Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Vermont Farm Show

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Before we moved to Marshfield in 1989, I wondered what it would be like living in a small town. I had grown up in Woodstock and had the opportunity to experience a community where everyone knew everyone else and showed respect and was somehow part of a greater family constellation. In 1966, I moved to Burlington to attend UVM and there was no looking back. Burlington was my idea of the perfect sized community and no matter where I travelled, I always maintained that feeling and always returned.

In 1989, I knew we were committed to returning to a small community. I really wondered what it would be like and what I'd miss. Quickly I learned that some things I had become accustomed to were not meant to be available in a little town. I also found that a real community provides all the other supports you don't necessarily find in a city and it provides them almost every day. Between Marshfield and the adjoining villages of Cabot, Plainfield and Danville there is some event just about every day of the year. With not too much looking, you can also find an "authority" on just about any subject that interests you.

Today was a long day and between the Vermont Farm Show and Sunset Woodpeckers that I just wrote about, I was wearing thin. But tonight was one of those special events at the community center that Gail and I just didn't want to miss. Charles Fish was going to visit at 7 and discuss his new book, In The Land Of The Wild Onion. His book chronicles several trips down the Winooski River from its source in Cabot to its mouth in Chittenden County. In the book he talks about farming, geology, pollution, hunting and fishing, tracking, transportation and various aspects of hydrology. With the skill of an experienced knitter, he draws his subjects together with Vermont history and local anecdotes. Knowing some of the personalities made the presentation more fun but Charles is so skilled that you left knowing many people as if they were long time friends.

I don't recall hearing Charles mention wild onions once although I noticed he represented them on a hand made map that he used as an initial overview. The Winooski is the Onion River in Abenaki and along the way there are many patches of wild onions that smell strongly when you inadvertently walk through a patch. Thoughts of onions and other horticultural delights and the peoples that have walked the banks of this river for thousands of years left the community center with me. I'll track down his book and fill in the spaces soon. If you get a chance to hear Charles, don't miss it!

But the Vermont Farm Show, what happened at the Farm Show? When I said earlier that I'd have to put the Farm Show on ice in my previous post, I'm alluding to something you only know about if you've been to the show before. The show is held in the Barre Auditorium but it spills out of the auditorium like milk spilled from a 40 quart milk can. The balance of the show is held in the the hockey rink. The ice is covered with rugs and platforms and without looking you might not know where you are.

I went to the show this year with three agendas. I wanted to check out the American Chestnut Society display, find some emu oil and look at tractors. I accomplished a lot more than this and really enjoyed myself. I always go kind of crazy looking at the baked goods that have been brought in for judging. They shouldn't put them by the entry door. To me maple syrup and honey are maple syrup and honey. We use these two products weekly and often daily at our house and we support local producers and would have it no other way. But seeing the baked goods is like going to a specialty bakery. I have never heard of someone trying to snag one of these beauties and take it home but I know I'm not the only one who has ever thought about leaving with a fresh baked apple pie or a maple cream cheesecake or honey glazed raspberry tarts. This competition is fierce and Vermont obviously has some great pastry chefs.

The whole issue of the American Chestnut really intrigues me because this is just another tree that built America but is in serious trouble. Kind of like maples, hemlocks, ash and beeches. The American Chestnut Foundation was represented by Leila Pinchot, the New England Regional Science Coordinator from Yale University. Leila makes a good presentation and answered all my questions. The Foundation is trying to establish a Vermont chapter so if you have any interest in saving and promoting a great tree, contact Leila at, by phone at 203-598-5808 or via the Foundation website I have some literature to read and when I get caught up here, I'll try to give a little summary of what's going on with the Foundation.

My search for the emu exhibit was not because I was interested in raising these birds. I've tried the meat on several occasions and even though it's supposed to be great for the non-cholesterol dieter, I could never figure out how to cook it correctly so it didn't dry out. It's like venison as there's no fat in the meat. Expensive meats are fun until you mess up the recipe or the cooking and have to start over at another $14 a pound. I also have limited respect for anything that reproduces by laying eggs in the snowbank after sunset in January in Vermont. Walking around in the dark with a flashlight looking for eggs from a big bird you just paid $1000 for makes no sense to me.

So the attraction? --it's the oil, the incredible oil that I was looking for. An ounce for $8 and change and four ounces is $25.00 This oil is marvelous. It is one of the very few oils that actually can penetrate human skin. It is an extremely good joint lubricant and makes knee and back aches disappear after a couple days. I have heard that it has been used to massage heart valves in open heart surgery --I said "heard" but for me the $25 means that joint pain goes away. Today I found the booth and got what I needed for myself and some as a gift to a friend with lower back problems.

Tractors? I'm in the market for a new tractor for the "new Vermont Flower Farm" (see The Farm Show has tractor vendors lined up so it's easier to go from one to the next asking questions and dickering about prices. I'm keeping all options open and trying to learn as much as possible. The difference between a 30 hp and a 29 hp may not be much but the gear ratios and an assortment of other factors deserve review. I'm still thinking about one guy's response when I asked about warranties. He said that no matter what the color of todays tractors, green, blue, orange, yellow or red--the warranties are all the same. Three years and xxxx number of hours. I left the Show a step closer to making a decision but not quite there yet. Right now, day is done, and I'm a step away from sleep.

From the mountain above Peacham Pond, where George Winston is playing in the background and the ever so slow piano notes mimic the movement of the digital thermometer as it goes -2.3, -2.4, -2.3, -2.3, -2.4.................

Good gardening thoughts,

George Africa


IBOY said...

Now that's a Vermont agenda... check out the chestnuts, look at the tractors, and get some emu oil!

George Africa said...

People move to Vermont, or move back to Vermont because they cannot find anyplace in the US that's better. First time inhabitants have this ongoing dilemma with themselves and with the native folks about when they will become Vermonters. Some say it takes a while, some say if you weren't born here it just plain will not happen--as in never.

New-to-Vermont people are always in a rush to go someplace, buy something, do something, hear something, see something, be the first with something. It takes a while for that to go away. Those that don't want it to go away usually move back where they came from or go try another place. But those that do make it find that they can go to a farm show and look at home baked pies and outdoor wood furnaces and cows and not even care that they are really the CFO of something or other and make more in a month than the farm worker they are standing beside "talking tractors" makes in a year.