In Case You Missed It: Fall Harvest Festival

In our In Case You Missed It series (also known as ICYMI), student interns from the Office of Sustainability offer reflective reports on sustainability-related events and lectures at UW–Madison. The following entry is by Britta Wellenstein

The People’s Farm celebrated this years’ harvest season with the Fall Harvest Festival, a day of sunshine, smiles, and surprises put on in conjunction with the UW Organic Collaborative on September 30.

Students and community members gathered in the student-run half-acre farm plot on a hot September Saturday to carve pumpkins, listen to music, and enjoy the sunny weather. Visitors picked pumpkins and munched on apples pulled from the tree. They also saw the squash, tomatoes, kale, swiss chard, potatoes, leeks, and other vegetables growing in the garden, which the club hands out on East Campus Mall throughout the summer and fall harvest season.

The annual event brings together members of the community and students alike to celebrate the end of the harvest season before the farm is put to rest in the winter months.

Farm director Lucy Merkel (left) and student volunteer Katie harvest potatoes as part of The People’s Farm student organization. (Photo by Bryce Richter / UW–Madison)

The People’s Farm is a student club aiming to provide free, fresh, and accessible fruits and vegetables to the UW–Madison community. In between performances from Little Engine and The Spine Stealers, two local bands, The People’s Farm board members made a big announcement: a name change.

Ten years ago, UW–Madison students created the agricultural collaborative under the name F.H. King: Students for Sustainable Agriculture. The group was named after UW–Madison professor Franklin Hiram (F.H.) King, an agricultural scientist who pioneered organic and sustainable agriculture. 

“Franklin Hiram King was a highly regarded scientist, the father of sustainable agriculture,” co-farm director Lucy Merkel said during the festival. “But we feel very distant from F.H. King and a little misaligned with having a club named after him.” 

Instead, board members said, the club wants to acknowledge the history before F.H. King. Starting 12,000 years ago, First Nations populated the shores of Lake Mendota before they were forcibly removed from their land by the state. The People’s Farm, along with UW–Madison as a whole, occupy ancestral Ho-Chunk land, who stewarded the land well before colonial settlers came.

“Indigenous people have been farming using what we today call ‘organic agriculture’ for millennia before the word ‘organic’ became a thing,” the club said in a statement on its Instagram

Organizers explained that The People’s Farm is more reflective of this history and emphasized the club’s continued commitment to community. After the announcement, people gathered to paint a new sign with the People’s Farm logo and printed the logo on shirts and bags with a linoleum press.

“This club is centered around the community—seeing everyone here is so exciting,” Merkel said. “It may be more of a summerfest than a harvest fest, but we are still having fun.”

As the night wound down, people gathered around a fire, roasting marshmallows and conversing, soaking up the community around them.