Saturday, October 24, 2009

It's Harvest Season! Bring Out the Pipes! (Part 4)

Middletown Harvest Festival

I love the harvest festival. It's one of the few festivals that has a wide variety of local vendors selling local things. Every time something gets large enough, all of the local vendors are squeezed out by larger, interstate salespeople hawking the same shit from fair to fair. Eventually, instead of painters from the next town over, you have painting factories from up and down the eastern seaboard selling perfectly generic portraits of sailboats in the sun to hang next to the painting you bought at Sears. Even worse is when the event gets big enough to attract vendors of shit that HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE EVENT.

The biggest culprits of this crime against locality that I can think of are the Situate Art Festival and the Washington County Fair. Everything is local, except all of the shit that isn't. At least the food vendors at the County Fair are local, but none of the vendors selling stuff are. The marines have a setup. Verizon and T-Mobile are at the art festival. Because cell phones are artistic.

This sucks because these vendors are willing to pay much more, thus driving up the prices of a spot, and thus driving out local talent. Eventually, you end of with sad pieces of shit like the Glastonbury Apple Harvest Festival. Which has a competition for best apple pie... And one, count'em ONE, vendor selling apple pie. They have a contract to be the only seller. And it sucks. Hard. One would expect to have APPLES at an apple harvest festival. Apples from lots of different farms, selling different pies and home recipes. Instead, you get a pie competition in which only the judges get to have pie. Shitty pie from the local church. And one place selling every kind of pie but apple.

On top of all this, you then have a large carnival, and a giant aisle of vendors selling -you guessed it- the same damned shit as every other line of vendors at every other damned festival. The only saving grace of the festival are some live bands that frequently end up being quite good. Whoever plans the music should be in charge of the entire fair. Maybe it wouldn't such so badly.

But the Middletown Festival is different. EVERYONE is local! All of the crafts tents are local. You have jewelry makers from Pawtucket, woodcarvers from Wickford, and dollmakers from Cranston. Some of it is rather pricey, but the same crap from vendors from New Jersey and Florida is usually the same price and of lower quality. The food is still pretty crappy, but it's local. There are games for the kiddies, setups by local organizations, like a robotics club from URI, and it all feels local. It feels like your buying from your neighbor.

That's a great sensation. I'm all for globalization, I don't hate giant corporations, and I shop at Wal-Mart. Still, given the choice, I'd rather give my money to someone I kind of know. Someone who might live one town over. I'd rather take my money and inject it directly into the local economy instead of funneling it out to some other state/country/planet. This fair feels like I'm doing just that.

A woodworker straight from Wickford, my homeland. If you're interested in his work, he's Tom Schwab, at 401-295-0492. I bought a thermometer/barometer/hygrometer from him. Pretty, with perfectly molded wood.

One of the best tents from the show, the wood pen lady! Hand-made and polished wooden pens of various types, which can be paired with a matched letter opener. Gorgeous pens.

The food tent was large, but the food selection was surprisingly thin. Take a look at the lower left; it's just a table with some pizza boxes. That's... gourmet.

I was seriously not expecting to find fine teas at a local harvest festival, but here they were.

Unfortunately, I can't say anything about Empire's quality since I never bought anything from them. They have a great variety of teas and coffees, including those weird bubble teas that I seriously don't get. I'm going to check out their Newport location and see if they're any good.

I was happy to see a genuine ice cream stand set up. The large power infrastructure obviously made this possible.

And behold! The ice cream I got. Not a terrible price. About three bucks for my cone. And the ice cream was good, too! Not at all icy, which seems to be the biggest issue with ice cream, these days.

Some of the better hand-made pottery available was from Rising Sun Earthworks. They had a wide selection of plates, mugs, and other dishes. The best thing had to be the hand-made french salt dishes. In the Wal-Mart era, $20 seems a bit pricey, but I have no regrets. I love my soft, spreadable butter.

The tree of mugs from Rising Sun. See the one in the upper left? That baby came home. Very playful designs, sturdy, perfectly glazed. Very good mugs.

This guy looks familiar... where have I seen him?

A necklace made from two sanded mussel shells, molded together with a silver frame. Very pretty. Bulky as all hell, though. Not a very good prospect for jewelry. Come to think of it, it may have been intended as a door hang. Regardless, you like? Buy your very own at

The amount of stuff for the kids was amazing. Tons of games, tents, toys, big... things... this. I think they lit a fire in it sometime later in the day, but I'm not sure. It was big and it was smiling, which of course means kids will like it.

Some of the nicest jewelry of the day came from Ellora Janes. Not cheap, nothing here is cheap, but not terribly expensive, either. Very fine details and good aesthetic quality. Where many of the other vendors were making jewelry out of stones and whatnot, Ellora was light metal.

This just seems pretty dodgy to me. $10.99 for two lobster rolls? Where the hell did you source the lobster? Your koi pond? Well, I didn't hear of anyone dying from mad lobster disease, so I assume it was ok.

Cory's Kitchen was another highlight of the day. Excellent muffins and cookies and some of the most fruit-packed jams I've ever had. I'm talking huge, fuck-off chunks of fruit. Bumbleberry jam was the bomb-diggity, yo. Sweet, with a strong tartness zinging through the raspberries. It is one hell of a way to wake up the taste buds in the morning.

Clam cakes compliments of Kempenaar's Clambake Club. I'm all for fried food, but these bad boys were like eating clam-flavored blocks of hardened arteries. I didn't even finish them. Very greasy. So afterward, still hungry, I went to another stand.

I'm glad I did. Candy apples! You have no idea. I am singularly obsessed with apples dipped in stuff. You want caramel apples to SCREAM about, use butterscotch ice cream topping. Knowing this, it's amazing that all I got was...

... a hot dog! It was what you would expect. At least it was a decent hot dog. Ballpark, I think. And for only two bucks, it was a great fairground price. I think I avoided the candy apple because I knew that Amy's Apples lay just a few hundred feet away. There was no need to even look twice at these pathetic, unelaborate concoctions.

Speaking of Amy and her Apples (not THOSE apples), they had one of the most densely-packed stands of the show. It was absolutely overflowing with chocolate-dipped goodies. At $12, their apples are to die for. To DIE for. High quality chocolate and toppings, decent prices, and a huge variety of creations truly won me over. That giant apple can go screw.

This necklace was compliments of Very Petra designs, out of Pawtucket. It's representative of something lots of the artists had a problem with: subtly. It's one chunky, bloody necklace.

This is URI's ball-throwing robot in action.

I have no idea what these people were here to do, or what they signified.

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