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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.

Monday Report August 7, 2011

The weather has been hot and dry. Our Texas grandsons Anthony and Drew were glad to take a dip in Rowe Pond near-by this past week. They are excellent swimmers after several years on their local swim teams. We left the Pond when we heard thunder, but we never did get the longed for rain.

When Kate returned to Heath after tending to other family responsibilities in the eastern part of the state she did a little touring with the  boys. We made sure they signed the guest book at the Bridge of Flowers. They all loved those fabulous Crocosmia.

We had a good visit with this branch of the family, but Dad was waiting impatiently back in Texas. Before they left yesterday the boys did a good job of stacking winter firewood.  Maybe we’ll get some more help from visitors to the Heath Fair. Only two more weeks.

You can see the other big project that we have been working on over the past few weeks – getting my book The Roses at the End of the Road ready for publication. We sent the electronic files off to and now we wait for a proof. Do you think we will have copies for sale at the Heath Fair? We hope so!  Click on the button to the right for more information.

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.

Annie Cheatam

Pam Porter (R), co-president of the Heath Agricultural Society, arranged for Annie Cheatam (L) to come to the Heath Fair and talk about local agriculture. As the former owner of a garden center, and most recently retired after 9 years as the Director of Community Involved in Sustainable Agriculture (CISA) Annie knows a lot about local farms, local gardens, local gardeners and farmers and what they, we, and our communities are doing and what we need.

CISA developed the Local Hero project, that highlights local growers and agricultural producers, and the consumers who support them. That has been a very successful program, supporting local farms, farmer’s markets, farmstands and stores that sell local produce. It has also helped to get local produce into local schools and hospitals and business cafeterias.

But CISA does more than promote the use of local products. One of its initiatives is to work with local communities to build a local agricultural infrastructure including dairy processessing, cheesemaking, wool processing and slaughter houses. This sometimes includes working to change local regulations.

I have seen local resistance to building a small animal slaughterhouse locally and I think that resistance hasn’t thought the issue through. I doublt that many of the people who don’t want a slaughterhouse are vegetarians. If we are going to eat meat, we each have to take responsibility for the death of those animals, doing it as humanely as possible.

A local slaughterhouse makes it easier for us to eat local meat, beef, pork and poultry, that we know has been raised in a healthful humane way. It would also make it easier for some of us to raise our own meat animals. We raise meat chickens and have slaughtered them ourselves, but it is hard time consuming work. Now we take them to a part-time operation, but it means at least a 50 mile drive each way. It is getting harder and harder to do this, and we still have to prepare the chickens for freezing when we get them home.

There is a rumor going round that someone is trying to set up a mobile poulty slaughtering house, a trailer that could travel from town to town, or central locations so that people who raise their own chickens and turkeys could bring them in and have access to a humane killing system, as well as efficient plucking and quick cooling. With a small operation like this the waste could be sensibly disposed of. I hope this is a good rumor. I would take advantage of such an operation.

A slaughterhouse doesn’t need to be any more visible to the community at large than any other business. Properly run it doesn’t need to present any unpleasant smells or sights. A slaughterhouse is a part of our agricultural production. How much better for the animals, the farmers, the consumers and the environment to have it operated on an appropriate scale right in our own backyard.

A Double Celebration

The Exhibit Hall with its displays of sewing, knitting, canning, baking, quilting, flowers, vegetables, fruits and assorted collections is a center of activity all through Heath Fair days. These exhibits are one of the ways that we celebrate life in our town, the skills of the residents, the creativity and purposfulness of our children, the fertility and beauty of our landscape, and our devotion to the town and its institutions and organizations. The grandsons and I won lots of prizes – for art, knitting, cookies, leaf prints, and maple cake. It came as a surprise to some that you could win a $3 First Prize. There may be even more exhibits next year.

As vice-president of the Friends of the Heath Free Public Library I spend a lot of time working at or visiting at the Book Sale tent. This is our big fund raiser for the year and this year, we almost doubled our take. This was good for the exchequer, but also good because we passed along many many good books on to happy readers.

The Elementary School also had a fund raising booth with children’s games, a raffle and a dunking booth. The volunteer fire department puts on a chicken barbecue both days with homemade root beer! And the Agricultural Society itself sells food including homemade pie, a la mode if you wish, all through the fair.

Mechanical rides will no longer come to our tiny fair so we have returned to those simpler attractions – watermelon eating contest, blueberry pie eating contest, and a big pile of sand for the youngest fair goers to play in.

Slightly older fair goers found delight in Shenandoah’s Hoopla Hoops. Thirteen year old granddaughter Colleen kept 2 hoops going. Who needs a Ferris wheel?

But this year we didn’t only have Fair festivities. My brother Tony was celebrating his 65th birthday and all our children and grandchildren got to celebrate with him.

Here is my brother the lawyer reading the tiniest contract as put together by daughter Diane. She made the kingly birthday crown but we all placed birthday wishes on the Wishing Wand in the background.

This is the second birthday celebration the Cottage Ornee has seen this year. Lucky cottage. Lucky us to have so much to celebrate at the Heath Fair.