Crowds dig in at Harvest Fun Day

Fall event hands-on primer on county's agricultural history

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter

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Harvest Fun Day 2013

• What: An educational festival put on by the Clark County Historical Museum where families can learn about life on the farm. Activities include pie-eating and corn-shucking contests, scarecrow making, kids' games, live music, and corn and carrot picking for the Clark County Food Bank. Contest participants should call or visit the website to sign up by 4 p.m. today.

• When: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sept. 28.

• Where: Heritage Farm, 1919 N.E. 78th St.

• Admission: Free.

• Telephone: 360-993-5679.

• Web: www.cchmuseum.org/harvest-fun-day-2013

You can count on a few things to stay the same every year at Harvest Fun Day.

Kids will scramble after fresh produce, get their faces painted and make scarecrows. Visitors of all ages will compete in pie-eating and corn-shucking contests. And about 700 pumpkins will get magic marker makeovers to transform them with the Halloween spirit.

But one thing that isn't staying the same is the crowd size — it just keeps growing.

In its 10th year, the festival — aimed at teaching urban kids and their families about farming — has grown significantly from its origins in a dirt lot across the street from the Clark County Historical Museum.

Susan Tissot, executive director of the museum, founded the event as a way to teach about craft-making and the county's longtime farming history.

"I think that there is a real need in the community for families to get together and build things with their hands," Tissot said. "That's why we started with a scarecrow-making station. It brings families together to work as a team, and they get something they can take home."

The festival launched with scarecrows, eating contests and pumpkin decorating. But it wasn't until 2010 that then-County Commissioner Marc Boldt suggested the museum join with the Heritage Farm to add first-hand harvesting experience to the lineup.

And it ended up being a huge hit, said Karen Washabaugh, the museum's visitor services coordinator.

"We really didn't know what to expect when it first went out there," Washabaugh said. "Most of our traffic when it was here was on foot from people coming from downtown and uptown. We weren't sure if people would travel that far."

But attendance jumped from about 1,200 to 2,500 at the farm that first year. Then it jumped to 3,000 in 2011. And last year it grew to 3,800, she said.

One of the most popular activities at the event is that kids get to harvest carrots and corn, with the fruits — or vegetables — of their labor going to local food banks.

"We Americans, lots of us are so urban that we don't think about where food comes from," Washabaugh said. "It's nice to take people out, especially kids, and show them where food actually grows. And at the same time they also learn the importance of giving back to the community."

That's not to say that the kids can't chow down on a carrot or two in the process, though.

"There's definitely munching along the way," Washabaugh said. "I remember this one little guy last year, he must have been 4. He had this huge carrot in his mouth, with greens that were about twice as long, still attached and hanging off to the side. He looked so pleased with himself. He had this huge grin."

The scarecrows are made with clothing donated from the Salvation Army and stuffed with paper from newspaper end rolls instead of hay. Each year there are materials for about 600 of them.

"There really is no right or wrong way to make a scarecrow," Tissot said. "But I was surprised when we first started doing this that some people had no idea how to make one. I grew up doing this kind of stuff every day and I thought it was what everyone did. It's been eye-opening."

Bi-Zi Farms also donates pumpkins for the kids to decorate. Last year, the farm donated somewhere between 700 and 800 pumpkins.

"Pumpkins are a bottomless pit," Washabaugh said. "We always run out of them. But Bi-Zi Farms has been so generous. They can't give any more because they also have to stay in business."

Beyond that, 4-H kids have joined in and bring "the equivalent of a petting zoo" to the event for everyone to enjoy.

"Most years somebody also brings a sheep dog and some sheep," Washabaugh said.

There are also draft horses, plowing demonstrations, live music, vegetables and plants for sale and a lunch fundraiser for the museum put on by the Lions Club.

"It's a really fun event," Tissot said.


Sue Vorenberg: 360-735-4457; http://www.twitter.com/col_suevo; sue.vorenberg@columbian.com.