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The 61st Montana Seed Show — building community

 

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Along with hundreds of other folks from the Hi-Line, from cities and towns throughout Eastern Montana and with a few tourists from our sister state, Western Montana, I celebrated a shared heritage at the 61st Annual Montana Seed Show in Harlem last weekend. I like that it is called the "Montana" Seed Show, not the "Harlem" Seed Show. It demonstrates an inclusiveness that reaches beyond regionalism. And in a historically appropriate way, it took place at the high school, the traditional hub of every small-town community. The Seed Show that I remember from my youth was held in the old Civics Center, a multipurpose structure that burned to the ground in 1968. I remember long, narrow tables with trays of potatoes, sugar beets, grains, flakes of baled hay and huge bags of wool. I remember the blended smells of agricultural produce. I remember the excitement of the pie and bread baking contests. Except for the absence of sugar beets, not a lot has changed. Ours is still a farm and ranch community. We still grow grains, hay, beeves and sheep. A few valley farmers still raise potatoes. But now we have less than two people per square mile in Blaine County. Throughout the area farms and ranches are larger; towns are smaller, most of them half the size they were when I grew up in the Milk River Valley. Harlem is fortunate in our diversity; we are lucky to have the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation across the river and the two Hutterite colonies north of town. The Seed Show has adapted to the changing times and is today a major regional winter fair. Thursday was entry day with people busy building displays and bringing in entries for the various competitions. A steady stream of men and women popped in the door with a pie or loaf of bread or a baker's dozen cookies in hand and deposited their goodies with the food superintendents. Many of them hurried off to another setting- up chore while others hung about to chat with neighbors. An enticing smell wafted through the school from pots of spicy chili, simmering in anticipation of the chili cook-off in the school cafeteria that evening. I reluctantly passed on the chili feed since I wanted to take advantage of the blood screening early Friday morning. But I've been thinking of recruiting a chilimaking crew for next year. Fasting is not my favorite nonactivity. My veins burrowed underground when the nurse with the needle approached the tender bend of my arm. I hyperventilated. So I was glad to woozy my way to the cafeteria for breakfast served by the Civic Association. Orange drink never tasted so good. Egg muffins approached perfection. Friday and Saturday were a circus of activity. In the new gym I enjoyed all the commercial and educational displays, even the vase of noxious weeds. I recognized these invaders of my flower garden, most of which I have struggled to eradicate. Art exhibits filled the old gym. The variety of talents on display drew me back several times. In the adjacent room I marveled at the intricate quilts and related needlework. In another area I admired the skilled women carding and spinning wool. I peeked at the vintage cars and tractors in the ag and industrial arts building. I enjoyed lunches served by church groups from Turner and Harlem, and, oh, the homemade pies! Every kind of pie imaginable! Speaking of pies, it would not be a Seed Show without the auctions. Bob Sivertsen auctioned breads and pies and cookies, those entered in hopes of a blue ribbon plus those donated to support the show. The Art Auction Friday night is always a top draw, but this year the Number One Star of the Seed Show was the grand prize pie baked by Havre resident, Char Burckhard. Char is a long-time friend. She graduated from Harlem High, so we claim her as our own. Char's cherry pie sold for a record high bid of $1,025 at the Saturday night banquet. But people were the best part of the Montana Seed Show. I visited with old friends and new friends, with neighbors from near and far. I noted the diversity of peoples who populate our sparse country and saw, not their differences, but a blending, a commonality. I noticed a change in consciousness from the old days. I observed a sense of family. I saw cooperation; people reaching out to support one another. We were simply people from many communities who came together, without rivalry or division, to make this shared experience fun and successful. In this time of economic uncertainty, I felt an underlying current of hope, of excitement, a sense of "we." We can build a better life here. We can make it happen. We can work together. From hundreds of miles, we gathered in Harlem at the Montana Seed Show, to share our knowledge, our creativity, our production. We came together to work, to visit, to play and to eat pie. We shared in a true communion. (Sondra Ashton graduated from Harlem High in 1963 and left for good. She finds, after recently returning, things now look a bit different. Join her in a discussion of her column at http://montanatumbleweed.blogspot. com.)

 
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