be in their back yard. They can actually go onto that farm.”

He is also pleased that the organization has been able to bring the agricultural community together to produce the event for 25 years, and they have no plans to stop.

“Absolutely we will continue it. As long as there’s opportunity there we will continue to do this.

“We see the importance of agricultural education. We realize that not everybody understands agriculture just like we might not understand another industry. It goes hand-in-hand. We want to give the opportunity for our neighbors to see how a farm operates.”