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Mountain Harvest Festival growing strong

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To look at the long list of events planned for this weekend's Mountain Harvest Festival, it's hard to believe that it all began 15 years ago when Rick Stockton and Helen Highwater decided to throw a party. The husband-and-wife duo made a sampler of more than a dozen western Colorado artists at their recording studio and wanted to throw a release party. Everyone liked the idea, said Stockton, and suggested it be more of a festival than a release party.

That original festival included a Friday night chili cook-off, poetry reading and an arts opening at the Blue Sage, recalled Stockton. Saturday night, two venues offered live music by the recording artists, and Sunday a block of Grand Avenue was closed off for more live music and a farm market for local growers.

"It was originally a one-shot deal," said Stockton. "Now it's just really taken off."

That first year set the template for what is today a three-day event, said Stockton. Now it's a long list of artists, food offerings, wine and farm tours, bicycling events, kids' activities, and all of the events still carried over from year to year from that first little festival. The poetry reading is now the Thursday night Harvest of Voices. Tickets sold out fast, and in response to its popularity, the event will be streamed live at the Paradise Theatre.

The festival also outgrew the downtown core, and in 2009 the organization formed a board of directors, received non-profit 501(c)(3) status, and moved the festival to Town Park, said current board president Sarah Bishop.

In response to that growth and anticipated future growth, this year the board created the Mountain Harvest Creative, a charitable arm of the MHF that puts on the festival and provides year-round support for local arts and agriculture. Money earned by the festival cycles back into the community through donations and scholarships.

Bishop said that two things pushed the board to create the MHC: When the organization applied for grants, the festival name created confusion about its mission; and the board wanted to shine a brighter light on what they do throughout the remainder of the year.

"We are growing," said Bishop. "We are extending our reach," and creating more ways to support the community.

This is not just about Paonia, Bishop stressed. The MHC mission is "to celebrate and serve our communities, and that includes the entire North Fork community."

Examples include the Teens on Farms program started in 2009 (see related story on page B1), the 2015 film school workshops at the Paradise Theatre, and the Embodying Rhythm program taught at all three North Fork elementary schools by rhythm enthusiast David Alderdice.

MHC seeks "any opportunity to support young people's interests" through scholarships and other means, said Bishop. Organizations and individuals looking to support the arts and agriculture are invited to submit an application of support for consideration. Final decisions will be made in February.

This year's list of events is long and begins Thursday with a special seating farm-to-table dinner at The Living Farm Café.

Food enthusiasts can also enjoy local creations during the annual chili cook-off and pie contest on Friday, food booths and a vegan potluck lunch Saturday at Town Park. Stone Cottage Cellars will host the inaugural MHF winemaker's farm-to-table dinner Saturday -- a four-course feast of culinary delights. Slow Foods Western Slope will host Disco Soup, a gourmet spread of seasonal delights, Sunday evening.

Local drink, including juices and ciders, hard cider, wine and beer, is available throughout the weekend.

Book lovers can hunt for the perfect read Friday at the Paonia Library Harvest Book Sale. Beginning at noon, six local galleries will host the annual Art Walk. Several events are happening at Paonia Town Park and vendors will be open from 4-7 p.m.

For cyclists, Saturday's free-range ride with the Paonia Bicycle Club offers rides of 10, 25 and 50 miles.

There's the slow bike race and toss, sponsored by the Paonia Bike Co-Op; a kids' bicycle obstacle course for kids up to age 18, sponsored by Shish KaBikes; and the North Fork Valley fall bike swap meet on Sunday at the Bike Co-Op.

Or get your exercise by participating in the 5k Fun Walk/Run or enjoying a stimulating yoga session at Town Park.

The event would not be complete without the harvest. On Saturday, the youths of Plants R Us will sell their bounty at the park and on Sunday, the local farm market will include local harvests, prepared foods, breads and more. Demonstrations will also be offered throughout the day.

The popular Grape Stomp, also a benefit event, begins at noon Saturday.

Skip Naft needed to look no farther than the Western Slope to fill the weekend with 16 quality musical acts. One goal in booking acts was to avoid repeats of past performers, said Naft, who also recruits acts for the annual Cherry Days celebration.

During the chili cook-off and pie contest, enjoy music by the Telluride band Joint Point, which Naft discovered at the 2014 San Juan String Fest in Ridgway. Saturday's live music in the park begins at 3 p.m. with all-original sounds by the 3 Tinkers.

For a $30 ticket, music lovers can experience 10 local music acts performing at four downtown venues Saturday evening. The format is sort of a "mini South by Southwest" music festival, said Naft of the multi-venue event. "There's a different vibe going on at each venue."

While past Saturday night performances have changed hourly, this year's sets will be an hour and a half long. That allows pub crawlers more time to enjoy each of their favorite acts and not feel so rushed to get to the next venue, said Naft.

Sunday's music in the park runs from 11 a.m. to 4:10 p.m., followed by music by the all-star band featuring musicians from throughout the weekend. Look for some interesting collaborations by popular local artists.

Last, but not least, the kids' area, hosted by the Kampe Foundation and Hotchkiss High School Honor Society, allows kids to discover all kinds of games and crafts from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the park.

"I think this year is going to be really great," said Stockton. There is a lot of new interest in the festival, which is now drawing people from across the state and throughout the region.

There really is too much to list. Visit www.mountainharvestfestival.org or the Mountain Harvest Festival Facebook page for tickets for the Saturday night concerts, a full list of events, write-ups on all of the musical acts, photos, artwork and how you can get involved. See you at the festival!

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North Fork
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Mountain Harvest Festival, Paonia
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