Harvest Festival celebrates early American life

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MOUNTAINSIDE, NJ — The 35th annual Harvest Festival was held Sunday, Sept. 25 at Trailside Nature and Science Center in Mountainside. The event featured music, crafts, games, demonstrations and displays celebrating Early American life. This popular event attracts more than 3,500 people each year.

Demonstrators and vendors of hand-crafted goods receive exposure and have the opportunity to educate the public about their craft or skill. Examples include blacksmithing and candle making.

“This event is traditionally one of the most popular ones that are held at the Watchung Reservation each year,” Union County Freeholder Bette Jane Kowalski told LocalSource in an email. “The location is an ideal one because those in attendance have an opportunity to see early American culture and history come to life while walking through the festival grounds in the picturesque, historic reservation.”

Native American educational programs such as Red Storm Drum and Dance Troupe taught visitors about Native American culture through music and storytelling. Mike Dennis, of Traditional Earth Skills, taught about the Lenape tribe through a presentation of artifacts, many of which he made himself and displayed. Dennis talked about his educational presentations with LocalSource.

“I promote my educational program and travel to schools and camps to teach kids about the Lenape tribe,” Dennis told LocalSource. “I’m a history guy. I’m into the wilderness, but survival these days means being able to pay the bills. I should be more computer proficient, but instead I’m better at surviving in the wild.”

William Joseph, of Belvidere, acted as county crier for the festival. His job is to greet people and make announcements to the visitors. He’s also very interested in history.

“Whenever I travel to a town, I always research where I’m going and try to find out as much as I can about it,” Joseph told LocalSource. “I also keep an eye on the kids. If I see a kid standing by themselves, I will ring my bell. I like to bring smiles to people’s faces. I’ve been doing this for the past 25 years. It’s a lot of fun.”

Performers included Family Tradition Band and Danny Weis Trio, among others. Eileen Stelljes told stories and Debbie Kirkland told afrocentric stories. There was also a petting zoo and pony rides. Many families participated in the scarecrow contest, including the Hoff family from Clark.

“We’ve been stuffing our scarecrow for a few minutes now,” said Riley Hoff, of Clark. “We want to make it really big.”

The most creative scarecrow went to the “Phelps Crow,” by Kelly and Ebbe family, of Scotch Plains. The best classic scarecrow was created by Michael and Isabelle Salfi of North Caldwell. The best dressed scarecrow was created by Catie Hudak of Linden.

The 1770s crafts included coloring glass with metallic oxides, woodworking to make flint rifles, tinsmithing to make art and blacksmithing to make home decor. The New Jersey Frontier Guard displayed all the supplies a Frontier Guard volunteer would need to carry with them by law, including a musket, cutlass or hatchet, powder horn, blanket and knapsack. There were also demonstrations of early American cooking.

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