Sussex County celebrates harvest with festival at Fairgrounds
The Skylands Dulcimer String Band provided live music in Barn 5 at the Sussex County Fairgrounds in Augusta during the Harvest, Honey, and Garlic Festival on Saturday, Oct. 13, 2018.
AUGUSTA — The day dawned cool and rainy, but gray skies gave way to a perfectly crisp fall afternoon as thousands made their way to the Fairgrounds in Augusta for the 2018 Harvest, Honey, and Garlic Festival. The event, held on Saturday, Oct. 13, featured dozens of farms, vendors, and community groups, as well as live music and a children’s activity barn, and was organized by the County Division of Planning and Economic Development. Inside Barn 6, the Sussex County Beekeepers Association was set up amidst honey vendors, a fresh produce market, and tables offering wares from crafters and artists. Their display included hives, honeycombs, educational materials, and a candy dish full of honey lemon drops. “Thank goodness the sun came out,” SCBA member Laurie Gates said. “It was slow this morning, but now there’s a nice big crowd. We’ve talked to a lot of people.” Gates and colleague Judy Tonkin were on hand to discuss beekeeping and bee awareness. “We want people to learn about the bees, even if they don’t want to keep them,” Tonkin said. “But they need to know they can always get in touch with us if they find a swarm- they shouldn’t spray or destroy them. We can collect and relocate the bees.” Tonkin also said that those who are interested in becoming beekeepers can take a class the association will be offering soon. “It’s being held in January,” she said, “and it’s two sessions to complete the course.” Information on the Sussex County Beekeepers Association, including details on the upcoming class, can be found on their website at www.scba.club. In Barn 5, farmers offered goods from pickles to apples to ice cream, and hot concession food could be purchased from local Boy Scout troops. The Skylands Dulcimer String Band played their unique brand of folk and bluegrass while visitors perused the booths. One of those visitors was 2018 New Jersey Honey Queen, Nicole Medina, a native of Green Township, who also served as Sussex County Honey Queen in 2016. Medina has been keeping bees with her father Joel for five years, and said they maintain about 40 hives. “It’s wonderful to be the Honey Queen,” Medina said. “I get to go all over the state and promote all aspects of beekeeping. I talk to a lot of schools and 4-H groups, and recently even went to a children’s hospital.” Candidates for Honey Queen must demonstrate knowledge of beekeeping, conservation and best practices. “It starts with an essay contest, and I’d encourage anyone who is active in beekeeping to apply,” Medina said. “I’ve had so much fun doing this!” Barn 4 offered visitors a crash course in all things garlic. Between a large educational display by Garden State Garlic and the vendors themselves, who were more than happy to talk about their wares, there was plenty to learn. Greg Porter and his wife Lena Frank, of White Possum Farm in Wantage, had tables set up to sell their 39 different varieties of the fragrant bulb, as well as their other root crops like potatoes and horseradish. “We do a lot of hay and market vegetables, but my wife wanted to try garlic as a hobby,” Porter said, “and like all hobbies, it snowballed. Now we have almost forty varieties, both soft-neck and hard-neck.” Porter explained that the soft-neck varieties are milder and have a more robust flavor. “Those are the varieties you’d use for things like roasting or for Italian cooking,” he said, “and they tend to store longer, up to 5 or 6 months.” The hard-neck varieties have a sharper, spicier taste and should be used fresh for raw dishes, like salsas. Porter wanted to impress that all garlic should be stored in a cool, dry place, and, “never in the refrigerator- too much moisture!” Porter said the wet weather of this past summer affected their crop, producing smaller bulbs than years past. “All the rain really compressed our clay soils,” he said. “So the garlic couldn’t really spread out and grow.” Still, he noted, they were able to gather a large enough crop of all their vegetables to both sell and donate to the Harvest House in Sussex. “We like to be able to give back,” Porter said, “It’s important that everyone have access to fresh produce.” Next door at Barn 3, activities were set up for children to decorate pumpkins, play harvest-themed games, or get their faces painted, while attendees of all ages were invited to take a tour of the fairgrounds on one of the North Jersey Antique Engine & Machine Club’s tractor-pulled hay wagons. A photo gallery set up by the Sparta Camera Club, a display from the Highlands Council, and educational materials from the Wolf Visions preservation society were just some of the offerings from community organizations. The Avian Wildlife Center brought a few of their feathered friends, including a juvenile screech owl, to educate the public about bird rehabilitation. In an afternoon filled with food and family fun, the laughter and happy chattering of vendors and visitors alike told the story of people enjoying the very best of what Sussex County has to offer.