Join Janet on her adventures as a designer, writer, maker, and farmer in montana. no two days are ever the same. you might even see a bear or two.

Fairs and Berries and Broken RSS Feeds

Fairs and Berries and Broken RSS Feeds

I have spent the last week going around and around again with Squarespace customer support about the broken RSS feed. Once again, they tried to blame it on MailChimp. I said I was not interested in being bounced back and forth between them and MailChimp, because MailChimp maintains it’s not their problem (and I don’t think it is). The SS team pointed me to the same Knowledgebase article they sent me to last time, which was entirely useless. I told them I wasn’t going to let them off the hook this time. The issue seems to be that somewhere, in some random blog post, a hidden character sneaks in which breaks the RSS feed. MailChimp stops sending e-mail notifications for new blog posts when that happens. The SS team has no idea how these hidden characters get into their code and what’s worse, the hidden characters continue to propagate through each subsequent post. The only fix I have found is to work backwards to systematically delete each blog post until I get to one that doesn’t break the RSS feed. Then I have to re-create the deleted blog posts (sans comments, unfortunately), and check each of them to make sure the feed works. It’s maddening and I wish SS would figure out where the problem lies. In any case, please don’t hesitate to let me know if for some reason you stop getting e-mail notifications about new blog posts.

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I went to the fair Friday with Elysian and the kids from her preschool/summer camp. It was rather a bittersweet day, because she has decided to close the preschool and look for a different teaching job. I will miss having the kids in the neighborhood and they won’t get the benefit of Miss Mac’s gifted teaching skills, but we made plans to get together occasionally over the school year. All the kids will be in nearby elementary schools.

The weather was lovely, with overcast skies that helped keep the temps down in the 70s. Our visit started in the livestock buildings. We have a lot of active 4-H groups in the valley and many of the kids raise pigs. Ten years ago, the pig barn would have been filled with Chester Whites, which were the most popular commercial breed at the time. This year, I saw only one or two Chester Whites and a whole lot of Durocs and Berkshires. (We typically raise Berks, Durocs, Red Wattles, or some combination of those breeds.) I wondered if the shift in breeds was indicative of a shift in market preference. Restaurants really like Berks and I do think they are tasty. But that is just my amateur opinion and I could be talking out of my armpit.

This Light Brahma hen was entertaining crowds in the chicken barn with her tightrope act:

LightBrahmaTightrope.jpg

We did all the fair things with the kids—I had two corn dogs, which is my favorite fair food—and came home about mid-afternoon. I have to go back to the fairgrounds this evening, when they release the fair entries, to pick up my apron and ribbon.

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Cathy and I went to Missoula back in April for a gathering of Montana berry growers. This is a new group being organized by a couple of extension agents and its aim is to support and expand commercial berry growing operations in Montana. I was impressed with the amount of information and resources available. Even though I have no interest in growing berries commercially, Cathy would like to find a bigger market for her black currants. Going to the meeting in Missoula in April gave us an opportunity to hang out together. When the notice came out about the farm tour/harvesting equipment demo scheduled for yesterday in Helena, we decided to go. I invited my friend Susan to come along, too, as she also has a lot of berry plants in her garden plot and she’s always interested in learning new things.

The tour didn’t start until 11 a.m. and it’s a three-hour drive to Helena. We left a bit after 7 a.m. If you were to stand in our front yard and look east, you would be looking right at the Swan mountain range. We are a bit north and east of where the Mission mountain range rises up out of the floor of the Flathead valley. Our route took us southeast “down the Swan,” between those two mountain ranges. I only travel that way in the summer and during daylight hours, because the chances of hitting a deer, elk, or moose are pretty high and there is zero cell service for about 75 miles. It’s the shortest distance between two points, however, as it is the hypotenuse of a triangle. The alternative is to drive down to Missoula along the east shore of Flathead Lake, which follows the base of the Mission mountain range, and head east from Missoula. That is a safer route but adds a good 30 minutes to the trip.

I watched the woods carefully as I drove and despite seeing a lot of wildlife, we didn’t hit anything. I had also decided to take the Crown Vic police cruiser instead of the BMW just in case.

The farm was located just outside of Helena. Our presenter was David Wise of Wise Ag Consulting, and he gave a good overview of food handling regulations as they related to berry operations. We each received a notebook:

BerryRegs.jpg

It’s about 3” thick and contains all of the USDA and FDA regulations as they pertain to food production. The good news is that small producers—less than $25,000 gross sales annually—are exempt from most of the regulations. The bad news is that once you surpass that level, you’re subject to a whole lot of regulatory oversight.

[Joel Salatin’s book Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal is an excellent read about the hurdles small farming operations face.]

We also got to see some of the harvesting and cleaning equipment in operation. That was fascinating. I was sorry to see that attendance was down considerably from the April gathering; I think there were only a dozen of us, and that included the couple hosting the event, the presenter, and two extension agents. It’s a busy time of year, though, for farmers. In any case, the three of us had some good discussions on the way down and the way back and I got to scratch my road trip itch. Montana truly is a beautiful place full of wonderful people.

Papering the Cradles

Papering the Cradles

A Blue Ribbon Apron

A Blue Ribbon Apron