The Harvest Moon Festival has become a valuable yearly experience for my partner and me. We’ve lived in Winnipeg for just over five years now, and have experienced a deepening and broadening sense of community and commitment to this strange and lovely prairie city over that half decade. Harvest Moon has been both a source and a measure of that sense of belonging.
We joined in on a Harvest Moon worker bee in our first ever Manitoba summer, and were thereby introduced to the landscape of the Pembina Valley, the work of the Harvest Moon Society, and the remarkable town of Clearwater, where the Society is headquartered and where the Festival is held. Nearly a year after arriving in Manitoba, we attended the festival for the first time, and found it formative for our sense of identity and pride as chosen Manitobans. It has since become a yearly tradition that reaffirms our sense of place and belonging here.
The Harvest Moon Festival has an important place in the cycle of the year, occurring as it does in mid-September when the grace and glow of the Manitoba summer decidedly gives way to autumnal signs of the coming winter. Autumn feels perfunctory on the prairies, the sudden turn and fall of yellow leaves announcing imminent cold and snow. What is experienced in the East as a lingering transition between seasonal extremes seems to hardly take place before parka and snowshoe season descends. Harvest Moon offers us a celebration of this transition, a final communal hurrah where we can gather around bonfires, camp under the stars, and dance and sing amid the brown, orange, and gold harvest landscape.
The communal nature of this enthusiastic gathering was something we initially watched from without. A year into our Manitoba adventure, we still knew precious few locals. My partner was having a demanding time at school and I was doing long-distance freelance work from home. Our social circle was narrow, and we found Winnipeggers somewhat hard to connect with despite their manifest friendliness. My memories of that first Harvest Moon are of cold and bonfires and drinking and singing and dancing in a crowd of amiable strangers in toques and mitts. It’s a fond memory, but it’s the memory of an outsider looking in.
Every year since, the Festival has been more and more filled with friends and acquaintances, and every year it underscores our unfolding and deepening experience as part of the Harvest Moon community, the Manitoba community, and the Winnipeg community. We order a significant percentage of our food from the Harvest Moon farmer-to-consumer marketing program, and (largely through my partner’s work with community development and the provincial NDP) are now connected personally and professionally with lots of folks involved in food activism, composting, sustainability and social justice. These varied people share broadly inclusive, progressive values, express those values in their lives and work—and tend to come out to Harvest Moon, which is a real meeting place for urban-rural allies and advocates for sustainability and social justice in all forms. So, every year the proportion of strangers in the crowd shrinks, as they become our acquaintances and our friends.
This expansion of community and welcome is part and parcel of the goals and values of the Festival. Harvest Moon celebrates the growing and sharing of food, and reaches out to connect the town and the fields, the farmers who feed cities with the urbanites they sustain. This connection between the city and the country is particularly poignant at harvest time, and the Festival brings us together in no small measure to celebrate and strengthen our social and economic connections but also our shared relationship to the yearly cycle of sowing and reaping that sustains us all.
Living on the prairies has made the passing of the seasons and the effects of nature much more present in my experience than in the other cities I’ve called home. The long winter is a defining experience—we have snow for half of most years—and our accelerated spring and fall bring with them a yearly round of floods, planting, and harvest. Fewer and fewer people work in agriculture, but farming remains essential to the prairie experience, the prairie landscape, and prairie identity. And as mechanized, globally-positioned, and genetically modified as agribusiness has become, the vagaries of the weather and the natural cycles of the year remain its essential fortune, good or ill.
The economics of agribusiness and the risks of flooding make newspaper headlines across Western Canada, keeping seasonal effects on the land ever-present in public culture. Visiting the farms and eating the products of the small-scale organic permaculture and pastured animal husbandry championed by Harvest Moon, however, makes those seasonal changes a vivid and immedate part of my life even here in the city, and my experience of urban and rural Manitoba is united in our shared and connected experience of the waxing and waning of the sun.
Harvest Moon offers me an autumnal moment of connection with place and with the people I share this place with, in all its cold and its wet and its beauty and its bounty, and I’m grateful to the Festival and the Society for that experience.