Turn off your computer, put down your hoe

Sep 14, 2012

Feel that chill in the morning air? Autumn's here, school's starting, and soon we'll be bustling about, wearing sweaters, cleaning rain gutters and raking leaves. But first, according to many traditions, it's time to take a break and celebrate the harvest with local farmers.

Many cultures throughout the Northern Hemisphere have long traditions of harvest festivals held around the time of the main harvest in autumn. Most harvest festivals feature feasting, music, romance, dancing and freedom from work, sometimes lasting for days.

In Asia, the Moon Festival is a popular harvest festival celebrated in September or early October by Chinese and Vietnamese people. The Jewish holiday Sukkot, celebrated for seven days in late September to late October, commemorates the agricultural "Feast of Ingathering."

Hoes Down 09 hay bale hill
In Britain, harvest festivals have been held since ancient times at the time of the "Harvest Moon", which is the full moon that occurs closest to the autumn equinox (about Sept. 22). In two years out of three, the Harvest Moon comes in September, but in some years it occurs in October. The early English settlers' first American Thanksgiving feast celebrated their first harvest in 1621, sometime between September 21 and November 9, most likely in early October.

A century ago, more than half of all Americans were engaged in agriculture. These days, with less than 2 percent of the population involved in farming or ranching, most of us are pretty removed from celebrating the harvest. However, California farmers offer us a lot of chances this Harvest Moon to join the celebrations and learn about their farms. The University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR) hosts a directory and event calendar of California agritourism, that is, farms and ranches open to the public for enjoyment and education to help urban and suburban people find these opportunities.

Hoes Down dancing small
Many families keep the autumn harvest tradition alive by visiting a pumpkin patch to select a pumpkin from the field and trying to navigate a corn maze. Others enjoy apple orchards with picnics, pies and craft fairs. My family has a favorite harvest tradition of our own. My wife and I volunteer every year at the Hoes Down Harvest Festival held the first weekend each October at Full Belly Farm, an organic farm in Guinda, in the Capay Valley of Yolo County. We join hundreds of volunteers who help make Full Belly a temporary home for several thousand festival attendees each year. People of all ages, mostly city and suburban families from the Bay Area and Sacramento area, come out to enjoy rural life on an organic family farm.

This year will be the 25th annual Hoes Down Festival. It is organized by the Ecological Farming Association, a group of organic farmers who have been leaders in developing California organic farming over the last 30 years, and who also put on the EcoFarm Conference in Pacific Grove every January. The festival proceeds benefit local organizations including Future Farmers of America (FFA), the local volunteer fire department, and the Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF), and also help support the EcoFarm Festival. Full Belly Farm, where the festival is held, is a magical 300 or so acres of some of the best examples of diversified organic farming around, integrating vegetables, fruit and nut crops with poultry, sheep, goats and even a few cows. If you do go to the Hoes Down Festival, be sure to make time for one of the walking tours of the farm led by one of the four farm owners, and learn a bit about hedgerows, crop rotation and how sheep can be part of growing healthy fruits and vegetables.

Hoes Down Fest09 wool lesson
This two-day celebration (Sunday is a big farm breakfast and longer workshops) has music and other entertainment all day Saturday on several stages (one for children), hay rides around the farm, good food, workshops, nature walks, games, baby animals to pet, a farmers' market, craft fair, dancing, and lots to see and learn. You can watch sheep get sheered, join in a Contra Dance, learn to make herbal tinctures, take a dip in the river and make a dried flower wreath, or just sit back, drink a beer and listen to the music. Children can grind wheat, make a corn-husk doll, learn to spin wool, climb on an exciting hay-bale mountain full of secret passages, listen to stories inside a tipi and much more. You can camp overnight in the walnut orchard after dancing under the stars. The weekend is an immersion in another world - the world of harvest festival.

When: Saturday, October 6 & Sunday, October 7, 2012
Full Belly Farm, County Road 43 Guinda, CA 95637
Admission prices:
Adults: $20 each when purchased online; $25 when purchased at the gate, Children (2-12): $5 each anytime! Under 2: Free.
Saturday night camping: $25 per car
More info: http://www.hoesdown.org/

UC ANR's online agritourism directory, www.calagtour.org, lists many chances to celebrate the harvest season with farmers. Here are a few:

  • 152685display
    North Yuba Harvest Festival in Oregon House

    The North Yuba Harvest Festival will feature tasting of gold-medal local wines and olive oils, food vendors, live entertainment, arts, crafts, fresh produce, children´s activities and much more. This year it will be a full TWO DAYS of festival fun, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday.
    When: Saturday Sept. 29 & Sunday Sept. 30
    Where: 9185 Marysville Road, Oregon House, CA 95962
    Free entry, with $5 suggested parking donation.
    Wine tasing and souvenir glass $10
    Information: 530-692-2476 or www.alcouffecenter.org or www.northyubagrown.org

  • 1
    Sierra Oro Farm Trail Passport Weekend
    From 10 am to 5 pm Saturday and Sunday, travel the scenic agricultural trails of Butte County, sampling local fare including artisan olive oil, grass-fed meats, specialty nuts, award-winning wines and more. This annual agri-tourism adventure showcases 28 participating wineries and specialty farms throughout Butte County and provides trail goers with a once-a-year chance to savor the amazing farm-fresh bounty produced locally.
    When: Saturday October 6 and Sunday October 7, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
    Where: Butte County (Oroville, Chico, Paradise regions)
    Cost & registration: Passports cost $25 per person and include a 2012 map and free commemorative wine glass. Based on availability, Passports will cost $30 per person the day of the event.Click  here to order your 2012 Passports online now.
    For more information, please visit Sierraoro.org, email info@sierraoro.org or call 530-891-5556
  • Fall Harvest Festival at the UC Santa Cruz Farm
    Join the Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems on the UC Santa Cruz Farm for a full slate of music, food, tours, kids’ activities, cooking demos, gardening workshops, an apple pie baking contest, apple tasting, and much more!
    When: September 30, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
    Where: UC Santa Cruz Farm
    Cost:The festival is free for UCSC students, Friends of the Farm and Garden members, and kids 12 and under; $5 general admission.
    For more information:
    contact casfs@ucsc.edu, 831.459-3240, or see http://casfs.ucsc.edu. Directions are available on the website.

Attached Images:

By Penny Leff
Author - Agritourism Coordinator/Public Education Specialist