Saturday, October 13, 2007

Fall Festivals

It finally feels like fall in Fredericksburg, after the daytime highs dropped about 20 degrees in one 24-hour period last week. Now we’re in that odd period where you might wake up to temperatures dipping into the 40’s, but highs that can creep back into the 80’s—days when you feel like you need heat in the morning and AC by the afternoon. The leaves are starting to turn (although this part of Virginia won’t hit its peak until November), and the weather today was crisp enough, at least in the morning, to need a sweater.

So it seemed like a good time to go hunting harvest festivals. You can find dozens of these, sponsored by churches and schools and small farms, all within a short drive during October and November in Virginia. For me, the perfect fall festival needs these ingredients: pumpkins, mums, apples and cider, jams and honey, hayrides, and crafts. A few farm animals or a little entertainment wouldn’t hurt, plus some hot spiced cider to sip, some bales of hay to sit on, and a picturesque setting to enjoy. Oh, and there should be no admission charge. Now I admit it’s hard to find all of this in one place. Belvedere Plantation has a “Fall Fest” that runs through October and November, with all of these ingredients, plus more. Lots of family activities and attractions, the area’s biggest “Maize Maze,” plus acres of pick-your-own pumpkins. But the $14 per person admission charge (plus extra for wagon rides, scarecrow-building, etc.) is just too much, especially for oldsters like us who aren’t taking advantage of all the kiddie activities, and the crowds and lines don’t help. The whole thing is just a bit too corporate for me...not exactly the sort of small-time local operation we like best.

So in search of something a bit more homegrown, we scanned the festival listings online, and wanting to stay close to home, checked out a couple of offerings in the area. Our first stop was a nearby church, which offered some baked goods, a few jams and preserves, tables of yard sale items, and a couple of games for the kids. “Festival” was definitely an overstatement. So we continued on to Clark’s Farm, a roadside plant nursery in Stafford County. This had a bit more to offer, with a couple of small mazes made out of fencing and haybales, perfect for little kids (not so good for anyone taller than about 4 feet). They had plenty of pumpkins and mums for sale, some jams and honeys, and a few pettable farm animals. I’m not that big on pets or wildlife, but I do have a soft spot in my heart for farm animals, having grown up in an area utterly devoid of them. This was a nice first taste of the fall festival season, but I’m still holding out for a hayride and a cup of hot cider.

Here's a baby pig from Clarks:

Who doesn't like a dried cornhusk donkey?

Sunflowers for sale:

An interesting array of pumpkins and gourds from the Farmer's Market:

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