Friends of the Farm: The Island’s Harvest Fair

Photo Credit: Kendall Kaminski

As the summer sun bows out and crisp autumn winds tiptoe towards the Northwest, Bainbridge Island turns its face towards the Harvest Fair. Hosted by Friends of the Farm on Sunday, September 22nd from 11:00 am - 5:00 pm, Johnson Farm will welcome you, your family, and your friends to its beautiful acreage.

To gather information and stories from a seasoned participant and sponsor, I interviewed Mercury Michael, the managing broker and owner of Charter Real Estate.

For those who have never attended, what is the Harvest Fair?

Mercury describes it as a cool, public, outdoor, kids-oriented event. It is one of the healthiest avenues into rural, Northwest living. There are tractor rides, hayrides, cider pressing, and more. All activities are centered around getting families out in the fields and orchards. A beer garden is also set up for the parents while the kids explore the fair.

The best part is seeing the kids running around and having a blast in a very safe, fun setting. They run through the fields while holding hands and dancing to the music. One of the best stations at the farm is where kids can wash off the apples and put them in the chipper. It’s a hands-on activity where kids can get dirty, wet, and connect with this old school hobby.

They not only find out how one can to make their own food and drink, but kids also get to see this process and be a part of it. Some kids concentrate on certain aspects of the experience and unique personality traits really come out, such as recruiting people to help or pressing the apples.

When you go with your family, what activities do you always take part in?

The cider press station is where Mercury will be the whole time. Kids love the “Tsunami Slide,” which is a huge piece of plastic material with a wooden frame that supports a massive slide and platform. The hosts bring a tractor, dig out a pit, and fill it with mattresses and hay. The kids face-plant in the hay and run around with straws sticking out of their shirts.

The kids also love petting the animals and seeing the turkeys. This is a good, educational spot where the Friends of the Farm get a platform to teach people about what they’re doing and why city farms need to be managed well.

What aspects of the fair are uniquely Bainbridge?

When the Harvest Fair started, it was small and under the radar. They simply put an apple press in the field and a couple of people attended. With a background in fishing and passion for high production systems, Mercury was inspired to help the farm ramp their fair up. Each year now, he has all the gear, brings it to the farm, and donates to keep this fundraiser going.

He loves that he gets to help a group of people transform their operation from something so simple as picking an apple into a big, income-producing event. He enjoys creating a system that is fun and effective, while working hard to make everything run smoothly. Mercury did so independently in years past, but now, he gets to be under Charter Real Estate’s name. In this position, he can provide Friends of the Farm with even more sponsorship and volunteers, which offers a strong bonding experience for his team as well.

Why did Charter Real Estate choose to sponsor the Harvest Fair?

2019 Harvest Fair Poster by Artist Carlee Michael

The Harvest Fair started eighteen years ago. His wife has drawn, by hand, the poster each year for ten years, and Mercury has been following Friends of the Farm since their beginning. Friends of the Farm started as The Trust for Working Landscapes. Mercury has immense respect for what they’ve done and the great, salt-of-the-earth farmers that the organization was founded upon.

Years ago, sixty acres of farmland was owned by the city of Bainbridge Island, and there was a significant need for management of this land. Farmers who had been on the island for a long time wanted to see this land get used and be active. At the time, there weren’t a lot of vehicles for that because the land was primarily being preserved by, not really merged with, the people. The city didn’t have experience in managing such farms, and farmers couldn’t afford good land with soil and sun exposure.

Due to this lack of security, The Trust for Working Landscapes set to work to give leases to farmers. With leases, farmers could get state grants and support, irrigation, soil, and such that they would need for long-term projects. They spent three months putting in irrigation on the island’s farmland, which was one of the biggest state projects at the time. In the end, The Trust for Working Landscapes became the lease-holders for the farmers, the city was protected, and farmers had security.

To all those offering their time and energy to this year’s Harvest Fair on Bainbridge Island: Thank you for contributing so wonderfully to your community. To all those who have the chance to attend and participate in this amazing event: Enjoy the pies and apple cider, learn as much as you can about the fields, and spread the word about our magnificent Friends of the Farm!

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