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Celebrating the harvest

September 27, 2012

A crew stacks hay on a Round Valley ranch in the early years of the 20th Century in this illustration by graphic artist Sky Hatter, a former-Independence resident. Photo courtesy Eastern California Museum

Crisp mornings and shorter days mean fall is in the air and with luck, plenty of produce that grew green in local gardens is in the cupboard. One fun way to share agricultural bounty is to bring both odd and edible produce, plus any baked, canned or pickled goods using produce from local gardens to the second annual Harvest Heritage Day at the Eastern California Museum.
The free event will allow local gardeners, cooks and bakers a chance to show off some of the fruits (and vegetables) of their horticultural and culinary labors. Harvest Heritage Day organizers will be highlighting fresh produce from local gardens for the Garden-to-Table section of the event.
Gardeners who wish to get rid of large, odd-shaped squash or monster zucchini can bring the items to the “vegetable dressing” table, and either dress up the produce themselves, or get some expert help – and the proper clothing – to make that monster gourd gorgeous, or that cute potato downright darling.
Everyone is encouraged to bring homemade baked goods with a fall theme to the festival. Apple and peach pies and cobblers, cookies and other goodies, including jams, jellies, relishes and the like, will be displayed and then shared with festival-goers.
The public is invited to the The Friends of the Eastern California Museum-sponsored event from 1-5 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 29, at the Eastern California Museum, 155 N. Grant St. in Independence – three blocks west of the historic courthouse.
In addition to fresh produce and prepared goodies, there will also be free, All-American hot dogs, to counter-balance all the healthy foods. Beverages will also be provided to wash everything down.
Besides the garden-variety fun, here will be a number of other activities, events and demonstrations.
For the smaller harvesters, there will be a variety of kids’ crafts and events, including pumpkin painting, a spoon puppet show, being able to make their own butter (which should go well with some homemade bread) and demonstrations of how folks used to do laundry “in the old days.”
For youngsters who like things that make noise and sputter and roar, small vintage engines will be on the museum grounds courtesy of Laws Museum volunteers who will crank them up, fire them up or steam them up, depending on the gadget in question.
New to Harvest Heritage Day this year is Bountiful Bingo, which gives participants a chance to play agricultural-related bingo and win some prizes donated by local businesses.
Local musicians will be roaming the museum grounds, serenading the crowd, providing a musical backdrop to the day.
The “Autumn Bread Competition” is more of a chance to share favorite family recipes than a competition. Bakers are invited to create a favorite veggie- or fruit-themed bread – zucchini, pumpkin, carrot, etc. – to be judged and then shared with the hungry crowd.
The “Garden to Table” tasting table will feature a variety of fresh, local produce, so, of course, local gardeners will have to bring in a share of their harvest and load up the table.
One of the more unique aspects of the event will be the “dressed vegetable” display. Local gardeners can bring their over-sized squash, pumpkins, zucchini and so on and dress them up in festive “clothing” that will be available to cover their “naked” veggies. For those who don’t usually dress up their vegetables, Independence Civic Club members will display their dressed veggies and provide help in mastering the art of putting clothes on large and small food items. The costume party isn’t just for vegetables, apples, peaches and other garden fruit are also fair game.
Harvest Heritage Day is fashioned after the Harvest Festivals held in all Owens Valley towns in the early 20th Century. Towns would have parades with floats featuring local garden produce and local farm harvests. Music, dances, barbeques, bingo and general good-times were all part of those historical harvest celebrations. The Museum and the Friends of the Eastern California Museum are reviving this rich tradition of celebrating the coming fall season and admiring the bounty of the growing season in the valley.
For example, a 1911 postcard touting the “First Annual Harvest Festival, Bishop, Ca.” promised attendees “a day of jollification” and celebration in “the Owens Valley, the land of plenty.”
This weekend, the Eastern California Museum will put on their own “day of jollification” during the Harvest Heritage Day: Celebrating Autumn in the Owens Valley.
Call the Museum at (760) 878-0258 for more information about Harvest Heritage Day.

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