Why do so many communities celebrate harvest dinners?

 In Ask Eartha

Dear Eartha,

The other day I saw a poster announcing a local harvest dinner. I’d like to learn more about harvest dinners and why so many communities are celebrating them these days.

-Shellie, Breckenridge

While harvest dinners and festivals are having a modern-day revitalization, they have ancient roots, dating back to Pagan times. Traditionally, harvest festivals coincide with the end of the harvest season, which lasts from September to November. These festivals have historically been a time to give thanks for the bounty of the season, and until the 20th century, farmers celebrated the end of the harvest by hosting a supper with the workers who helped in the fields. Most harvest festivals also coincide with the Harvest Moon — the full moon closest to the autumnal equinox. In 2017, the Harvest Moon will display its beauty on Oct. 5. In North America, the most widely celebrated harvest festival — Thanksgiving — takes place a little later.

Urbanization — the migration of people from rural areas to cities — has caused a shift away from agriculture as a lifestyle. Today, people tend to buy food from a grocery store or super market rather than from the local farmer. While at the turn of the 20th century, most farms produced food that was eaten only 50 miles away, the average American meal now travels 1,500 miles from farm to table. Agriculture itself has changed, too, becoming a large, highly mechanized industry that grows monoculture crops, uses synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, and focuses on intense livestock production. All this “conventional” food production has become increasingly fossil fuel intensive as modes of transportation have changed the way we eat. Historically, humans ate seasonally, based on availability. These days, with so many transportation options available to us, eating with the seasons has been replaced with shipping foods all over the world with no concern for seasonality.

There is, however, a movement that is working to change this — farm-to-table. People who support farm-to-table believe that eating seasonally and locally creates a healthy and sustainable food system. Emphasizing quality over convenience, the ingredients are limited to what’s fresh, in-season and organic.

Local foods are better for both people and planet in a variety of ways. The definition of local food requires that it be shipped less than 400 miles from the source. The fact that farm-to-table foods are shipped shorter distances means that there are fewer greenhouse gases emitted, improving overall air quality. In addition, foods that are shipped far from their source are often picked prior to ripening, which decreases their nutritional value.

Modern harvest dinners often share the values of the farm-to-table movement by celebrating the benefits of locally produced, in-season foods. Harvest dinners might also benefit organizations that support conservation, sustainability, small farmers and nutritious eating.

If you are interested in attending a local harvest dinner, High Country Conservation Center will be hosting its 9th annual Harvest Dinner at Vinny’s Euro American Restaurant in Frisco on Wednesday, Sept. 20. This dinner provides the ultimate farm-to-table experience. The meal includes four-courses created by chef Vinny Monarca and features food donated by local farms across Colorado, including the Summit CSA right here in Summit County. The dinner costs $55 per adult and $25 per child. Reservations are required, so please call 970-668-5703 or email jenny@highcountryconservation.org to attend. We hope to see you at the Harvest Dinner at Vinny’s and encourage you to reconsider the next time you reach for a package of “fresh” strawberries in December.

Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at info@highcountryconservation.org.

#BeLocal and come to HC3 Harvest Dinner Wednesday, Sept. 20th. Call Jenny at 970-668-5703 for reservations ASAP.

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