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.
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