It’s the middle of September, and I’m bundling together a few warm layers, my windbreaker and tent, and my fuzziest sleeping socks to attend the Harvest Moon Festival. After a long ride through the rolling hills of the Pembina Valley, I throw down my heavy bags and begin to set up my tent in the field behind the Clearwater Memorial Hall. It’s drizzling, and it’s not about to stop. The rainy weekend has me huddled next to roaring outdoor fires, sipping whiskey out of thermoses passed along by friends, taking cover in the dry arena and community centre, and dancing my socks off in a throng of other warm bodies.
For many, Harvest Moon means what it meant to me -- camping out in Clearwater with friends while listening to live music, and maybe eating a fried perogy sold right on the dance floor. But the festival is just one branch of a much larger organization. The Harvest Moon Society also connects local farmers to urban communities through the Local Food Initiative, offers sustainability and agriculture workshops during the festival and throughout the year, coordinates programming for youth, and hosts students from the University of Manitoba all through the Harvest Moon Learning Centre. In part, the festival serves as a fundraiser for these activities.
Outgoing president of the Harvest Moon Local Food Initiative, Lisa Clouston, explains that the Initiative connects “Manitoba farmers to eaters in urban Manitoba who want to support local food producers.” Currently, they’re working with over a dozen local farms to source products like pastured chicken, pork, goat, lamb and beef, raw honey, grains, and organic vegetables.
The Harvest Moon Society also has an ongoing relationship with the University of Manitoba. Not only do they host a course through the Department of Environment and Geography, entitled “Living Rural Communities and Environments” for two weeks every August, the University of Manitoba architecture students have also visited Clearwater to propose projects. Harvest Moon Society Board member, Vivian Gosselin, points to the bulletin boards in the hallway of the Harvest Moon Learning Centre, telling me “ those are all projects they've proposed, and some were selected to complete. The stages behind the school and in the restaurant are made of reclaimed wood. The architecture students conceptualized the design by looking at the community to see what was needed and what was available.”
The weekend of the festival is one of the busier times for the staff and volunteers of the Harvest Moon Society, but program coordinator Lacey Lord manages to make time to sit and chat with me in her office at the Harvest Moon Learning Centre.
FULL: How did you come into the role of coordinator for the Harvest Moon Society?
Lacey Lord: I’ve known about Harvest Moon for six years and attended the festivals. I took some courses through the Learning Centre here. One of the courses I took was on permaculture, which is a way of designing systems to make them the most sustainable. You can use permaculture design principles for land-use systems or human social systems, among others. The grounds and gardens here have been designed that way. If you have a problem with your garden, or a certain crop, permaculture shows you how to see the problem as part of a whole picture, to understand how things are interconnected in order to improve them. The gardens are connected to a grey water system, and we often have one or two interns to help with them. They learn how to manage the garden, and how food production and marketing works. They can also have a booth at the farmers market. It eases them into that kind of work if that’s something they’re interested in.
We do have workshops going on during the festival, but they also happen throughout the summer. For example, they’ve had workshops on wilderness skills, the soil food web, starting your own small farm business, installing rainwater and greywater systems, to name a few.
FULL: Tell me more about some of the programming you coordinate.
LL: The New Moon Kids Camp runs during the day in late July for kids 8-12. It’s led by local leaders. The kids help with the cooking, and we do activities at the Learning Centre like pollinator tag and yoga in the garden — kid activities with more of a spin toward understanding how things work in nature.
For the University of Manitoba’s Living Rural Communities and Environments program, students camp at the Harvest Moon Learning Centre grounds for the duration of the course. Last August they visited a Hutterite colony, Swan Lake First Nation, farms that do rotational grazing and grow organic crops, and farms that also follow standard agricultural practices. Students can see the diversity of practices and perspectives. They learn about why people pick one method over another and issues they face in either option. They also learn from community experts about food preservation, indigenous food sovereignty, issues affecting migrant workers, and evolving gender roles.
The Lessons From the Land Trail by the river was made possible with the help of a university student who took the Living Rural course and became really interested in the area and the local plant life. She applied for a grant to begin that project, and other community members have helped develop it further. In previous years, there’s been a trail walk along there as one of the workshops during the festival. And every year right before the festival, we host the Eco-Challenge. It’s a land-based learning event for grade 7 and 8 students in the Prairie Spirit School Division. The students attend morning workshops on subjects like water conservation, forest management, and local animal species. In the afternoon, they go out onto the trail in teams of eight to ten. They meet up with our experts at trail stops and race to answer questions about the morning’s subjects.
The Harvest Moon Festival is just the tip of the iceberg.