By Mark Nicklawske

An upcoming lunchtime garden party that features a menu using foods planted, harvested and prepared by young people has been a fall highlight at The Hills for almost 20 years.

Harvest Fest will be held from noon to 2 p.m. Friday Sept. 7 in the campus gardens at the Hills Youth and Family Services, 4321 Allendale Avenue in Duluth. Community members are invited to share in the bounty during this annual celebration of hard work, patience, planning, responsibility and good food.

“It started out (19 years ago) with just a couple of things and has progressed into a full blown festival,” said The Hills Youth and Family Services Animal Husbandry Program Director Anne Macaulay. “It’s so great because the youth get to showcase what they have been doing in this long term project.”

Close to 100 young people, from all seven Hills groups, participated in spring planting last March, cultivated the crops over the summer and have now harvested and prepared the fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs for Harvest Fest. The food will be shared with more the 100 community members in the beautiful three-tiered garden where everything on the menu was grown.

“It’s been a wonderful summer so we had a lot of produce, so there will be a great variety of recipes being served up,” said Macaulay

The Hills young people and their garden work produced a bumper crop. The groups grew zucchini, yellow squash, kohlrabi, cabbage, carrots, beans, broccoli, garlic, rhubarb, cucumbers, Swiss chard, a variety of melons and flowers, even pumpkins came in earlier than ever before.

But the Harvest Fest menu, which will feature about 20 items from a handpicked recipe collection, is considered “top secret.” None of the The Hills groups know what the others will make and serve for community guests Sept. 7.

The element of anticipation and surprise creates a special event for everyone.

“It’s all homemade,” said Macaulay. “All the groups serve in their garden, it’s like a big buffet and then you get to visit with the gardeners who are so proud of their work. This is such a unique event.”

Macaulay said in addition to the patience, consistency and detail work inherent in gardening, young people learn food preparation, safety and preservation skills. Lessons that can last a lifetime.

“Most have not grown a garden before,” she said. “Here we have enough time to help (a garden) grow. They learn that responsibility. When stuff starts growing it gets pretty exciting and they get so excited they start running down to the garden.”

More than 100 community members will attend Harvest Fest. The guests will stroll The Hills gardens, talk with students and staff and sample the foods that were grown in the space. An awards ceremony will end the day.

“If you come, you better come hungry and open to possibilities,” said Macaulay.

And while guests will leave Harvest Fest satisfied with a hearty lunch, young people will leave with new skills and understandings.

“It’s a long term project which is really great,” said Macaulay. “With this fast paced society that we’re in, this is a good one. You do have to be patient and you have to be diligent and understand the possibilities and honoring them otherwise (the garden) dies”

“We’re creating those opportunities for success,” she said. “It helps (young people) feel good and to believe in themselves and discover something they may not know about themselves that they enjoy doing.”

To RSVP for Harvest Fest go to: www.hillsharvestfest.org.