Village on the ‘Moon’

Music fest brings fun, finance to tiny farming community

Len Peterson

For the 13th year in a row, the Harvest Moon Festival will shine over the village of Clearwater, Man. The festival, hosted from Sept. 12 to 14, boasts an array of enticing qualities, ranging from the aural to the edible.

Located 200 km southwest of Winnipeg, the festival offers three days of music, camping and the great outdoors, including a Fair Trade Fair and farmer’s market. The festival’s also deeply important for the fewer-than-100 residents of the modest farming community: one purpose of the celebrations, besides music and fresh food, is to help stimulate business in Clearwater. 

“Small scale farming is not as prevalent as it once was,” says Harvest Moon rep Sheldon Birnie. “Farms are getting bigger. Costs go up. You’re seeing a lot more big farms and fewer family farms. Harvest Moon brings people into the area, encourages the spending of money. It’s the way these folks have chosen to keep their community alive.”

The festival - which drew 1,200 people in 2012 - features workshops on yoga, food canning and pickling, as well as a panel discussion on small-scale, sustainable farming - ideal timing since the United Nations has named 2014 as the International Year of Family Farming.

The festival’s a part of the Harvest Moon Society - an umbrella organization that also includes a local food initiative and educational programs - and shares the society’s interest in community development.

“Our goal is to connect urban and rural folks together around these issues of food sovereignty,” Birnie explains. “Raising those issues around the sustainability of a smaller scale, more traditional kind of agriculture.”

Kimberly Bialkoski of Flora & Farmer, a local producer of jams and preserves, speaks highly of the farming community.

“I’m amazed by the sustainability and warmth of the community, their commitment to encourage and support small scale food producers and their grassroots approach to a viable food system,” says Bialkoski, whose company provides canned preserves for Organic Planet’s breakfast at the festival.

Communities like Clearwater are equally vital to the artists performing at Harvest Moon. Winnipeg-born folk singer Del Barber will be performing at Harvest Moon. He shares Bialkoski’s passion for Agriculture.

“I’ve taken jobs on farms since I was 16,” Barber says. “My life has allowed me to play a role on a grain-fed, pure-bred cattle farm. When I’m not on the road, I work the farm with my partner and her folks. It’s a great joy and the reason why we moved out there.”

Barber, a three-time fest veteran, insists that Harvest Moon is “more than just a music festival.”

“Bringing people together on more levels than simply to listen to music,” he says. “That’s what gives this festival teeth. It’s a great place to discuss different approaches, techniques and aesthetics.”

But Barber’s pride for small scale farming stems from the soil of his home province.

“My decisions for consuming food are directly related to a desire to support and honour sustainable, efficient and ethical agricultural practices,” he says. “If you’re from Manitoba, you’re close to farming. That’s the reality.”

Published in Volume 69, Number 2 of The Uniter (September 10, 2014)

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