Subscribe via Email

If you're not receiving email notifications of new posts, subscribe by entering your email...

A Creative Community Shows Off at the Heath Fair

Heath Fair Exhibit Hall

Our creative community got to display its imagination and skill at the 95th Annual Heath Fair from August 17-19. The Hall exhibits range from flowers, flower arrangements, vegetables and fruits on a plate or in jars, cookies, bread, maple confections, eggs, ciders, honey, quilts, knitted or crocheted hats, sweater and scarves, lego constructions, photography, art of every sort – and all categories are organized by age. Ribbons and money can be won by everyone!

Friends of the Library Book Sale Tent

I spent a lot of time working at the Friends of the Heath Library Book Sale – as I do every year. Donors of books know this is the best way to recycle books, and the pleasure they have already harvested from them while helping the library fund children’s programming and – more books. We love books in Heath!

Peter Brown - Photographer and Author

This year there were even more books than usual at the Fair. Betsy Kovacs and Jack Estes of Pleasure Boat Studio, a Literary Press, are now spending much of their time living in Heath. They organized a Local Authors tent to add to the Fair’s offerings and festivities. They collected the works of an amazing number of very local authors, and the authors themselves to read, sign and sell their books. Their list included me! I was there to read chapters from my book, The Roses at the End of the Road.  Peter Brown, pictured above, has been a part-time resident of Heath since before he was born. In a manner of speaking. His parents met in Heath when they were very young and although Robert McAfee Brown and Sydney Brown went on to notable careers far away from Heath they drove here every summer. Those trips across the Plains from California to Heath and back made a big impression on Peter who now has two beautiful books of magnificent photographs published by Norton: On the Plains, and West of Last Chance. Peter has had a stunning career both as an artist and teacher which you can read about briefly here. We Heathans are proud to claim him as one of our own.

Others who read at the Author’s Tent were Tinky Weisblat, author of the Pudding Hollow Cookbook (which includes a recipe of mine!) and of the What’s A Girl to Do Blog. I do not have any other good friends who are such good cooks and good writers. Tinky spoke with the illustrious Alice Parker (they both live in Hawley and have known each other for eons) who brought her books on music and recordings. Susan Todd was there reading Carol Purington’s poetry. I have written about Carol and her work, and her family’s roses in earlier posts. Susan’s husband Dick Todd also read from his latest book, The Thing Itself.  Laura Rodley, Jody Cothey, Dave Howland, Michael Hoberman, Susie Chang, Alfred Alcorn, Deborah McCutchen, Saloma Furlong,  and Jim Carse all read from their books. Talk about local creativity and skill!

Drew, Mother Earth, and Anthony

While I was very interested in all the literary activity at the Heath Fair, and I did come home with a BIG box of books, there were many other delights that other members of my family enjoyed. The gymkhana, the Fireman’s barbecue with their own homemade root beer, the ox draw, the skillet toss, the blueberry/whipped cream eating contest, Mr. Flynn’s wagon rides, fabulous music including the Sweetback Sisters, and of course, the Heath Fair parade. I didn’t get a photo of the parade this year, but I did get a photo of my Texas grandsons standing with Mother Earth created by Larry Sampson with Lyra Johnson and the Summer Children’s Reading Program and dressed by Kara Leistyna who is know for her talent with a needle.  We love books; we love nature; we love children – and all our loves meet at the Heath Fair.

Heath Fair 2011

The Wealth of Heath

We moved to Heath in the fall of 1979 and attended our first Heath Fair in 1980. However, we had heard about the Fair years before when we were living on Grinnell Street in Greenfield. Deb Porter of Heath was visiting her friend (and my temporary boarder) Wendy Roberts in my kitchen, but she had to cut the visit short that day in order to race back to Heath and bake pies for the Fair.

Deb still works at the Fair in many capacities, as does her sister Pam Porter who is just finishing her stint as Co-President of the Heath Agricultural Society. The Porters have been attending and working at the Heath Fair from their childhoods, and have seen more changes than I, but we all agree that the essence of the Fair remains the same. It is a celebration of this piece of land that we are attached to, literally and emotionally, as well as a celebration of our productive, creative and cooperative community.

After moving frequently in my early years I have now lived in Heath for almost half my life. This year many exhibits and events at the Fair made me aware of the way my roots have sunk into my Heath hill and community, adding my own history to that of the town.

As usual I worked in the Friends of the Library’s 20 by 20 foot sturdy white tent filled with books for sale. I remembered the year quite some time ago when the weather was threatening and my husband and I donated the use of our 10 by 10 foot camp tent to house the sale. As it turned out the tent was needed and many sheltered among the books during a terrific storm. Using a tent for the sale became routine but it quickly outgrew our little tent.

My granddaugher Tricia Waitkus was born in July of 1986. That was the year that the Heath Fair t-shirt featured a big blue ribbon with the text – First Prize Person. What better t-shirt for to wrap around her stroller for her first Fair. She attended the Fair this year, mugging in the goat cutout. This year the Fair was also the scene of Margaret Smith Jones 100th birthday celebration with her family; Karen Brooks and Melissa Ortquist in the Music Tent sang out a birthday serenade for us all to enjoy. It is clear that while Tricia has been a First Class Person for a quarter of a century, Margaret Jones has held that title for a full century, six years more than the Heath Fair has existed.

Three years ago Pam Porter reinstituted the Speakers Tent which had been an element of the Fair during the 1940s and ‘50s. Rumor has it that noted theologians and summer Heathans Reinhold Neibuhr and Robert MacAfee Brown were among those who Spoke in those days. The speakers these days do not have such lofty reputations, but the speeches remain inspiring and practical. Young people from the Gardening the Community: Youth and Urban Agriculture project in Springfield provided inspiration as they described their gardens and bicycle delivery of produce which you can read about on their website Bob Bourke, Fair secretary, provided practical information with his talk on composting.

Rory, Sue Gruen and me

When we first began attending the Fair there was no big Solomon Temple barn, an edifice that the Historical Society had dismantled and rebuilt on the fairgrounds. Now the barn contains a collection of agricultural tools used in earlier days. The barn also houses a huge loom that was dismantled and reassembled by Bob and Sue Gruen. The two of them will be giving a talk about weaving at the Heath Historical Annual Meeting on Saturday, August 27 at 7 pm.

Sue Gruen was on hand at Saturday’s Fair to demonstrate and let fairgoers, like us, try our hand weaving on a small loom. My grandsons and I took turns gingerly shooting the shuttle through the shed.

The Exhibit Hall was filled with quilts, knitted sweaters, pies, cakes, breads, cookies, eggs, maple syrup, photographs, sculptures, beautiful jars of pickles, jams, and vegetables. My daughter Kate won a First Prize for her counted cross stitch wall hanging. She is three dollars richer.

Large organizations displays were set up against the back wall of the building. I enjoyed the Heath School Garden exhibit – and even guessed correctly that the mystery tool had nothing to do with gardening. It was a hair crimper.

I was fascinated by the beautiful signature quilt that was a part of the Ladies Aid exhibit. Theresa Peters told me that it was started about ten years ago when she was part of a quilting club, but the club did not last long and she put the unfinished quilt in a closet and forgot about it.

Last year she found it again and brought it to a Ladies Aid meeting where the ladies decided to finish it. Sometimes signature quilts are made for a special occasion such as a family moving away. The quilt is a memento of friendships. This quilt is also snapshot of connections. Anyone could sign it, they didn’t have to sew or quilt. Peters brought it to the Senior Lunch in the Community Hall for people to sign. A few of the squares are signed as memorials for people like Michael Peters and Catherine Heyl, both of whom left us too soon.

The Heath Fair has become my time to look back, but also to look forward to new ideas and projects. Never again will I be exhibitless at the Fair.

Antique tractor parade

Between the Rows   August 27, 2011


Monkey on His Back

Heath Fair Midway

For more Wordlessness, click here.

Another Heath Fair is Past

I spent a lot of time working, one way and another, in the Friends of the Heath Free Public Library Book tent. This book sale and raffle is our big fund raiser of the year.

The Book Tent is a good place to read, and eat homemade pie a la mode, and to visit. But there is a lot to see at the Fair.

Food preservation is a hot topic in the general culture these days, but canning is a traditional Heath skill.

The Exhibit Hall is full of wonderful entries, artistic, agricultural,  and natural history. This ball gown made of egg crates welcomed visitors to the Hall.

There was only one entry is the perfect breakfast category, but no question that it would be a prize winner any time.

My garlic guru naturally won first prize. Mine looked almost as good.

The Heath School was only one of several organizations that put up big exhibits. The garden is doing beautifully.

Of course, we wanted to see the grandsons’ exhibits.  Anthony won a First for his duct tape mosaic.

His brother Drew won Third for his Not So Perfect House Sculpture. I think he’s been taking notes while staying at our house.

There are lots of things to DO at the Fair. Blueberry and whipped cream eating contests, Firemen’s BBQ to eat, a ladies skillet toss, gymkanas, ox  and horse pulls, tractor pull, too.  Tricia went down to the new barn building. This year they had a goat show for the first time. This goat was not entered.

At the Historical Society’s barn master weaver Sue Gruen was showing us all how to weave. Rory caught on fast.

His brother Tynan was equally quick to learn.

I took a turn, too.

There are several parades over the course of the Fair including the  Oxen Parade, and an antique tractor parade. This was the final ‘big’ parade which included a couple of floats, fancy old cars, fire engines and more tractors. Most of these tractors are still in use and remind us that although the dairy farms are gone, fields are being tended for hay, sunflowers, and corn. We treasure our agricultural history . . .

and look forward to a new generation carrying on.

Signature Quilt

The Ladies Aid exhibit in the Hall featured another important historical artifact.  One of the ladies found a half made signature quilt in the back of a closet. Not her closet. The signature quilt had been started many years ago, and included the signatures of a generation that has passed. They decided to finish the quilt adding their own signatures. What a treasure this quilt is.  A treasure that reflects the richness of our life here in Heath. We are blessed.


Oh, What a Beautiful Morning

This morning dawned cool and misty.

A walk through the garden was so quiet and peaceful.

A glorious morning indeed. And we look forward to a glorious day at the Heath Fair.

Yesterday was all energetic activity. We had scores of boxes of books to bring to the Fair for the Annual Friends of the Heath Free Public Library book sale. $1 for hardcovers! This is our big fundraiser for the year.

After loading up the books, we had to unload the books and organize them. You don’t think these people will stop to read every book as they take them out of the boxes do you?  It is tempting. See you at the Fair! I’ll be signing my book, The Roses at the End of the Road, Saturday and Sunday afternoons.

Fair Anxiety

The week before the Heath Fair is full of activity and anxiety. Rory wanted to enter pickles this year – as he did last year. Last year we somehow got the sugar and the salt mixed up, but the good news is that the judges don’t taste the pickles, they just look at the jars. Consistency is paramount.  It takes a lot of slicing to make bread and butter pickles. Fortunately, I was once given a really fancy mandoline.

Onions also go into the pickle mix. Thank heaven for food processors.

Any entry has to be totally prepared by the one entering. Five hours later, after slicing, soaking, draining, cooking and mixing it was time to put the pickles into jars and give them a hot water bath.  All went well until one of the jars fell apart in the canner. “It happens,” said my neighbor who does a lot of canning. “The jar gets old and the bottom just falls out.” Fortunately, we did still have two pint jars that were the same. Consistency is all. Same jar, same lid, same labelling.

Rory’s brother Tynan made a cat sculpture at the Art Garden earlier this summer. It looked great, but the tail broke off. Now it is standing on its head so that the sifter can hold the glued tail in place. Anxiety!  Will it hold? Will it win? Are we looking for glory? Or just participation in a community event?

We’ll be participating with great energy this afternoon when we move a ton of books to the Friends of the Library Book Sale Tent. That’s where I’ll be signing copies of my book, The Roses at the End of the Road, Saturday and Sunday afternoons.

Heath Fair Report

The Heath Fair begins for me on Thursday when a loyal crew sets up the Friends of  the  Heath Library tent, after which we bring in our exhibits. This year I was in charge of bringing in exhibits for Anthony and Drew, and Tynan, as well as my own. Talk about hectic.

When we arrived at the Fair on a sunny Saturday morning we found we had lots of winners. All the boys had won ribbons and Rory’s prizes totalled $10!  My herbs got a first and Carol Lively’s only got a second. We stood there and examined our entries together and laughed. Who could tell the difference?  Oh well, friendly competition.  I did take a second prize for my original Maple Walnut Wafers – a $15 prize.  Janis Steele-McCutchen took the first for her Maple Baklava! Competition was stiff in the Maple Confection class.

Carol Lively's First Prize Garden Basket

The Exhibit Hall was full of the Produce of the  area, not just Heath. There were vegetables, fruits, cheeses, maple syrup, flowers and flower arrangements, quilts, knitting, photographs, paintings, lego constructions, bread, cookies, pies, and a sense of humor.

This whale of a zucchini won a prize in the Vegetable Sculpture class. Well done!

Saturday was a perfect Fair Day, but the weather changed during the night. The rain was light in the morning, but got progressively harder as the day wore on. Did the vendors care? Did we care?  No!

Even the youngest riders in the gymkhana paid little attention to the rain.

The oxen waiting their turn at the ox draw certainly didn’t mind. There was a good crowd of oxen at the Fair this year, and a good audience. There were other ‘pulls’, the Horse Draw, the Tractor Pull and the Garden Tractor Pull.

The music tent was one of the places to sit and keep dry.  The music was great. Our New York City friend Helen got into the Fair spirit hula hooping to the music of the Sweetback Sisters from Brooklyn!

The kids had no interest in hooping under the tent when they could gyrate in the rain and get drenched. Much more fun.

The Heath Fair celebrates the agriculture present, and future of the area, but with a nod back to history and the old tasks that had to be done. This young person is learning how to make rope. You always needed a good stout piece of rope on a farm.

Very modern Kara made and wore this authentic outfit as a nod to Heath’s history – even though there was no Fair back in  the 19th century.  But we hope the  Fair will continue until our jeans and T-shirts look as quaint to Fairgoers as this beautiful dress.

The Thrill of the Pop!

The making of bread and butter pickles

My 14 year old grandson Rory has been visiting this week and we are busy, especially now getting exhibits ready for the Heath Fair. The other day we made bread and butter pickles, but the jar seals didn’t take. You can only imagine our anticipation when we took today’s batch out of the hot water bath. Even as I lifted one jar we heard that POP!  Then we waited, and didn’t touch the jars. But soon, Pop, Pop, Pop, Pop. Rory will have pickles to exhibit!

And cookies.  Three of the other grandsons left their exhibits in my care. Now I have to concentrate on my own exhibits.  I think I have invented a maple confection to enter. Wish me luck.

With final Heath Fair preparations here at home, setting up the Heath Friends of  the Library Book Sale and the arrival of family, I cannot promise that I will be blogging until the Fair is done.  I wonder how many ribbons I’ll be able to brag about?

Heath Fair 2009

The Exhibit Hall

The Exhibit Hall


            Pulling Together was the theme for this year’s Heath Fair. After such a cool, wet summer when it was hard to get a good hay crop in and Late Blight hit local farmers, as well as local gardeners who mourned over lost tomato and potato crops, it felt like we were all doing some heavy hauling.

            It takes a lot of people pulling together to prepare the for the Fair, from the vision and energy of the Agricultural Society members who make all the plans and set things in motion, to the work crews who spruce up the Fairgrounds, the volunteers who staff the food booth in the Green  (now Red) Building, the firemen who grill up their famous barbecue, the volunteers who staff the Exhibit Hall, those who sell raffle tickets for every town organization and on and on.  I dare not go any further because I am sure to overlook some vital part of this community, but finally there are all those who labor over their livestock and Hall exhibits. Just about everyone in our little town makes some contribution, because a successful Fair does require that we all pull together.

            Fortunately, the threatened high winds and heavy rain never materialized, at least not during the day.  I can testify that the occasional showers didn’t dampen the spirits or fun of my family, or other attendees. Speaking for myself, I won prize ribbons and $14.  I’m feeling pretty chuffed.

            Last year the Fair organizers reinstituted the Speakers Tent, at which Reinhold Niebuhr, the great theologian and Heath summer resident, once spoke.  Annie Cheatham, then head of Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) spoke about the benefits and pleasures of buying and eating locally grown foods.

            This year there were three Speaker sessions.  Ted Watt gave a great talk about growing backyard berries.  He passed around jar of homemade black raspberry jam; one taste was enough to convince me that I need black raspberries in my garden.

Me with potential worm farmers

Me with potential worm farmers

            I gave a session on worm farming.  I don’t know that I like being known as the worm woman as much as I like being known as the rose lady.

            Another session was presented by Heath farmers Dave Freeman who raises grass fed beef and Doug Mason who considers himself a homesteader and now a sunflower farmer. Freeman organized the Hilltown Farmers Biodiesel Coop whose current five members include farms in Charlemont, Adams and Cheshire, to cut fuel costs. They pulled together and got a 50-50 grant to purchase a seed press and a mobile biodiesel processor.

            Freeman has planted three seed crops: sunflowers, crambe and canola in Heath. Altogether the Coop farmers have planted about 100 acres of sunflowers as well as other crops.

            Each farmer will choose their own oil seed crops, then plant and harvest them individually. The new oil press and oil processor will rotate among the five Coop members to produce biodiesel oil for their tractors and other machinery. This fuel can be used in existing equipment. In fact, it even has detergent qualities that clean fuel tanks and lines as it is used.

When the oil has been extracted farmers will be left with high quality meal that can be used for livestock feed. Costs for fuel and feed will thus be lowered. Freeman said that the Coop would be glad to add a few more members.

            By producing clean burning biodiesel fuel Coop members are also benefiting our environment, which benefits each of us.

            Freeman and Mason gave all kinds of statistics about the environmental benefits. The easiest one to remember is that according to the U.S. Department of Energy  burning biodiesel results in a 78.5% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. Therefore  biodiesel is the best technology currently available for heavy-duty diesel applications to reduce atmospheric carbon.”

            Emissions are also much lower in polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) and nitrited PAH compounds that have been identified as potential carcinogens.

            I was interested in the fact that for every unit of energy needed to make a gallon of biodiesel, 3.24 units of energy are produced. This is much more efficient than the production of ethanol from corn that is a net energy loss.

            Finally, biodiesel fuel is biodegradable and non-toxic. Spills and leaking tanks would not pose the dangers to soil and water supplies as petroleum diesel and gasoline do.

            Mason reminded me that they are beginners. They are not experts, but they are willing to make an investment of their own time, energy and money in this project which will not only benefit them individually in the long term, but their community, and even the health of our planet.  We are all more and more aware that air knows no boundaries.

            As farmers they will also have to deal with the usual constraints on agricultural success including the weather and depredations of wildlife. I can speak from personal experience about the appetite of deer for sunflowers.

            Every year the Heath Fair inspires me and makes me optimistic about the future. This year, as our country faces a health care crisis and myriad solutions to choose from, the Fair theme seems particularly apt in Heath and across our great and rich country. By pulling together we can do great things.  Before Obama took up the cry Bob the Builder (well known to the toddler set) would ask, “Can we do it?”       The reply, energetic, optimistic and confident, is always “Yes we can!”


            I hope to see many  sunflower growers at the Energy Park in Greenfield this afternoon. I’ll be there with members of the Greenfield Garden Club, prize ribbons, apples and my camera.  Don’t forget – all entrants will get a measure of glory and their photo in the paper next week.  

August 29, 2009  Between the Rows


Pulling Together

Pulling Together was the theme of this year’s Annual Heath Fair organized by the Heath Agricultural Society and supported one way or another by just about every one of the town’s 800 residents so that thousands of area people can enjoy a day in the country and gain a sense of the abundance around us – even in these hard times.

It would not be pushing a metaphor too hard to say that it takes a lot of people  pulling together to raise our young people so that they turn out like our very adult granddaughter Tricia – a real prize winner. Now that I think about it, Tricia attended her first Heath Fair at the age of 1 month, when the official T-shirt had a big blue ribbon and said First Prize Winner.  We always have thought so.  BTW, that intricate lap robe she’s holding – it’s mine now.

The Heath Fair is wonderful for kids, and a reminder to us all, that there is a lot of fun to be had beyond the computer screen.  I believe this young woman was the winner of the Watermelon Eating Contest.  Somehow I missed the Blueberry Pie Eating Contest.

There are also Children’s Games which include competitive events like relay races to see which team can fill a bucket of water the fastest and such like, but it is amazing how long a big pile of sand, a car tire obstacle course and 2x4s set up as balance beams can entrance the young set.

Of course there are pretty girls like our friend Emma and her pals, with the Shenandoah Hoopla hoops that lured just about everyone at the Fair for a try.

And more pretty girls!  Everyone comes home to Heath from their far flung lives.  Emily (in the middle) was our neighbor for many years. This weekend she joined with her step-sisters Christina and Andrea to celebrate brother Greg’s announcement that he and Rebecca have set a wedding date. 

Ed the Wizard

Ed the Wizard

Heath Fair weekend is a magic time. This year there was real magic whereever Ed the Wizard walked. Instead of a stage show, he wandered and performed his wonders where he found people willing to watch and concentrate. There was LOTS of concentration!  I was just glad there was no blood when he insisted on pulling strings through his neck and fingers.

There is a lot to learn at the Fair.  The Heath Agricultural Society tent let children learn how to make butter. There was heirloom tomato testing, wood carving, and spinning. A group of spinners used the occasion of the fair to spin and talk. talk and spin beautiful wools into beautiful yarn.

The Fair gives children many opportunities to show their skills – as the Snow Leopard demonstration team shows here in their Wu Shu drill.  In the Exhibit Hall there are prizes for their crafts, arts, and gardening skills.

Adults need to learn too.  Dave Freeman and Doug Mason talked about the formation of, and their participation in the new Hilltown Biodiesel Fuel Project. Five local farmers have received a grant to  buy the equipment to press and process oil from sunflowers and canola to make biodiesel oil to power their farm equipment.  Locally  about 100 acres of sunflowers are waiting to be harvested.  They are pulling together – and they say there is room for a few others to join the Project.

Last year there was only one ‘lecturer’ in the newly reinstituted Speakers Tent but this year, there were three of us. Ted Watt gave a great talk about Backyard Berries; I’m definitley planting black raspberries next year.  He seduced us with a jar of black raspberry jam.  Then there were Freeman and Mason and then . . .

there was me!  I have a talk about Vermiculture, which is the high class word for Worm Farming.  It was well attended, as were the other talks and I found that the auditors have a great deal to add to our general knowledge.  Here we are out in the sun where we can get a good look at the worms. There was a lot of sniffing – but worm farms do not smell bad.  One passerby noticed us and proudly said he had been successfully worm farming in Heath for the past couple of years and had such prolifically reproducing red wigglers that he had to throw some in the garden occasionally – even though he knew they would die over the winter. Then his face took on a grim cast as he told us that just a couple of days earlier he had taken his worm bin out of the house where it usually lived, and put it outside . . .  where it was ravaged by a racoon who ate all the thousands of his worms. He was bereft.

There is so much to do: admiring the exhibits in the hall and in the livestock barns, twirling with the Hooplas, dancing to the great music, shopping for jewelry and maple cream fried dough, and shopping for a lot of books and CDs at the Friends of the Library Book Tent, buying raffle tickets to support myriad civic projects and organizations, that finally you just have to sit down and gossip – I mean share the latest – with friends.  Here I am with Cheryl and Mary Ellen and we are discussing the date next month for the ground-breaking for the Buckland Public Library addition.  We all put a lot of heart and energy into that project – talk about Pulling Together.

The Fair is over. My Monday Report is a day late, but the days after the Fair are always beautiful, no matter what rain or even snow(!) may fall during the Fair. Summer isn’t quite over yet.