There are milkshakes, and then there are Farm Show milkshakes — the crème de la crème of indulgence and nostalgia that dates back an astounding 60 years.
Together, the Pennsylvania Dairymen’s Association and Valley Grange #1360 of Lewisberry, Pa., brought these iconic dairy treats to the Farm Show Food Court in 1955 and it’s been a must-have ever since.
While celebrating their 60-year milestone during the 98th Farm Show, Harrisburg, Pa., which was held Jan. 3-11, the two organizations were celebrated for their milkshakes as well as supporting the dairy industry.
According to David Smith, executive director of the Pennsylvania Dairymen’s Association, most of the money the stand generates is donated after turning a profit. Smith said that during the past year, roughly $200,000 has been returned to the agriculture community in some way — to support the Center for Dairy Excellence, the Pennsylvania Dairy Princess and Promotion Services, the Penn State Dairy Challenge and dairy judging teams, agriculture education programs through Professional Dairy Managers of Pennsylvania, and other organizations as well.
More than $1 million has been donated in the past 20 years to youth development programs, including FFA programs and scholarships for dairy students.
“One of the toughest things,” Smith said, “is to land a budget in the spring. There is a lot of need and our board of directors tries to put money where it is best spent.”
Smith has been working at the stand for 19 years, right alongside the more than 400 Grange volunteers that make and sell milkshakes including the three “Golden Girls” — Fae Snyder, Janet Eppley and Betty Yinger — who have been serving milkshakes since the 1950s.
Smith acknowledges that at times it can “get a little hairy.” If you’ve ever seen the line for milkshakes in the Food Court, you can understand why. Smith estimates that about 140,000 milkshakes were served during the 2013 Farm Show. “How can you go wrong with a milkshake?” Smith asked with a chuckle during a phone interview recently. “It’s a pretty intense operation. It’s a pretty high volume. It’s a lot of people. You need to have all your ducks in a row.”
They certainly do. From 60 years ago when the milkshake process was more about manual labor and scooping ice cream into a blender, the process is now more streamlined with 15 automated mixers, 14,000 gallons of milk and Pennsylvania-made milkshake mix — a pre-made milk product that is used with chocolate or vanilla flavoring. To maintain production, 35 people work each of three shifts per day.
“I would say that to get to the 60-year point, we have a pretty good product to continue that long,” said Smith. “It’s got some recognition and people keep coming back.”
A “Raise Your Shake” celebration was held Jan. 3 at the complex with Gov. Tom Corbett, David Smith, FFA members and others to commemorate the “legendary” milkshakes. Additionally, the famous butter sculpture on display depicted the milkshake stand and two cows dancing, with the slogan “Still Shakin’” on a banner.
The milkshake legend began in 1954 with J. Collins McSparren, former Pennsylvania Dairymen’s vice president and then secretary of the State Grange, who thought a booth at the Farm Show might be a good idea. The milkshakes were sold for 25 cents each — compared to $4 this year — and ended up totaling 90 percent of the booth’s sales.
In addition to milkshakes, the stand also currently sells deep-fried mozzarella cubes with marinara sauce, toasted cheese sandwiches, sundaes, ice cream cones, and chocolate and white milk.
The stand’s continued success depends on efficiency, dairy farmers and returning milkshake fanatics. “There are some huge crowds at Farm Show,” Smith said. “We have to gear up for that volume and increase capacity. We have to find ways to increase production — we can’t be complacent. Our goal is to increase and look at ways to get the product across the counter — without sacrificing the quality.”
Visit www.farmshow.state.pa.us or www.facebook.com/PADairymens for more information.