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Less than two hours into the annual Harvest Fun Day at 78th Street Heritage Farm, Karen Washabaugh already knew she was looking at record-breaking attendance.
Washabaugh, visitor services coordinator at the Clark County Historical Museum, which organizes the event, said she'd never seen so many people show up so early in the event's nine-year history.
"We had about 3,000 people last year, and it's possible we'll beat that soon," she said, squinting in the noon sunlight on Saturday, the first day of fall.
Throngs of young children took over the Hazel Dell farm and field, running from station to station and learning how to make scarecrows, paint pumpkins, shuck corn and harvest carrots.
Susan Tissot, executive director of the museum, said she was thrilled that the event she founded seemed to be doing its job of teaching kids about farms and where produce actually comes from.
"My mother was a Martha Stewart type, and I didn't realize when I was growing up that not a lot of families had that," Tissot said. "A lot of families are removed from the farm and they don't do much with making crafts or harvesting plants with their hands."
As an added bonus, the fruits — or vegetables — of the children's labors are donated to the Clark County Food Bank each year.
"Last year, the kids picked 6,000 pounds of carrots for the food bank," Tissot said. "It's important that the kids learn to make things with their hands, but also that they learn that it's important to give back."
Jordan Eskridge and Dawn Singer, who turned up with a handful of kids from both their families, said the event was the most well-rounded harvest festival they've been to.
"Activity-wise, there were far more options for the kids," Eskridge said. "And we wanted the kids to get a good experience and do something positive. It's just been a blast."
Singer's daughter Shyann, 10, said she made her first scarecrow at the event.
"It was kind of difficult but it was really fun," Shyann said. "Tying all of it together and making the head was hardest. You have to stuff the head first."
She named her pink-headed creation Ruby.
Visitors to the festival could also get their faces reddened in a series of no-hands pie-eating contests.
Lyle Stumpf, 36, won the adult contest for the fourth year in a row -- tipping his pie onto the table with his mouth and slurping up the berries and crust in just 45 seconds. His advice? "Just eat fast," he said.
His son, Kolby, 7, tried his luck in the contest for younger kids. He didn't win, but he said he had fun.
"It was cool and the pie was good," Kolby said.
Stumpf's daughter Alexys, 11, participated in the contest for older kids.
"I got mine tipped over to prepare for it, but I didn't get it all," she said.
Their mother, Marcy Stumpf, smiled as she watched her family enjoy the festivities. "It's entertainment for the whole family," she said. "There's a lot to do here. The kids also love digging for carrots."
Organizers gave up on taking attendance a few years ago -- it was hard to track with so many people going in and out to carry produce or plants to their cars, Washabaugh said.
Just eyeballing it, though, the crowd was certainly impressive, she added.
"We have kids here in Clark County who think that vegetables grow on shelves at supermarkets," Washabaugh said. "It's great to get people out here so they can relate to our agricultural heritage."
Sue Vorenberg: 360-735-4457; twitter.com/col_suevo; firstname.lastname@example.org.