September rains took a break on Saturday so that peninsula residents could buy and sell some fresh produce — and maybe get it pickled in the process.
At the annual Harvest Moon Local Food Festival, Alaska growers, bakers and chefs got an opportunity to connect with the community while advocating for eating healthy and eating local. Organized by members of the Kenai Local Food Connection, the event took place at Soldotna Creek Park for the second year.
Eliza Eller, a resident of Ionia and one of the organizers of the event, said that the goal of the Harvest Moon Festival is simple: buy local, eat local. Eller said that this year featured, among other things, homemade honey, sauerkraut, kombucha, sweets and medicinal salves, on top of plenty of fresh produce. Eller said that last year about 2,000 people attended the event. This year her volunteer counters had recorded well over 1,000 attendees by 1 p.m.
Eller was happy to see a large number of families attend this year. With the strong turnout and the sunny weather, Eller said she was “just about in heaven.”
A key part of the festival is the fermentation station. After picking out a selection of fruits and vegetables to take home, attendees had the opportunity to get their newly acquired produce pickled and preserved at no extra charge. Volunteers at the fermentation station also walked people through the process so that they could walk away with the knowledge to preserve food for the winter.
A new addition to the festival this year was the pie contest hosted by the local Farm Bureau and 4-H chapters. Eighteen different pies were submitted by peninsula residents and judged by local food experts Kelsey Shields of Lucy’s Market, Joe Spady of Three Peaks Mercantile and Larry Marsh of the Kenai Soil and Water Conservation District. The judges made their deliberations based on appearance, taste, creativity and overall impressions. The only requirement for entry was that at least one of the ingredients be locally grown.
Luckily, the judges weren’t the only ones who got to appreciate the pies, and after they chose their winners the public lined up to get a sample of strawberry rhubarb or pickle pie.
Awards were given out based on both the judge’s choice and the people’s choice and were divided into youth and adult entries. This year the judges chose a young man named Luigi as the winner of the youth division for his strawberry rhubarb pie. Luigi walked away with a fancy pie dish and a year’s membership to a local 4-H chapter.
For the adult division, the judges chose Carrie Barker’s rhubarb apple pie. Barker had never made that kind of pie before, and she said that the secret to her success was her use of hand-churned butter.
Folks also had the chance to not only buy some fresh produce, but to learn what they can do with it. Throughout the day educational workshops and live demonstrations could be found at the chef’s tent, and there were also a few wild edibles walks around the park. Eller gave classes on making kimchi and miso soup, and George Spady, who owns a holistic medicine clinic on the peninsula, taught people about local edible mushrooms and making jams and jellies from wild berries.