It was a healthy harvest for Doreen Prieto after she’d already brought in her crops, winning six blue ribbons for her herbs Saturday during the 29th Annual Juneau Community Garden Harvest Fair with a well-plotted strategy.
“I went for herbs because herbs do really well and I wanted to find a way to win,” she said, adding she also saw few herbs being judged at last year’s harvest fair.
Prieto was standing near her herbs admiring another winning entry — an “octopus on the hook” root vegetable with tentacle-like stems splayed out beneath it that was the youth grand prize winner — under a shelter at the Juneau Community Garden where dozens of other winning vegetables, fruits and flowers were on long tables for hundreds of attendees to admire — and occasionally be startled at.
“I’ve never seen purple cauliflower and peas before,” said Allena Valentine, who said her gardening experience is limited to admiring what her mother grows in her yard, taking a picture of a cauliflower that might raise concerned eyebrows without assurances that is indeed its intended color.
The event that started late Saturday morning featured a farmers’ market with fresh produce, pickled and canned edibles, and a concession area serving soups and other items made with garden ingredients. There was also music, marshmallow roasts around a campfire and prize giveaways — although experienced folks who came for the freshest food knew to arrive right at the 11 a.m. start.
“Because this is the only harvest day of the year you try not to miss it,” said Penny Saddler, who along with fellow gardener Pauline Plumb were hauling bags filled with items such as carrots, leeks, chives and garlic while waiting for their own produce to reach peak form.
Residents with plots at the community garden said it’s generally been a good year, if not completely consistent, for their crops. Michelle Workman, whose granddaughter Alivia, 4, was roasting marshmallows, said her garden this year consists of garlic, lettuce, rhubarb, lots of flowers, plus carrots that are growing a bit slowly this year.
On the other hand, “the zucchini are doing great,” she said. “We can’t give those away fast enough.”
Workman said she bought some items from fellow gardeners such as rhubarb jam and apple turnovers, but some hoped-for favorites disappeared quickly.
“We were here at 11, but they were out,” she said.
Among the edibles going quickly were two types of soup, muffins and scones, a barley/black bean salad, and drinks being sold to a line of attendees near the entrance of the community garden. Cynthia Krehbiel, the harvest fair’s event coordinator, said a crew of four made the soups the day before trying to maximize the items from their harvest.
“It’s an amazing amount of food,” she said. “We’ve got to figure out a way to serve it.”
A potato-leek-garlic soup that had a higher ratio of locally grown ingredients seemed to be selling faster than a sausage and white bean counterpart.
“I was just thinking the potato-leek soup is the best I’ve ever had,” said Caroline Hamp, sitting on the grass near the concession shelter with her daughter, Billie White, 2, and son, Teddy White, 1, who were passing a rhubarb muffin between them.
“We just thought it was a very good way to spend a Saturday, especially without the rain,” Hamp said.
The four-acre community garden founded in 1990 is prominent among local greenthumbs with 168 plots and 29 small beds for climbing plants, vacancies for which are hard to come by. Other community gardens have sprouted up in town, including one during the past year in Thane where Bruce and Charmaine Weeks have a plot. But they still showed up and came away with a bountiful collection of fresh, baked and preserved foods.
“We love the harvest fair,” she said. “Our carrots aren’t ready. We don’t have any garlic and the harvest fair has the best garlic.”