This past weekend the town of Clearwater, Manitoba welcomed visitors to its annual Harvest Moon Festival. Harvest Moon brings together musicians, artisans, food producers—and now over 1,200 patrons—from across the region for three days and two nights every mid-September. Now in its 12th season, the festival has grown year after year.
The people of Clearwater participated in the festival, with many volunteering their time to help ensure things ran smoothly. The money generated by the festival helps the town directly, going toward the upkeep of the community centre and curling rink, the town hall, and a community-owned and operated restaurant, along with the numerous other economic spinoffs that 1,200 visitors bring to a town with a resident population of 68.
The festival, however, is only the tip of the iceberg. The moving force behind the festival is the Harvest Moon Society, an organization of community members who are driven by their passion for sustainability in food production and creating vibrant rural communities.
According to Stephane McLachlan, a professor at the U of M’s department of environment and geography, who has been involved with the festival for years and was in attendance this year, an important component of the festival is the chance for the community to establish connections between urban and rural Manitoba.
“The festival is an opportunity to reach out to the Winnipeg community,” said McLachlan.
“A lot of [festival goers] are subsequently pulled into the educational program [ . . . ] this is unique, because the Harvest Moon Society makes a link between food growers and food eaters,” he continued.
In 2003, the Harvest Moon Society purchased the shuttered Clearwater Elementary School and turned it into the Harvest Moon Learning Centre. The learning centre has provided permaculture and university accredited courses as well as community-based workshops.
“Harvest Moon [Society] has been an excellent venue to explore these possible relationships of education and outreach in collaboration with the community,” said Lancelot Coar, an assistant professor of architecture at the U of M, who has been involved with the Harvest Moon Society since 2007 and has a studio in Clearwater.
This year, Coar’s students designed and built cabins. The cabins are available for a small fee to participants involved in Harvest Moon workshops, performers taking part in the Harvest Moon Festival, and the general public.
The projects Coar does with his students often have unintended benefits. For example, in a previous year, Coar’s students built an add-on to the community-owned Clearwater Junction Restaurant.
“It was just intended to help the restaurant bring in more income and as another social place for people to gather, but it’s become an outdoor classroom, a second stage for the festival, and a place for fundraising for the restaurant and the community. We couldn’t even imagine that going in,” said Coar.
Coar attended his first Harvest Moon Festival in 2006 and hasn’t looked back.
“I was just blown away by the quality of the environment, and the people and the community, and the sense of opportunity and the roll that that can play in a design and education curriculum; to engage with a community one-on-one like this is a great opportunity for students.”
The Harvest Moon Society is now attracting like-minded people to move to the area.
Greg deJong, originally from Alberta, moved to Clearwater after visiting the town and hearing about the work that the Harvest Moon Society was doing.
“I just fell in love with the town and decided to move here.” Greg deJong practices permaculture on a plot of land just west of the town. He and his wife Carissa are very involved with the Harvest Moon Society; she now sits on their board.
The first Harvest Moon Festival originally took place to celebrate the release of Seeds of Change, a documentary by Ian Mauro.
Celia Guilford, one of the original organizers of the festival, smiled as she recalled those early years.
“Who knew that it would become this. Good things lead to more good things, and now we are here.”
With files from Quinn Richert.