In this urban-culture age, it’s rare to hear the word “hoe” actually refer to a garden implement. Which must be why it took me a few tries to google the proper directions to the 22nd annual Hoes Down Harvest Festival near Guinda. Located at Full Belly Farm, an organic outfit, the festival offers a huge variety of activities: music, crafts, seminars and education, free product samples, and most of all lots and lots of good food.
The festival generally takes place around the first full moon in October to celebrate the fall harvest. The temperature was a pleasant 77 degree early Saturday afternoon when we parked on fallow fields and walked past the remains of a few rotting watermelons that didn’t make the cut to the sizable festival area.
One of the first things we saw was a blacksmiths’ area where several burly men—some in period costumes, some just in sweaty t-shirts—were either beating on molten metal or talking to people about the process of beating on molten metal. But the feel here was pretty modern, with a bit of a serious hippy vibe mixed with serious talk about gourmet food and organic farming. Over six hours, I overheard snippets of several different conversations about Waldorf schools.
We arrived ready to eat, and shelled out about $50 for food for four people over several hours. Joy and I opted to split some Mediterranean lamb ($12). While some of the sides were so-so, the lamb was good and the help-yourself hummus bar was excellent. Conner went for an organic, grass-fed beef hamburger, which was quite reasonable at $5 for a big burger (though I did overhear the one cook tell another to use “whatever cheese” on the cheeseburgers because “This isn’t Burger King. You’ll have it our way.”)
Next up was some of the best ice cream I’ve had in awhile, also organic/grass-fed, from Straus Dairy. I opted for a combination of the coffee and the aptly named dark chocolate coconut bliss. Late in the day, we finished out with a fresh watermelon ($5 for a small one). I managed to track down some metal spoons and forks, which I used to dismantle it so we could eat it on the spot. My big food regret of the day was not trying some frozen bars one cart was selling for $3—I wanted to try the Thai Tea Sweet Potato flavor.
But you don’t just come here to eat. While admission seemed a little steep at $20 for adults ($5 for kids 12 and under, under 2s are free, and $20 per car for overnight camping), you get a lot for your money. One booth offered us the chance to make and consume our own salsa—which we did, two batches worth. We painted some ceramic pots, then brought them home, free of charge, to grow some catnip seeds (also free, from a booth) for our cat. If you wanted free watermelon, you could enter a watermelon-eating contest. You could also mill corn, try square dancing, sample several different types of free olive oil and other foods, take in musical acts ranging from bluegrass to a kind of hippy hip-hop crew rapping about sustainable energy, and take in mini-seminars on everything from soil building to sheep shearing to sexual health (no, those weren’t related).
As the evening wore on, we sat tired as a woman playing a fiddle danced by, trailed by at least 20 rapt children on their way for a story walk. There wasn’t a Game Boy or iPod in sight, and there seemed to be something kind of magical about that.
Oct. 3-4, 2009
Capay Valley, Yolo County