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Gardens of the Cross Timbers: Where is the fair?

Becky Emerson Carlberg
Contributing writer
Bob relaxing after a hard day at the fair 2017

The unveiling of the Chickenator happened last October in preparation for the North Carolina State Fair:  a cinnamon roll sliced like a hamburger bun into which goes one deep-fried chicken breast, bacon, and pepper jack cheese all sprinkled with honey!  The NC fair is a no-go this year, but Ms. Turrentine-Daniel of Chef’s D’Lites (20 years at the NC state fair) continues to sell the chickenator and other goodies from Greensboro!     

When you go a fair, you enter another dimension: a temporary giant gypsy camp with its own people, atmosphere, foods, rides, and shows.  Trade fairs, agriculture, cars and other amenities may be included.  It’s pure escapism. The first state fair was in Syracuse, NY in 1841.  The largest in 2019 was the Minnesota State Fair with over two million visitors.  It was cancelled this year; first time since 1946.

Over 35 state fairs and 80% local fairs across the US will not happen in 2020.  The virus impact ripples down through vendors, food trucks, livestock and horticulture, hard-working 4-H and FFA students, culinary arts and entertainment stopping with those of us who simply love fairs.

This would have been the week of the Pottawatomie County Free Fair.  In a normal year, the horticulture entries arrived on a hot and windy Wednesday afternoon.  Not this year.  A very strong cold front came surging through the state, ushering in rain and chilly temperatures.  Just one more odd thing to add to the list of quirky 2020 events.

Henryetta with sunflowers in 2019

Henryetta has been parked at the end of the hall in anticipation of this year’s scarecrow competition.  I haven’t told her she has to wait another year, but did mention the Tulsa Botanic Garden is hosting its 5th Annual “Scarecrows in the Garden 2020.”  The five week event, from September 24th to October 29th, features entries that must withstand outdoor Oklahoma weather…. just like real scarecrows.  Henryetta informed me she likes her hair the way it is and would prefer to stay in the house.

Henry and veggies in 2018

In years past, the tables in the Horticulture and Crops Competition have been lined with acorn, butternut, yellow and other squash, pumpkins, tomatoes, okra, peppers, pears, apples, plants, flowers and displays.  A veritable early Thanksgiving feast for the eyes.

Some gardens in the area have been super productive… and then there was mine. Planters full of healthy robust tomatoes with few fruits.  Last count: 10 small tomatoes far from ripe.  Apricots pilfered while still green.  The figs came and went weeks ago.  But the basil, cilantro, sage and parsley are still alive!     

Never take your food (or anything else) for granted.  Despite the fact you may not have a garden or your tenderly nurtured plants staged an uprising and turned against you, fresh wholesome food is available in stores.  If not from your own garden, where did your fruits and veggies come from? Find the attached tiny label.  Discover your food’s history.

2020 Acorn Squash!

Although acorn squash usually grows in my garden, none were planted this year.  The winter squash in the store produce section looked promising.  A good acorn squash should be heavy with a dull sheen.  If shiny, either the squash was waxed or picked before it was ready.  No soft spots. Some orange indicates it is ripe and somewhat sweet.  Too much orange and the squash will be overripe, dry and fibrous.  The deep green with orange blaze hard squash had the label “Marty Boy.”  In very small print: Baloian Farms, Fresno California.  

Four generations have kept the Baloian Farm business going.  The Armenian family started their garden produce operation in New York in 1917, but Charles Baloian was drawn to sunny Central Valley California.   Soon he began farming on the West Coast.  His two sons joined him in 1945.  By 1965 the farm had increased its distribution and business.  Today Baloian Farms occupy eleven locations, with three in Mexico to cover year-round production.

Baloian Farms are joined by several independent and small family farms in the south-central California area. Not mega farms, several businesses are organic and all utilize sustainable practices which enable them to provide seasonal produce: grapes, pears, citrus, carrots, apricots, red and white endive lettuce, kiwis and potatoes.  

Family owned and operated Cal-Organic Farms began with a quarter acre of lettuce over 30 years ago and has expanded to 65 seasonal and year-round certified organic vegetables. Bolthouse Farms, founded in Michigan in 1915, moved operations to California where it continues to be a leading supplier of carrots and refrigerated juices.  Six generations of Bakers later and Baker Ranch still supports existing old-growth fruit-bearing pear trees over 140 years old.  Blossom Hills Orchard (four generations) covers over 1000 acres of apricots with 200 acres now organic.  

Farmers from Portugal, Armenia, Japan, Sicily and other countries were all drawn to California, with its coastal fog, good soil and year-round growing climate.  California produces 99% of all walnuts and artichokes, 95% celery and 69% of all carrots.  The rich agricultural area gets its water from ground wells and surface lakes, rivers and streams.  With so many dependent on California crops, production and water demand has skyrocketed.  There may be a slow-motion disaster in the making.  When it happens, recovery picked up by other states could take a decade.  Some crops could vanish.  

Which makes our home gardens even more important.  The one positive thing Covid19 has done is cause a garden bloom!  Recessions, wars and other crises have forced people to grow their veggies at home and this pandemic is no exception.  Some worry about food security.  Many had enforced time at home which allowed them to dive into the soil with seeds and plants.  Others lost jobs and gardening saves money and sanity.  Whatever the reason, the garden gets you outside in the fresh air and sun, gives you a purpose, is great for your health and good for the family!

As fall approaches, it’s not too late to plant kale, mustard, collards, Swiss chard, turnips and radishes.

2019 Fall Harvest

Keep those flowers and feeders going.  The great-great grandchildren of the Monarchs that left Mexico are beginning their journeys south.  They are now congregating into groups and have started their fall roosting from Iowa to the Great Lakes.  The autumn migration of the Ruby-throated hummingbirds began late August and peak hits in mid-September as they zoom their way toward southern Mexico and northern Panama.

Help all our natural wonders as they go or stay.  Don’t mow the flowers despite how ratty some may now look!  There’s a lot of goodness and protection tucked away you can’t see.

“Mysterious and mystical…..the beautiful Monarch butterflies….always return to the same trees.  There is no place like home.”  Sameer Ahmed

Myrtle in 2016

Becky Emerson Carlberg, graduate of Oklahoma State (Plant Pathology) is a teacher, artist, writer as well as certified Oklahoma Master Gardener and Master Naturalist. Contact her at Becscience@att.net.