Shelburne finds old roots in fall fest


The 33rd annual Harvest Festival, held Sept. 17, has its roots in the reorganization of Shelburne Farms. 


In the 1980s, Derick Webb donated his family’s estate to a nonprofit organization after some years of decline of the prominence of the estate. Since then, the aim has been bringing together business and community.


“The purpose of the festival has always been to celebrate the cooperation of like-minded organizations that put sustainability at the core of business and to welcome the community to participate,” festival director Dr. Judith Christensen said.


The festival featured ice cream made directly on the farm, as well as a number of other food stands, that sent the scent of local cooking into the air for festivalgoers to smell as they walked through the 1,400 acres of grounds.


Folk music played by a live band set the tone for the afternoon.


Christensen traveled around Vermont meeting candidates and recruiting those that showed dedication to the Shelburne Farms’ mission when reorganizing the farm.


Among the farms’ features admired at the farm’s start in the ‘80s were its “cutting-edge” agricultural practices and it’s raising of hackney horses, an elegant breed ideal for drawing carriages because of its high endurance, according to the Shelburne Farms visitors guide.


“To highlight the features, vistas were carefully planned. Exploiting the natural topography of hills and hollows, roads looped strategically through the landscape to alternately obscure and reveal vistas,” according the visitors guide. 


In the early 1980s, when Derick Webb was rethinking the future of the farm, there was still little for the general public to get involved in on the property. When the nonprofit enlisted Christensen to organize a new, grassroots festival, the focus became more community-centered, she said. 


In addition to the Harvest Festival, Shelburne Farms made a big push toward education, building the welcome center and renovating the Shelburne House into an inn.


The mission now is clear: community integration through the cooperation of businesses and locals dedicated to sustainable agriculture. 


“Forest to furniture. Sheep to shawl. That’s what the Shelburne Farms represent,” Christensen said.


The event was well-attended. More than 2,500 cars were counted in and out of the property during the six hours in which the event was held.