A harvest festival is a great way to celebrate nature’s bounty while the park is in its leaf-changing glory. Some art, some food and a lot of creativity will give you a perfect way to pay tribute to fall, with neighbours, in the park.
A harvest festival is a great way to celebrate nature’s bounty while better-acquainting locals with your park. It’s a celebration that takes place at an exciting time of year when there’s a nip in the air and the smell of leaves on the breeze. Harvest festivals channel the same energy as Halloween, which itself originated from an ancient Celtic harvest festival. How you plan your festival will depend on why harvest is important to your community. Is it about straw bales and pumpkins, celebrating nature’s bounty, the cycles of life on earth or a little of each?
The Renfrew Ravine Moon Festival has been taking place during the full harvest moon since 2002. It’s a festival that spans the afternoon and the evening, morphing from a harvest celebration during the day to a moon festival at night. Each year the Festival attracts upwards of 5,000 participants from local East Vancouver neighbourhoods.
Here are five tips for planning a successful harvest festival in your community, from our friends at Still Moon Arts Society.
When you introduce art and live music, you change the dynamic of a festival. Produce, pumpkins and pitchforks can only get you so far—you need to kick it up a notch! Local artists can be invited to participate in your Harvest Festival. A small honorarium makes the invitation even more welcome. The possibilities for how to run your Festival are only limited by your creativity. What about a parade? East Vancouver’s Harvest Moon Festival includes a daytime harvest festival at one site, then a parade at dusk to a second site for the ‘Moon’ portion. Handmade lanterns are a feature, accenting the sunset and then lighting up the night. Creativity isn’t the sole domain of actual artists. Children and teenagers can get into the spirit as well, decorating their bicycles, making small flags, artfully carving pumpkins, crafting harvest-themed clothing and other activities that will get them into the spirit of the event. A trip to the thrift store will net you enough clothes for a few dollars to build several scarecrows!
Attending a community event is good; taking part in an event that you helped make happen in some way is even better! See if you can build up involvement and excitement pre-event with workshops. Gather local children to make paper lanterns, flags or other crafts over two or three sessions pre-festival. Get participating artists together at a local coffee shop for some informal planning, networking and further recruitment. Enlist the art department at the local high school to carve pumpkins or to create harvest-themed art installations. When participants prepare ahead of time and have something to show for it, their enthusiasm is palpable.
Pay homage to the harvest
This is a harvest festival, so don’t forget to celebrate it like you mean it. Find ways to incorporate seasonal produce likes apples and corn (both as decoration and as food) and perhaps include local farmers in your event. If it's possible, you can even host a small farmer's market. If yours is an urban festival, it’s even more impressive—it’s like bringing the country to the city! Get kids to write a big thank you banner to the farmers who grow the food, which will make them feel like heroes.Another way of celebrating the harvest is to include a local produce competition: the biggest tomato, the fuzziest cucumber, the curliest gourd. Local retailers are often glad to donate $10 or $15 vouchers as prizes—well worth the publicity for them, and a real highlight for the winners. Add in other categories like best pie, best jam or best squares to involve those who celebrate produce but don’t necessarily have gardens.
Reflect local culture
East Vancouver’s Harvest Moon Festival takes place during the autumn full moon. That’s no accident: in addition to providing better natural illumination, the full moon holds significance for local participants of Asian and European heritage. In a neighbourhood where Asian Canadians form the biggest demographic, organizers actively recruit within it, weaving dragon dance and other traditions into the fabric of the festival. Faced with significant language and cultural barriers, organizers knew that direct involvement would help overcome cultural challenges and build a festival that would bring the community together.What distinct groups make up your community? If you’re in northern Saskatchewan you might want to weave Finnish or German customs into your harvest festival. In rural Quebec, you could incorporate traditional French Canadian dance—either as a demonstration or for all to join in. In every case, the point is to build cultural inclusion and celebration.