HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — They came from far and wide — from Indiana and Georgia, to name two states from which abc27 News met families — for the first Pa. Farm Show in two years.

But not as many came as in 2019.

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No one knows the precise decline in attendance, because there are no tickets to tabulate. The farm show, after all, is free.

But if what you saw in person or on TV looked like a more lightly-attended fair than in the past, “that is not your imagination,” said Shannon Powers, press secretary for Pennsylvania’s Department of Agriculture, which runs the farm show. “As expected, there are fewer people here.”

To gauge the decline, look at proxy indicators:

  • Powers said entries in competitions declined by more than 9,800 since 2019’s record show, from 12,000 to more like 3,000.
  • Sherri’s Crab Cakes sold fewer than half as many crab cakes than in 2019, said Bridget Behney, whose family runs the business. “Normally I feel like we’d have a steady line throughout the day” instead of Friday’s more sporadic lunchtime business. Still, half is a lot better than 2020’s zero: Behney said it was great to be back.
  • Ken Robertson always parks in the remote parking lot and takes a shuttle. “You’d come here a few years ago, and you couldn’t get a parking spot,” he said. Today “I paid my fee and I came in, and I was one of two cars parked in the handicap spots. And it was like, ‘Where’s everybody?'”

Social distancing happened not only because of the sparser crowd but also because of steps the Ag Department took, some because of the pandemic and some planned coincidentally before it.

“Our aisles have widened from 10 to 15 feet,” Powers said. “We have a new HVAC system — better air quality, and that’s noticeable if you’ve been here before.”

Also, new this year: carry-out craft beer, planned before carry-out beer became “a thing” at restaurants during the pandemic.

Don’t blame Holly Mangen of New Castle, Indiana — northeast of Indianapolis — for the decline in attendance. She was at the farm show for the first time but — based on her review — likely not the last.

“I like it a lot,” Mangen said. “I saw all the show chickens and show bunnies, so that’s cool.”