Summer days turned into summer nights in a blur with out one minute of lolling around. From the moment Awesomez unloaded her last non-stick saucepan and corresponding spatula from her U-Haul we did nothing else but get eat, breath and get ready for the Northwest Washington State Fair.(A Washington summer sunset - about 10:15PM)
Months earlier I had naively decided, with encouragement from everyone in the family, to get a booth at the fair and debut Henry’s Sweet Miracle Honey.
The booth space itself cost $620.00 and then of course you had to still pay for entrance and parking – for everyone who worked your booth. There was an additional $80.00 Health Department permit to give out samples and I needed another certificate for another $10.00 to actually serve the samples. This is in conjunction with yet another permit for $110.00 from the Department of Agriculture. Naturally, The Fair required that everything look “professional” so we were going to have to have a banner made. And per The Fair contract our product must be displayed in a pleasing manner. I began researching booth designs and came up with an idea.
I took a picture of the barn from the porch and had it made into an 8 foot by 10-foot backdrop so our booth would feel like home. Of course, there were tables to get from Costco and the health department required an elaborate hand washing station. I had to purchase a 5-gallon thermos and have the push button spigot replaced by a continuous flow spout. It should be noted that you can’t simply purchase a thermos with continuous flow spigot. They don’t exist. So I had to take it to Hardware Sales where three men worked on replacing the spigot. It did not go well and they had to replace the thermos with another from their inventory before they got it done.
Meanwhile back at the farm, Aweseomez and I would wake up, take care of the dogs, cats and barn animal then load up the van with buckets of honey, various spices, sets of measuring cups, cases of jars, bags of lids, strainers, scrapers, bucket warmers, a cooler full of snacks, cups of coffee and the still sleepy kid and drive the 29 miles to our kitchen so we could begin our day.(Sick Bay - Tabitha scratched her cornea and Irish has a hot spot)
Donning aprons and bandannas we’d start jarring up some honey. Awesomez selflessly played Laverne to my Shirley. I had the glamour job as Miller the killer filler – of jars. I’d run the filling station weighing each jar and Henry/Lindsey or Phoebe would wipe each jar down then Awesomez would inspect their work closing it and finally putting it back into the case. Tirelessly she would later put the shrink-wrap safety seals on one by one with a heat gun and label each jar meticulously. “It’s your product, they’ve got to be perfect,” she insisted bleary-eyed.(Awesomez and Phoebe work in the kitchen)
(I feel pretty - Henry and Lindsey -clowning around in the kitchen)
(The dining room - better known as the warehouse - These boxes are stacked and re-stacked as Awesomez puts them through their stations -labels and safety seals)
(Awesomez - sleeps on the sofa surrounded by furry friends - you have to hand it to her - she's allergic and asthmatic, but she keeps going!)
Exhausted and sticky, over 1600 jars and thousands upon thousands of honey sticks later we ran out of time and honey.
The shirts were dyed and Tom had painstakingly put the logo on, the tablecloths ironed and the racks were ready to assemble. The backdrop had arrived despite the first one being ruined in transit making a reprinting necessary. Luckily, we’d allowed enough time. Although, Henry did manage to shoot not one but two infomercials(click on the links and you can view them) on how to use Grumpy Grandpa (cayenne & garlic) and Phoebe’s Fireball (chipotle & cinnamon) in our kitchen not everything got done. We’d planned on having a lovely basket to raffle off and a digital photo frame with pictures from the farm, but both of those projects with a few others sat half finished on the dining room table.
The fair started on a Monday so Tom flew in on Friday night to be here for the set up. It seemed simple, but as “nubies” it took us almost three days to get it all together. Nothing quite went the way we’d expected it to go. In the sweltering heat, Tom started putting up the banner. Before we knew much about booths Tom had created a fabulous six-foot banner. Unfortunately the booth width was 10 feet. Tom went to work rigging the banner; he got PVC and sprayed it orange. He made it one way then another, he tied it back to keep it from blowing in the wind, but in the end, he was never quite happy with it.(Mike, Henry and Tom start the set-up - putting my backdrop in place)
On the first day of the fair we got there early. Everything was just about ready. We simply had to fill the hand-washing thermos and put the various flavors and jars of honey out on the shelves, stuff the different honey sticks in their containers and we’d be ready for business. The thermos leaked everywhere, but there was nothing we could do. No amount of tightening helped. The thing leaked like a sieve. Naturally, it was the one thing we hadn’t tested. And we had no silicone or anything else to fix it – so moving on, we left a bit of water in the bottom and spirits high - turned on the calculator. Henry’s Sweet Miracle Honey was open for business.
The 100th anniversary of the Northwest Washington Fair opened promptly at 9:00AM. The attendance on the first day was usually 35,000, but the first day of the anniversary on a blazing hot sunny morning it was supposed to break records. Tasting spoons in hand we were ready for action.
Awesomez did her best “Do you want to try something different?” (while I shoved a tasting spoon at them) Unfortunately, many people did not want to taste something different. They only wanted plain old honey.
“Maybe I should ask them if they’d like to try the same boring old thing?” Awesomez lamented. Despite our best efforts by 3:00 we’d sold just three jars. However, we had sown the seeds for later and in the evening many people did come back and purchase.
By the third day, although sales were still slower than we’d hoped, we had made some significant changes and learned a lot. Tom put up quotes we heard from tasters and we took down the cumbersome TV playing the infomercials. I had really thought the infomercials would draw some sort of attention, but that turned out not to be the case at all. We moved some tables and changed our approach. And things started to click. We all beamed when we found out one of our previous purchasers had made stopping at our booth her facebook status. We'd made it to facebook!
Not everyone at the fair is friendly. One woman, the wife of a beekeeper, walked over and reluctantly agreed to taste our recipe. She told us we couldn’t possibly have anything new – her husband had bees. Then she told us about her recipe for a raspberry preserve she made with a combination of honey and sugar before she tasted The Grumpy Grandpa Blend. When she put the spoon in her mouth her face changed. She quickly took out her spoon threw it down on the table and viciously screamed at us in front of a crowd of people, “You’ve ruined honey! Ruined it!” Turning she stomped away muttering, “that was disgusting,”.
I stood there wanting to cry but not wanting to cry. We’d worked so hard, I was so tired and hot and disappointed and felt beaten down. Tom took over and moved on to the next customer while I stood dazed. Awesomez on the other hand, my big sister, chased the woman’s husband down and gave him shall we say - a stern talking to. The news of her encounter brightened the spirits of all of us.
“It’s funny how one nasty person overshadows ten wonderful people,” my sister noted as she called in for fair updates from the vet clinic.
The Fair it must be said was not all business. Clearly it was funnel cakes with powdered sugar, bbq sandwiches, and an amazing hypnotist named Tammy Harris Barton. The kids and Awesomez insisted I go to the show to get away from the booth for a while. I was resistant as I wasn’t much a believer in hypnotism. But Tammy made a believer out of me and almost all the crew at Henry’s Honey- except for Mike who had obstinately refused to attend the show.
The kooky friends we made and endless laughs we had were unexpected. There was sardonic Aaron our new FEDEX guy – who was moonlighting working at a booth. He was our corner neighbor. Ross who disappeared regularly leaving Aaron to come over and man his booth was on the other corner. His booth was boy Nirvana. He had remote controlled helicopters and assorted gadgets which captured Henry’s attention all week.
(Mike poised for giving samples)
Gruff and seasoned Ray, the Mayor of our little community, with sports memorabilia was a former bounty hunter. He was for some reason certain Tom and Awesomez were married and wondered why Tom kept flirting with me. Across the way were our new chiropractor friends Kelly and his wife Erika and then there was our friend with the velvet paintings and Sabrina’s family with urban chicken coops. Our little corridor of booths was dubbed Bubble Blvd for all the bubbles “Bean” (short for Sabrina) flooded the area with – working under cover for Ross who was selling bubble guns. Ahh the life of a carny – or as Aaron says “Fairy, Denise, you are a fairy! Carny's work the midway”. I stand corrected.
In the end, although we didn’t make our original goals I do think we had a successful fair. We gave out a lot of tastes and raised our brand awareness ten fold. Awesomez thought I was a wet blanket. She is the Henry’s Honey Cheerleader. “Are you kidding me? You have an amazing product and you simply have to believe! C’mon Mil snap out of it! You’re going to be a honey mogul! You HAVE TO BEE-LIEVE!”
Although, I have my momentary doubts, I know she’s right. I do have to believe and Henry was asked to do an interview for the Bellingham Herald and those who liked either Phoebe’s Fireball or Grumpy Grandpa – loved it.
The fair was a great learning ground. We found that purists were not our target. They’d rather have plain honey and that’s that. Of course, we do have plain yummy honey, but that’s not our real niche. Moderate honey lovers – or people who don’t really like honey those are the ones that are open. They are the ones that like the idea of helping the bees and eating a natural honey product, but don’t’ cook with it and buy it in 5 gallon containers. These were the people who thought we should send it to Oprah and wished us well.
Next, year I would do it differently and find a way to camp nearby. The drive back and forth was the proverbial last straw. I don’t think I’ve ever been so tired in my life. I was more exhausted than sorority rush, or after nights of endless “foo-fing colored tissue” for Homecoming floats in college. I was more depleted than when I used to pull writing all-nighters or when Henry was sick as an infant. I suppose it was cumulative I hadn’t stopped in since we began the renovations. “Denise you simply don’t get enough sleep,” my sister said during a quick walk through the swine barn. “You should look at the brain research on sleep deprivation.” She insisted.
“Only since April,” I protested.
“Denise, you do realize that’s almost five months? Do you know how ridiculous you sound?”(I am so tired, Tom left me while he went to the ATM near our parking space and I fell asleep waiting for him - this is at 9:00AM on the 5th day)
On the last night after Chris, Mike, Tom and I took the booth down,
(The ferris wheel just shutting down)
I drove home with Lindsey in Awesomez’ car. She’d left a few days earlier for her high school reunion. Tom and Henry were in the van while Lindsey and I were driving behind them when I realized I simply couldn’t make it home. I could hear my sister’s words echoing in my head and I pulled over to sleep. We were already on Mosquito Lake Road, but still I couldn’t make the last five miles. I saw Tom’s taillights slip around a turn and out of view. I knew Tom would be worried, and I knew I couldn’t call him because we’d already lost cell service, but I couldn’t help it. I didn’t want to veer off the road and end up in a ditch. I woke up to the rain tapping the windshield. I had no idea how long I’d been asleep but I pulled onto the road and slowly inched the last bit home. Tom was standing by the gate waiting for us.