Harvest Fest 1

“Yay! It’s Harvest Fest Day,” crowed Cali as she greeted Owen with a big hug. “Down! Lummox. You can’t go with us today. No dogs at that Conservancy Trust farm.”

“I hate to exclude them,” said Owen, “But the elk need to have priority there.”

“Oh, we know,” said Rhea, coming up with the baby carrier. “Our dogs have plenty of space to roam here on our Trust farm where the elk are more problematic. Not that we don’t love them,” she hastened to add.

Owen had the RCar Suburu wagon that was stationed in their little valley at the bottom of the Mountain. He’d first driven it back by his house and picked up his potluck apple pie and the signs he’d made, as well as gallon jars for the cider they would be making today at the Fest. He’d already taken over most the apples from his own trees the day before along with some he’d picked from neighbors’ yards who were glad the fruit wasn’t going to waste.

Here at Benden Farm he was collecting Caliente and Carlos, plus Rhea. By the looks of it Carlos was bringing his guitar and djembe. Owen hoped that the costume trunks didn’t have to be squeezed in. People didn’t generally dress up for Harvest Fest but you never knew what these kids might have cooked up.

Cali did have a carton of the most recent issue of the sporadically published activist newspaper she helped produce on her laptop. Squawk! had proved a useful forum for change in the community and had sponsored some fiery debates. With her generous sprinkling of freckles and curly reddish hair – what women called “strawberry blonde” – peeking out from under her trademark beret (red today), he thought she lived up to her name. He chucked remembering that her parents had known she was a double fire sign when they named her.

“Who’s bringing the plates and cutlery?” he asked, wondering if he’d need to swing by ReBound and pick up the rental ones. No way they’d fit in with this load.

“Don’t worry, Owen, Janna’s already got them over there.”

Of course, they each had pies too in their baskets. Carlos had baked a savory one by the smell of it. “Is that your sausage I smell?”

“Yup and I hope there’s room for this cooler. I’ve got more sausage to sell today. It did well all summer at Friday Market and this is the last of it. Next week we start making it for Angel’s Restaurant. I’m pretty excited about that. She’s very committed to selling local food.”

“Good thing our neighborhood has the station wagon. It’s gonna get filled up pretty fast. Let’s not forget the baby!”

It took some careful packing, including filling the box on top, but eventually they were all shoehorned into the blue Subaru for the three mile drive to the Conservancy Trust’s Locavore Farm.

“I guess I needn’t have worried,” thought Owen, listening to the chatter around him. He was still learning to relax into faith that all the pieces would come together even if he didn’t oversee every detail. Years of Board service and occasional part-time employment for the Conservancy Trust had him accustomed to tracking and he did like to know that things were in hand. This was a large event with people from out of town and he wanted the Trust to show up well. These young people were enthusiastic help but he found them a little casual for his comfort level and it had taken longer than he wanted to gather things up. Had they gotten off soon enough to get his signs there in a timely manner? He should have come half an hour sooner. Hopefully, Alex remembered to pick up the tables and chairs from the Nekelew Community Center. This event used more than the Trust had in the barn. Had Molly arranged for the recycle bins to be delivered? Owen’s thoughts were spiraling again. Luckily it was a short ride and he didn’t have time to build up too much of a frenzy. “Breathe!” he told himself.

When they arrived, there was a familiar joyous bustle of making ready. Carlos headed to the performance area in the corner of the barn with the musical instruments. “I’ll come back in a minute to help with Menolly and the coolers,” he said over his shoulder to Cali.

The tables were indeed set up and Rhea hopped to spreading out the colorful cloths that had seen service at many an event. The extra recycle bins were lined up and Owen noted there was even a bin to collect for the Food Bank. “What a good idea. That’s new this year.”

Ursula was overseeing the placement of the pies. A colorful Nepalese hat was perched on her gray hair and her jacket and dress were blue today, matched by dangling lapis earrings. “Savory on this side and sweet over there,” she was telling people. “And if you could fill out a card with the ingredients.” The multicolored, mismatched plates were piled on one table along with lots of forks. At least now they had facilities to wash the plates unlike in the early years when they’d had to take them all home to be washed before going back to ReBound.

Owen handed her the small signs he’d made for vegan, veggie, and carnivore sections.

“Oh, Owen, they’re lovely! That was an unfortunate mix-up last year. People are pretty tolerant of everyone else’s philosophical preferences and dietary restrictions, but some don’t like surprises – like cheese, or worse, meat, when they thought it was tofu. And it’s nice when it’s clear a crust is gluten free for those with allergies.”

Owen was just starting to wonder whether his two would be the only sweet pies, when two more arrived, made from the farm’s own pumpkins.

“Now, Owen don’t worry about the pies,” Ursula told him firmly knowing his tendency to fret. “Go help with the apple cider press. Johan is busy with a project deadline at the metal foundry so another hand is needed.“

“I’ll help as soon as I unload the signs I made for the Trust booth. Have the parking volunteers gotten here yet?”

“No, Janna told them to come at 11 o’clock. I’m sure that’s plenty of time for them to get here. The jitney is coming then to bring people over from the church parking lot when the inner field gets full.”

“You don’t think that’s cutting it a little close? What if they’re late?”

“Relax! Breathe. It’s mostly the same folks who’ve done it for years. Go see about the apple press.”

Owen grinned at her sheepishly and after piling the signs near the non-profit booths (already set up, of course, by Janna), he moved the car to his special spot behind the caretakers’ house. That way he could get to his extra jacket if he needed it and could grab for emergency supplies if they ran out of anything. He knew he’d be here ‘til the very end for the cleanup but he still liked to have the car handy.

Maybe he needed to commune a little more with Cascara sagrada one of these days. There certainly was enough of it growing on the Mountain. Medicinally the deciduous tree’s bark helped loosen the bowels, so its essence was about moving gracefully with the current. “Go with the flow, right, August and Anise?” he said as he passed two little ones playing in a mud puddle. “Worry is praying for what you don’t want,” he reminded himself.

 

Ursula smiled as Owen walked away. He was such a trusty soul. She smiled again at the pun. A large, sweet teddy bear of a man, but really, he could afford to relax a little more these days. There were so many new people and returnees to help. Competent ones too. Always a plus. In fact, here came one from each category, one of whom was Owen’s daughter.

“Robin and Mariposa, could you take over here? Somebody will come relieve you in a little while.”

“I’m all over it, Ursula. I like doing this sort of job. I get to talk to everyone and it’ll be a good way to introduce Mariposa to people.”

“We can work for a whole hour if you want us to,“ chimed in Mariposa. “You’ve done all this set up work. Go enjoy the beginning of the Fest.”

“Great. I think somebody is scheduled for next full hour.”

Ursula smiled as Owen walked away. He was such a trusty soul. She smiled again at the pun. A large, sweet teddy bear of a man, but really, he could afford to relax a little more these days. There were so many new people and returnees to help. Competent ones too. Always a plus. In fact, here came one from each category, one of whom was Owen’s daughter.

“Robin and Mariposa, could you take over here? Somebody will come relieve you in a little while.”

“I’m all over it, Ursula. I like doing this sort of job. I get to talk to everyone and it’ll be a good way to introduce Mariposa to people.”

“We can work for a whole hour if you want us to,“ chimed in Mariposa. “You’ve done all this set up work. Go enjoy the beginning of the Fest.”

“Great. I think somebody is scheduled for next full hour.”

Ursula walked past the greenhouse and looked out over the meadow of the Preserve where the elk were grazing. She hoped they would stick around for the Fest, though it was likely that enthusiastic folks would get too close and the herd would take off into the spruce swamp at the southern border of the field. It was so important that they had this whole safe place that was within easy reach of their calving grounds out on the islands in the bay. She said a prayer for these “charismatic mega-fauna” (she loved that term) and also for all the little ground creatures that thrived in the protected meadows and piles of woody debris left for them.

The Trust had filled in ditches and smoothed out dikes to install the pond in the middle distance. It had taken money from the Feds – Fish and Wildlife, mostly – who’d agreed with the argument in the proposal that the migrating birds needed a safe place too. Hunters still had their way farther out in the estuary but today she could feel thankfulness coming from the Canadian Geese stopping by. They must be taking an R & R day. “We all need that from time to time,” she whispered to them thinking of her own such times.

She jumped a little as Charley came up behind her breaking into her reverie, then settled into the curve of his arm. “I still get pleasure shivers at the memory of helping to buy this place. Do you?”

She and Charley plus two other couples and Owen had pooled retirement savings and bought the former dairy farm at a reasonable price. Then they had worked to create the Conservancy Trust, raising the funds to buy it back from themselves. She still carried an aerial photo of the preserved green swath in her notebook to inspire her. Of course, it wasn’t all meadow any more. One of the tasks had been to replant trees along the creek to help the salmon come back. The trees were growing quickly though the salmon had yet to make their reappearance. She sighed and then thought of all there was to be grateful for in the moment. It was not a day to dwell on what hadn’t yet been accomplished.

She and Charley were no longer on the Board, though Owen and some of the other originals were still intimately involved. She liked to help out at the festival when she could. It was a joyous event and needed “all hands on deck.” She’d missed it the last couple of years since opening her store, but she had enough business now to hire help so today Cindy was holding down the fort at Bear Essentials.

“Michael Di’Angeli is over there by the cider press,” said Charley. “Come meet his sweetie.”

They turned back towards the barnyard where the vendors were putting finishing touches on their booths. Inside the barn the first of the day’s musicians were getting fiddles and guitars tuned up.

“Michael! How good to see you,” Ursula said, giving him a hug. He looked just like she remembered him as a high school classmate of her older kids – medium height, a little portly. Michael had always loved good food and his parents owned a pizza parlor in Nekelew. Wire frame glasses over rather serious eyes. She liked his new air of confidence. “I’m sooo glad you’ve ended up back in town. I was hoping for someone in the Locus job who knew the area and didn’t have to start from scratch. What a double bonus to hear that it was to be you. I’ll bet your parents are happy.”

She turned to the fey, elfin young man next to Michael. “And this must be Uriel. I’ve heard so much about you.”

“Me you too,” said Uriel, his brown eyes twinkling.

“Ursa, can you take them around and introduce them? I know there are new connections for Michael to make today. I’ve got to check out the new ReSource Center brochures that Lindsey picked up at the printers,” said Charley heading off to his booth.

“You’re right about it being an advantage to have grown up here,” said Michael. “I’m overwhelmed just getting to know the new people. Do you realize it has been 15 years since I graduated and left home? Hey, is that Ivor over there? He was in my high school class,” Michael explained to Uri.

“He and his brother are making cheese with milk from one of the organic dairies. You might check with them to see if they need any of your interns. I’ve heard their operation is getting pretty fancy. Visiting it would make a good field trip if you plan on doing that sort of thing.”

“Mostly the interns are focused on their own on assignment but we have weekly meetings to network and troubleshoot. Doing some site visits is a great idea. We could even include students from the main campus program. I wonder if you might be willing to come to a conversation Charley is setting up about the history of what is going on here at one of those sessions soon.”

“I’d be happy to. I hope you’re also asking Pia and Raven to give a tour of Elk Ridge.”

“I will be but not at the same session. I want to get Molly too and some of my age group like Robin and Caliente who are active.”

They were silent for a moment watching the scene unfold around them as people arrived in earnest. The shuttle bus was obviously doing its duty.

“As you can see, there are more and more secondary products now,” observed Ursula. “Cindy Woodburn bottles herbal vinegars, among other things, and Esperanza Diez is canning salsa. Have you seen the new community commercial kitchen?”

“Yes, that should open things up. We’ll be placing an intern to help with marketing products further afield. Do you know people who might want that sort of assistance?”

“Let me introduce you to the Franklin family with their honey and beeswax candles. They want to expand and have just arranged to deal with several other families’ hives. Help me remember to buy some of their seconds for upcoming rituals. It looks like they also have some fresh goats milk cheese. Sometimes they have wild crafted sea salt and seaweeds.”

“I can’t believe how many organic meat producers there are now.”

“Isn’t it cool?” Ursula counted them off on her fingers. “Chicken, lamb, beef, rabbit, and turkey…. Oh and pork. There are plenty of vegetable growers as well.”

“And plant starts and seeds. Are the seeds locally gathered?”

“Most of them. We can talk to those folks over there who do that.”

“I remember when the Harvest Fest first started,” Michael explained to Uriel. “This was the only outlet all year for fifty miles up and down the coast. The only way to connect with growers was via the local grocery stores or a CSA.”

“What’s a CSA?” asked Uri.

“People pay up front in the spring and get a weekly box of produce through the growing season,” explained Ursula. “A potluck of whatever is ripe at the moment. It gives the growers spring seed capital up-front which is a great way to support local growers. Now there are farmers’ markets on different days all summer spread out among many communities. The one in Mahonia is Friday evenings to catch the visitors just getting into town. They have music and dinner food booths so it’s turned out to be a happenin’ place to hang out. Now, around this corner…TA DA! Here’s Cali and her little one.”

There were hugs all round, of course, and proper attention paid to the grinning baby in her front pack.

Flicker Franklin and Otter came bustling up. “Ursula, the guys at the cider press said we could pick apples. Can you come help us?”

“Sure, kids. The long armed picking basket is in the barn and so are the collecting tarps.” She turned to her daughter and Michael. “I’ll leave you guys to catch up. Cali, maybe you could introduce them to the various folks of the Grower’s Guild. Oh, and Michael, be sure to check in with Molly at ReBound sooner rather than later. I know she’s got some stuff up her sleeve to talk to you about. Food isn’t all there is to sustainability, you know. And don’t forget to check out our local architects’ beautiful ‘green’ buildings….”