What began as a "glorified picnic" is now a sure sign of fall in Manitoba.
Now in its 12th year, the Harvest Moon Festival, an annual celebration of local food and music held in the tiny village of Clearwater, about 200 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg, used to draw around 150 people, says Molly McCracken, co-chair of the festival organizing committee.
Now, the three-day event attracts around 1,500.
"We've grown at a steady rate. We've grown with the small producers' movement," McCracken says.
Indeed, it's little coincidence Harvest Moon's attendance has swelled as 100-mile diets and concepts such as food security have entered everyday conversation. People are more concerned about where their food is coming from.
"We've piggybacked on those values, connecting producers with consumers and supporting good labour practices. The festival is a chance to celebrate what's working and hold up examples of good producers," McCracken says.
The festival is the main fundraiser for the Harvest Moon Society, a volunteer-run organization that shares the festival's mandate of promoting sustainable living and secure farming practices, working under the motto "Healthy Land, Healthy Community."
As such, education is an important part of the event. Festival goers can participate in Harvest Moon's unique lineup of workshops on topics ranging from foraging for wild edibles and permaculture to talks on the survival of the small farm.
The festival will also being hosting a fundraising breakfast on Saturday morning in partnership with the Real Manitoba Food Fight to support Pam and Clint Cavers of Harbourside Farms, who had $8,000 worth of cured meat seized from their farm two weeks ago by the province. The Cavers are founding members of the Harvest Moon Society and have been at the forefront of small-scale farm production. The brunch will be prepared by Chef Alex Svenne of Bistro 7 1/4, who has been a longtime supporter of Harbourside.
Harvest Moon is also a celebration of local music. This year's lineup boasts 25 acts, including scene staples such as Chic Gamine, DJ Mama Cutsworth, Cannon Bros, Boats and Mariachi Ghost along with up-and-comers such as Eagle Lake Owls, Animal Teeth and the Burning Kettles.
"We strive to have a mixture of established and emerging artists from the Pembina Valley and surrounding area," McCracken says, adding Union Sound Hall talent booker David Schellenberg is helping the festival keep its finger on the pulse.
The bond created over music and food is a powerful one and goes a long way in explaining Harvest Moon's longevity, McCracken says.
"The festival is a gathering place for many people. It energizes people for their work for the rest of the year," she says.
"It's easy to get disconnected from the harvest. It sustains us physically, but it also sustains us spiritually. When you get reconnected with the land, it's quite energizing."