Harvest Moon Local Food Festival celebrates Alaska-grown produce this weekend
Tomorrow in Soldotna Creek Park, local food producers and hungry locals will come together for the annual Harvest Moon Local Food Festival. The celebration of Alaska farmers and food will feature vendors, music, cooking demonstrations, a food preservation station, food trucks and a pie-making contest.
The festival is hosted by Kenai Local Food Connection, and started in 2013 as Harvest Moon Local Food Week. In 2018, it evolved into an all-day festival. The 2019 and 2021 festivals drew more than 3,000 attendees each, and included over 40 vendors.
Festival Organizer Heidi Chay said that even for those who have been to every previous festival, there are still exciting things to look forward to this year, like new vendors, food trucks and events.
There will be demonstrations, including lessons in wildcrafted Alaskan jam making, a sourdough starter tutorial and a demonstration in seed saving. Culinary events will include a demonstration of a massaged kale salad with grilled halloumi cheese from Lucy’s Market chef Kelsey Shields, and a Salmon Wellington demo.
Chay said one feature of the festival will be an educational walk at 12:30, themed around wild edible food.
“Two of our wild harvesting experts, Larissa Notter and Dr. George Spady will be leading that walk. They just walk right onto the trails right here at Soldotna Creek Park and talk about all the wild edible plants and berries that can be found almost anywhere off the path here in our area. We’re blessed to have many wild foods,” she said.
All-day activities this year will include a kids tent, organized by long-time Kenai Middle School teacher and farmer, Susan Nabholz. Chay said the kids area will feature potato checkers, a giant vegetable photo booth and an edible necklace-making activity.
Chay also said attendees can look forward to the fermentation station, where festival goers can preserve produce that they buy from farm vendors.
“One way that we preserve vegetables traditionally for the winter is we ferment them. It’s a very, very simple process but not a lot of people remember how to do it,” Chay said. “It’s something all of our grandparents and great grandparents knew how to do, so we’re bringing that art back.”
The way it works is that buyers bring their fresh vegetables to the station, where skilled volunteers clean and chop the veggies, mix them with seasoning, and turn them into either sauerkraut, kimchi or brine pickles. The service is free, and recycled jars are also available for free, while new containers are available for two dollars.
The festival will also feature a pie baking contest that requires bakers to use at least one locally-grown ingredient to make a pie, which they submit for judging. After the contest, the leftover pie is sold by the slice.
And of course, the pride of the market is the produce vendors. Food vendors are required to sell products grown, harvested or made in Alaska.
One of those vendors is Kasilof-based Grace Acres. They are offering a wide range of produce at their booth.
“Lots of beets, lots of carrots, more carrots than we normally bring. Lots of leeks, lots of potatoes. Kohlrabi, which usually people are out of by this time of year. Lots of greens. Lots and lots of beets, we always sell lots of beets and carrots,” Christina Land of Grace Acres said.
She’s hosted a booth at every Harvest Moon Festival, and this year her farm is bringing a record amount of produce. She said it’s a combination of diligent work, and farming strategies like succession planting, a method that allows farmers to produce multiple harvests in the same plot throughout a season. Land said that an ever growing Harvest Moon Festival means that every year, her family works to meet demand.
“It just keeps going up every year as far as attendance, how much people are wanting. So we always try to do more for the next year,” she said.
Land said they’ve also increased their supply of popular items like beets, cabbage and carrots.
Grace Acres is unique among Alaska farms in that they accept EBT, allowing SNAP participants to purchase from their booth. Land said that she’s noticed a lot of appreciation from customers for her decision to accept EBT, and she wants to encourage more farmers to get involved in EBT.
For tomorrow’s festival, Land said she’s looking forward to seeing people and vendors that she only gets to see once a year, and to getting a little more creative than usual.
“I’m looking forward to the decorating, I love to decorate my booth, I just never have time during the regular year, so I get to deck the booth out. And mostly just the customers. And the comradery that comes with that. Seeing most of the people that only come out the one time to come out to Harvest Moon to get their veggies,” she said.
The festival kicks off at 10 a.m. tomorrow with on-stage performances, and goes until around 4 p.m. You can catch the pie contest awards at 3:30, or the last musical performance of the day, the local Ben Jammin & The Jammin Band. You can visit kenailocalfood.org for the full schedule.