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Farm show brings together tradition and innovation

Think tractors – big shiny tractors – and combines. And smaller all-terrain vehicles.

And sawdust, fertilizer and a parking lot full of pickup trucks. All at the Western New York Farm Show at the Fairgrounds in Hamburg.

Plus a beef sundae.

Yes, a meal that looks like a sweet treat courtesy of the New York State Beef Producer’s Association. Representing all types of agriculture, the beef sundae sums up farming in a little bowl: mashed potatoes, pot roast, gravy, french fries and cheddar cheese, topped with a dollop of sour cream and a cherry tomato.

It’s back by popular demand, after the beef producers made chili one year and got an earful about it from the disappointed show regulars.

At this show for a business that accounts for nearly $2 billion in sales in the 12 counties of Western New York, you’ll also find the latest trends that would interest the upscale city dweller with an urban plot, like organic farming, natural feed, LED lights and solar and wind energy.

And there’s down-home fun at this home show for farmers, like the Farmer Elite Toss. That’s the hay bale throwing contest, not where they throw the farmers.

As of Friday, Clay Moden of WYRK Radio had the longest toss at 31 feet, 2 inches. But Blaine Iskula of Randolph came close Thursday, with a toss of 30 feet, 5 inches. The longest throw on Friday was 30 feet.

Turn the corner from the hay bale toss, and you run into Lee Garigen of Pike, who sells sawdust by the tractor truckload for LVM Materials in Bliss.

The kiln-dried, ground-up lumber is used for bedding for dairy cattle, “from the little ones right on up through the big ones.” Like most everyone you meet here, he used to work on a farm, although he hasn’t since he was a kid, he said.

“Most people don’t realize where their stuff comes from,” Garigen said. “They think just go to the grocery store, everything’s there.”

Ten thousand are expected to stroll through the free show before it ends at 3 p.m. Saturday. They could run into someone like Gene Muniak, checking out the robotic milking unit at the DeLaval booth, an international corporation with sales approaching $1 billion.

“We don’t have that,” Muniak said of the contraption. “We got 34 cows, and we milk them by old buckets.”

He was there with his nephew, the third generation to work the family’s Attica farm. Muniak said he’s been in a wheelchair for 39 years.

“I broke my back 39 years ago,” Muniak said. “I got underneath a hay wagon, got rolled up with my feet.”

But that doesn’t seem to slow him down much. He said he drives tractors, does manual work, mows the lawn and scrapes manure in the barn.

“I loved it before I got hurt,” he said. “What other job can you do that you don’t have somebody telling you what to do? Especially on a small farm. You take care of your business, you take care of your animals, you do a good job.”

It’s a business with sales of $1.8 billion in Western New York, accounting for 34 percent of the agricultural sales in New York State.

There’s nothing more traditional about farming than the Grange, the 150-year-old organization advocating for rural America and agriculture which has a booth at the farm show. Membership dwindled in the 1970s and 1980s, but the organization founded by farmers upset at the monopolizing railroads is making a comeback, said Kathy Miller, statewide director of membership.

“People need to put more value on the American family traditions, the good wholesome traditions in their hometown roots,” she said. “The farmers need to be supported. Just because the price of that gallon of milk is going up a little bit doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going directly to that farmer.”