Fall at last is upon us, with temperatures dropping as the traditional time of the autumn harvest approaches in Montgomery County. And so, on Saturday at the Montgomery County Agricultural Reserve – the 93,000-acre zone the Montgomery County Council created in 1980 to preserve farm land and rural space in the northwestern part of the county – resident farmers will converge for the first iteration of what organizers hope will be an annual Heritage Harvest Festival.
“This is something that Heritage Montgomery has been wanting to do…to really show off our ag reserve partners,” explained Sarah L. Rogers, executive director of the inaugural festival and also of Heritage Montgomery, the organization putting on the fest. “And it just happened that this year everyone [said], ‘let’s do this.’”
Rogers said that Heritage Montgomery has sponsored Heritage Days every June for more than two decades as a free event open to the public at various sites throughout the county. The impetus for the Heritage Harvest Festival was to have a fall event to coincide with the traditional time of the great pre-winter harvest.
“Not in the summertime when it’s too hot…in the fall was when it worked out that they had produce and different products to sell people,” Rogers said, “as we all get ready for fall and winter.”
Rogers has sourced participants for the festival from her contacts within the Montgomery County produce circles. She said that word of mouth has cascaded into potential participants beating a path to her door. “The greatest thing is that as word of mouth started getting out, different people started calling and asking to be a part of it,” Rogers said.
But in addition to the celebration of the fall harvest itself, Heritage Harvest Festival will feature a working farmers market, winery, community supported agriculture (CSA), animal sanctuary, local breweries — and even a beekeeper known to the Montgomery County community.
“Joe Long called and said, ‘Is there a place [for] my friend and I who want to come and bring bees?’ Can we do something?’” Rogers said of local fixture Long. “And I said, ‘Absolutely.’ So, there’s going to be a demonstration beehive.”
There will be four different themed areas at the festival, the largest of which will be the Agricultural Reserve. There also will be an area called “Crossroads and Cultures” to celebrate African-American heritage throughout Montgomery County.
Other participants in the event will include Shepherd’s Hey Farm, a producer of wool and meat products, and Rocklands Farm Winery & Market. Rogers said that Button Farm Living History Center will also take part by interpreting plantation life and the African-American experience in the 1850s.
“It’s taken me some years to get to know all of these people, and most of them I’ve known since I started in this position here as the executive director,” Rogers said of getting her colleagues to come aboard. “It’s just a nice way to enjoy countryside that is protected here in Montgomery County. It’s a great resource for all of us.”
That resource of county animal and produce husbandry is crucial to the local economy and to the farming traditions of Montgomery County, Rogers said, adding that people who attend the event this weekend might not even realize that so much happens right in their own backyard in order to keep the county fed.
“These places are all working farms, so the chance is you’ve driven by them or read about them, but because this is their job, they’re not open all the time,” she said. “So, you can really see not only the beautiful open spaces in the county but see how the land is used.
“All of these farmers are very interesting, knowledgeable people. A lot of the places have very cool stuff for kids.”
Keeping a tradition going is one thing, but it’s entirely another ballgame to start one of your own. Rogers likened the first-ever Heritage Harvest Festival to a “petri dish sprouting things.”
“It’s a privilege to [get] this all pulled together to show off a really great part of the county,” she said. “I think the stars have lined up and it’s the right time.”
But will the event return same time next year? Rogers hopes that the festival will be back next year and every fall thereafter.
“I already have calls from people who couldn’t do it this year but want to sign up next year,” she said. “I’m pretty sure you’ll be able to…watch it improve over the years.”
The Heritage Harvest Festival takes place from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 20 at the Montgomery County Agricultural Reserve. Admission is free. For information and a schedule, visit http://www.HeritageMontgomery.org/heritage-harvest or call 301-515-0753.