Jan. 13 2023 08:00 AM

Butter sculptures at consumer events highlight dairy in a special way.

“Where’s the butter sculpture?”

Unquestionably, the butter sculpture is one of the most popular attractions at the Pennsylvania Farm Show and the New York State Fair, and the hundreds of thousands of show-goers want to find it as soon as they hit the grounds.

American Dairy Association North East works closely with the state agriculture departments and state facilities to orchestrate the entire process for the highly-anticipated, high-profile buttery creation — from selecting the theme to the top-secret unveiling events to the recycling of the butter after the shows.

Just unveiled at the 2023 Pennsylvania Farm Show on January 5, the 32nd sculpture, which always complements the theme of the annual event, was “Pennsylvania Dairy: Rooted in Progress for Generations to Come.” It features several generations of a dairy farm family celebrating how they work together to produce milk in a sustainable way.

At the 2022 New York State Fair, the 54th butter sculpture, “Refuel Her Greatness —Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Title IX” shone a spotlight on female athletes and how today’s athletes refuel with chocolate milk.

Ultimately, the best part of the butter sculptures is the positive attention they bring to the states’ dairy industries and dairy farm families. We always include a local dairy farmer to share his or her story as part of the unveiling to help consumers make a connection with those who are producing milk and dairy. The events typically grab media attention locally and from across the country and pull in millions of media impressions.

This year, Steven Harnish from Central Manor Dairy in Lancaster County, Pa., spoke at the Farm Show unveiling, saying, “This sculpture could be my own family. It’s a meaningful way to show how dairy farmers work with their loved ones on the land where they have deep roots, while always farming for the future.”

Both sculptures are carved from nearly 1,000 pounds of butter. In Pennsylvania the butter is donated by the Land O’Lakes plant in Carlisle, Pa., and in New York, Wegman’s is the sponsor.

One of the most common misconceptions is that the final sculpture is a solid hunk of butter. SPOILER ALERT — the butter is actually softened and spread on an armature designed and built by sculptors and artists Jim Victor and Marie Pelton from Conshohocken, Pa. They’ve been creating the designs for both state shows for nearly two decades.

“Creating art that showcases the hard work of dairy farmers is an immense source of pride for us,” said Victor. Pelton added, “We also enjoy knowing that the sculpture tells an impactful story about the importance of dairy farming.”

After each show, volunteers scrape the butter off the frames. In Pennsylvania, it is Reinford Farms of Mifflintown and in New York, it is Noblehurst Farms in Linwood that retrieve the butter to recycle in their on-farm digesters. The media also always picks up this part of the story, which shows how dairy farmers are committed to sustainability and care about their communities.

We can’t say whether the original idea for a butter sculpture was to help build trust in dairy, but we can say that’s what the butter sculptures are doing now. So, everything really is better with butter!

Jean Kummer

Jean Kummer is the industry communications specialist for American Dairy Association North East.