Tuesday August 13, 2013

GREENFIELD, Mass. -- Meet Dino Schnelle. He's a man on a mission.

Together with Chair Mary Siano of the fundraising committee and the 14-member working committee, these hard-working folks are concentrating on final details for next Sunday and the Ninth Annual Free Harvest Supper on the Greenfield Town Common. The delicious free program starts at 4:30 p.m. and concludes at 6:30 p.m.

Schnelle, an affable gentleman who serves as coordinator of the Center for Self-Reliance at 3 Osgood St. in Greenfield, is proud of the success of the Free Harvest Supper.

"Last year," said Schnelle, "we served over 1,000 community members and raised more than $4,000 for the Farmers' Market Coupon Project for the center. The supper is the largest free community meal in all of Franklin County. It's a huge effort of more than 50 local farms and businesses and more than 100 volunteers."

Dino explains that even though the meal is free of charge, some people want to make a financial donation at the Harvest. "We take that money," he said, "and since we have a minimal amount of expenses for the supper, we turn the donations into Farmers' Market coupons. Then we distribute them here at the Center for Self-Reliance, Salvation Army, Community Meals Program at the Second Congregational Church (Tuesday and Wednesday nights), the Orange Food Pantry, and the West County Food Bank in Shelburne Falls.

"The money that's donated buys food for low-income families in Franklin County and also supports local farmers' markets in Orange, Turners Falls, Greenfield, and Shelburne Falls, which accept the farmers' market coupons."

According to Schnelle, the Free Harvest Supper is not a given. It is instead a painstaking, detail-laden event. The working committee itself meets many times prior to the event. "We probably spend two whole meetings on which entertainment we'll have," said Schnelle.

Local musicians perform at the supper from 4 p.m. to 6:45 p.m. The Harmaniacs, an incomparable trio of harmonica players, are adept at genres from pop to jazz and are one of the acts set to play on the big evening. There will also be face painting, hula hooping, and other fun things for kids while the supper is in session.

Meanwhile, Jennifer Williams is the Free Harvest Supper's volunteer coordinator. She notes that many tasks make up the structure of the harvest supper, such as helping with food pick-ups Friday and Saturday, Aug. 16 and 17, from the local farms.

In addition there are shifts of an hour to an hour and a half Sunday, the day of the supper, for set-up, kitchen preparation, counters (two per shift to obtain an accurate count of those fed), servers, runners, floaters (to help as needed), raffle ticket sellers, recyclers, ice-cream scoopers, and clean-up. The locally grown food is prepared by top chefs in the area, directed by Hope and Olive's Maggie Zaccara. To volunteer, please call 413-773-5029.

According to Schnelle, the supper has three main objectives: 1) to support local agriculture, 2) to encourage consumers to eat locally grown food, and 3) to raise money for the Farmers' Market coupons given out by the Center for Self-Reliance Food Pantry.

How did the Free Harvest Supper come to be? "The idea," said Dino, "was the brainchild of Juanita Nelson, who celebrates her 93rd birthday this month. She and her late husband, Wally, held a farmers' market in the parking lot behind the Greenfield courthouse quite a few years ago."

The Nelsons wanted to stage a thank-you for those customers who had supported the inaugural year of the farmers' market along with a general harvest celebration featuring outstanding produce and vegetables. The years passed, but the harvest supper idea was never far from Juanita's thoughts. Nine years ago, pointed out Schnelle, Mrs. Nelson suggested the Free Harvest Supper become a yearly event. And thanks to the hard work of a great deal of people, it has.

"There were a lot of factors," said Dino, "that came together to make the supper the event it's become. The popularity of the local farmers' markets combined with greatly increased interest in organic food and the growth of the local food movement along with the increase of local farmers. It was perfect timing to highlight the incredible food that comes from the Pioneer Valley. The supper is just a great way to celebrate our local food."

According to Schnelle, the need is greater every year. "I'm so proud of our community," he said. "It's thanks to the good will and support of the people in the valley that we're able to do what we can. People are still losing their homes, having trouble finding jobs, looking for a place to live. The community understands and they're willing to support events like the harvest supper."

Diners are asked to bring their own reusable place settings along with napkins plus a cup to use for ice cream and beverages.

For more info on the Free Harvest Supper in Greenfield, visit freeharvestsupper.org or call 413-773-5029.