In the last year, the country as a whole has seen a remarkable shift toward rural living. Untethered from the office, many made the move to the countryside, discovering a new kind of rhythm in villages like those in the Monadnock Region.
The welcoming call of the outdoors drew people to the woods and waters when other settings felt unsafe. At the same time, locals and tourists alike turned to their nearest farm stores to stock up on fresh food when shopping seemed too risky or when staples were in short supply.
It's clear there is something special about rural communities that has resonated even more widely with people since the start of the pandemic. Those meaningful qualities are exactly what locals will get a chance to savor at the first-ever Harvest Festival happening this autumn.
"It's about celebrating and supporting our rural community," says Gina De Santis, events manager for The Keene Sentinel.
A collaboration between the Sentinel/Monadnock Table and Stonewall Farm, the Harvest Festival is a brand-new event with a great deal of energy and excitement behind it.
Julie Davenson, executive director at Stonewall, says the farm typically holds a fall event but teaming up offers a way to expand on the idea dramatically.
"We enjoy collaborating with other organizations as a community-supported nonprofit and have been impressed with the quality and depth of events the Sentinel has produced for our community," she explains.
Together, the two organizations plan to offer a range of highlights at the festival, scheduled for Oct. 2 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. From farm food to local wine and beer, it's going to be a heavenly scene for foodies, especially with seasonal flavors to play up. Guests will pay a one-time admission fee to enter, and then all the food vendors, breweries, distilleries and vineyards will be offering samples for free.
"Fall harvest festivals are really gratitude festivals, celebrating the abundance of food, the labors of our hard-working farmers that feed our community," Davenson says.
What better way to do it than by showcasing the tasty results of all that toil in the soil?
"We hope Harvest Festival will introduce more community members to their farmers. We're looking forward to celebrating local food and farming at the end of an amazing growing season!" says Jen Risley, marketing manager for the Monadnock Food Co-op.
Her organization is the lead sponsor for Harvest Festival, a perfect fit since supporting local farms is at the core of the Co-op's mission.
"We've always had dreams of bringing a Harvest Festival to our region — and now we'll have one at Stonewall Farm," she says.
While food will be a major feature of the event, there will also be a range of interesting information and entertainment. For instance, the Co-op plans to highlight the Indigenous NH Harvest Calendar as part of their presence.
"It's a fantastic resource that we'd love more people to know about," Risley says.
A wealth of local artisans will also be on-site, sharing the talent and culture this part of the Granite State is known for. Families will have plenty to fit in, as well, with live music, hayrides, and other fun activities on tap for the day.
Beyond the festivities and sense of community, Davenson feels the event will help bring awareness to a critical issue, the vulnerability of our food system.
"Harvest festivals remind us of the value and need to support our local food system, which creates a more vibrant community both in terms of economics and social connections," she says.
In her mind, there could be no better place to celebrate building those connections than at a local, community-based farm like Stonewall. The nonprofit opens its grounds and barns for public use, free-of-charge year-round, with the intention of engaging more people in the natural world around them, as well as the essential role farms play.
"Our mission is to teach and demonstrate regenerative farming to people of all ages to ensure food security, a healthy planet and vibrant community," Davenson says. The farm hosts many ongoing educational programs, experiences, and events, which people can support or learn more about at stonewallfarm.org.
The Harvest Festival, also made possible by the support of Fenton Family Dealerships, Life Safety Fire Protection, Inc., Savings Bank of Walpole, and The Richards Group creates another exciting touchpoint for locals to connect with their farmers.
Though autumn may seem far off yet, the season of pumpkin spice is likely to arrive sooner than expected, bringing with it many classic markers of New England. It's the time when leaf peepers soak in the splendor, and who doesn't get giddy thinking about cider making, apple picking, and pumpkin carving?
Now there's an added chance to gather and enjoy the pleasure of the harvest season together. So mark your calendars for Oct. 2, and anyone interested in participating in the upcoming Harvest Festival can find out more by visiting https://www.sentinelsource.com/harvest_festival.
Caroline Tremblay writes from Richmond, New Hampshire.