Scarecrows, chooks, chocolate cake and jam – they’re all part of the fun and festivities of the Leura Harvest Festival held recently in the Blue Mountains. The festival ads said there would be outstanding produce, fine fare and innovative sustainability initiatives, and its tireless creator Barry Jarrott just happens to be a professional gardener. It all boded well for an interesting and feast-filled time.
The main setting is Leura Mall, the charming main street of Leura complete with its cherry trees which on festival day, 1 May 2016, were dressed in their russet-toned autumn leaves. Leura is a quaint mountain village an easy 100km drive or rail trip west of Sydney, so a really handy place to immerse yourself in the crystal-clean atmosphere of the region over a weekend or even longer. At any time of year, there is a massive amount to see and do!
The festival itself is a mix of market stalls, a speakers’ programme, and a range of competitions involving people of all ages and skill levels. The event combines the nostalgia of a traditional European harvest festival and an Australian agricultural show of a bygone era, bound around by sustainable and fair sourcing principles.
“I have fond memories of the olden day country shows in NSW and want to regenerate those feel-good experiences”
enthuses Barry who, besides being at the helm of the festival, also runs Arcadian Aspects and is President of the Leura Village Association.
Chocolate cake, jam and chooks certainly did that for me, each of them conjuring up cherished memories of my own childhood visits to country shows. The scarecrows not so much, but that’s where the harvest festival traditional influences appear.
The Great Australian Chocolate Cake Competition was justifiably popular with the chefs, cooks and cake lovers; festival-goers hoovered them all up after the judging. Yes, I’m guilty as charged. Sponsored by Josophan’s Fine Chocolates, the cake-baking contest was about ethical quality – encouraging fairly-sourced chocolate and discouraging low-grade chocolate containing, for example, palm oil.
The Scarecrow Competition continued the theme of sustainable sourcing, with entrants encouraged to get creative with re-used materials. Birches of Leura organised the competition and hosted the scarecrows in their delightful nursery grounds. Entrants really got into the spirit of things with most ‘crows’ made from a range of recycled objects – from everyday household packaging, to dried plant parts and old clothing. They were imaginative creations, and not a crow in sight!
A series of talks continued through the day, with topics such as ‘Paddock to Plate’, ‘Freshly Grown Produce’, ‘Seeing Green’ – you get the picture. The quiet revolution of slowing down, including ‘slow food’, permeated the programme. Two talks caught my personal attention.
Built as an inn in the 1830s, the National Trust’s Woodford Academy is the oldest building in the Blue Mountains. It has 180 years of active history documented in some way, with untold stories uncovered and shared. Noel Burgess of the Woodford Academy brings with him a new style of museum curating. Noel is one of a committed and energetic team reinvigorating the Academy by telling these stories and attracting visitors with events and changing exhibits. During my visit, there was a watercolour show by pioneering conservationist, Isobel Bowden OAM. The main building features furnished rooms and fascinating historical objects all from within the academy walls, with recent additions of clever electronic story books, and a gift shop with items such as fig jam, directly from their backyard orchard.
Lyle Clinton of Woodford Honey and horticulturist Helen Caughey talked about European bees and garden design. Judging by the packed room, this is a popular topic. Their first insight for newcomers is that it’s not only what’s in your garden, but what is beyond that matters, as bees don’t restrict their territory to your property boundary. The next one will be a delight to the ‘do less gardening – guilt-free’ folks – bees love weeds, so don’t get rid of them all. The key points made in terms of plantings are to focus on those with high-quality pollen, succession planting for year-round pollen and nectar supply, multi-layered planting heights, and resisting the use of pesticides. With Lyle and Helen’s down-to-earth approach and obvious expertise in this area, and offer for ‘new-bee’ beekeepers to join their Bee Group, I would be surprised if they haven’t inspired some of the enthralled attendees to get into apiary.
The speaker programme was sponsored by Quidditas textile museum and shop, and anyone who has been to the Spring Leura Gardens Festival might recognise the property in Railway Parade. At festival time the museum featured two small but exquisite displays – ‘Phoenix Rising’ curated by Deborah Whitford with Chinese textile embroideries, mostly garments with beautiful symbolisms. In another room a collection of textiles, embroideries and china inspired by nature.
This was the festival’s third year, so early days in what surely will be a continuing and developing event. It fits well into the Leura calendar’s autumn section, with spring well catered for with the Leura Gardens Festival and Village Fair. There is an emerging sense of sustainable industry forming the framework which will be further developed. Waste management at the festival and other mountain events is one example. In partnership with Australian Native Landscapes, compostable refuse from events is collected and used as raw material for compost production. This is massively diminishing the amount of waste going to landfill.
On a final note, when you visit the festival next year – and you should – I have two suggestions. Get involved with events on the programme so you have an even more memorable experience. If you just browse the stalls, you ‘ll be missing out on what makes this event unique. Also, visit the ‘Sculptures at Scenic World’ which this year coincided with the Harvest Festival. If you’ve never been to Scenic World (a treat in itself), the amazing sculptures give you a double bonus! Even if you have been to Scenic World, go again – the artworks nestled on the wooded valley floor are magical, and who ever tires of the stunning spectacle across Jamison Valley?
Places to eat in the Blue Mountains:
Lily’s Pad Café, Leura – really delicious light and full meals freshly prepared with seasonal produce in a spacious setting.
Vesta Blackheath – atmospheric restaurant where virtually all the food (except maybe ice cream and salad) is slow-cooked in their huge 120-year-old Scotch oven.
Leura Garage – lunch and dinner, specialising in regional and organic produce.
Beyond Vintage Wine Bar – relaxed ‘speak-easy’ style bar with cocktails, a unique wine list, and fine light food such as tapas.
I stayed as a guest of the Leura Village Association while visiting the Leura Harvest Festival 2016.