Column: From hot peppers to gigantic pumpkins: overseeing veggies at the Salmon Arm Fair

Friends and Neighbours by Leah Blain

Friends and Neighbours by Leah Blain

When Hanne MacKay was two years old her family left their native Denmark to begin a new life in Canada.

In leaving their country, Hanne’s parents left behind palpable reminders of the war where they heroically had helped the Resistance movement. They began their new life with little money but a lot of determination. They started in Ontario, then moved to Vancouver where Hanne’s father had a successful boat repair business.

In 1975, Hanne moved to Salmon Arm. She worked for the school district, teaching at Parkview and Salmon Arm West, and then as principal at South Canoe and vice principal at MV Beattie.

About 15 years ago, Hanne offered to take over as convener of the Salmon Arm Fair’s vegetable division. This was no small undertaking.

“I took over from Bert Revel who had been vegetable convener for over 30 years. Those were big shoes to fill, but he kindly continued to assist me. It’s the biggest division in the fair if you count every tomato,” said Hanne.

There were a couple of reasons Hanne was drawn to this division – her love of the fair and gardening.

“My grandmother taught me to grow tomatoes,” said Hanne. “It’s been a love of mine since I can remember. My mom was a gardener. All my family, aunts and cousins, love to be in the garden. Every spring I have to plant something. In this crazy world so many things aren’t dependable. If you plant a seed it comes up – it’s pretty dependable.”

Since Hanne took on the role as convener she has seen some changing trends in gardening.

“The interest in garlic and hot peppers and different varieties of peppers is growing, so I’ve had to change the catalogue to accommodate new kinds of garlic and peppers. We’ve got some great garlic growers.”

The years have not been without controversy in the vegetable division.

“We had a ‘biggest pumpkin’ category but we started injuring ourselves trying to move them. Once we had to get a forklift to move one… so we moved super-sized pumpkins to field crops.”

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She likes to see produce, especially the tomatoes, come in and, after the doors open to the public, she enjoys watching the people’s reaction to the displays.

“It’s interesting to watch,” said Hanne. “I love hanging around when people come around to look at everything. The most beautiful display is the collection of 10 different vegetables. So much work goes into that.”

There are more than 100 classes and more than 1,000 entries. The fair gives local gardeners and farmers a chance for fun competition and bragging rights, but it’s much more than that.

“The fair is really community building. It brings the whole valley together, people are connected. When you enter in the fall fair you get to know your neighbours and it promotes food growers and local food security.”

With quirky sense of humour, she said she jokes with people: “With climate change we might add an entry for avocados – It’s funny but it’s not funny.”


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