By Amy Macintyre

Before fall truly gets underway, the annual Hopewell Harvest Fair is returning for its 29th year to ensure at least one more day of fun in the sun.

“The atmosphere is so fun and you can really connect with our neighbors,” said Julie Sansone, a Hopewell resident and the vice president of the Harvest Fair board of trustees. “It’s a really wonderful day to celebrate Hopewell Valley.”

The Hopewell Harvest Fair touts fun for the entire family with live music, food, pony-rides, hayrides, and local farmers showcasing their harvest bounty. Held at Hopewell Elementary School, there will be an eating contest, art contests for kids and even a homegrown contest where judges examine professional and home gardeners’ finest vegetables and gourds, determining who has the “portliest” pumpkin of all.

Local businesses also set up shop for the day in “Business Alley,” where area banks, shops, schools and even doctors and specialists will be lined up in pop up tents to engage with residents. Local crafters will also be setting up shop to display their handmade wares.

Sponsorship from the businesses allows the board of trustees to raise money from the fair for grants to local non-profit organizations and area schools. It is a sometimes overlooked function of the fair, but a big part of their mission.

“It’s another way the community can give to the non-profits in our area,” said board president Janice Schroeder.

Over the years, the Harvest Fair has donated over $200,000 to local nonprofit organizations. Although the grants are typically between $50 and $500, according to Schroeder, they can have a big impact on the recipients.

Phyllis Stoolmacher, acting food bank director at Mercer Street Friends, explained that small grants like those given by the Fair help the organization reach more members of the community.

Last year, the grant allowed the food bank to purchase a professional table cover to bring to outreach events that they did not have money for in the budget. “It’s really, really helpful,” Stoolmacher said of the marketing tool.

The Harvest Fair contributed $17,000 to 17 organizations last year, according to Schroeder.

Along with contributing grants to non-profits, the organizations also have an opportunity to set up booths at the Fair. At a small cost, the local non-profits can reach the thousands of people in attendance to inform them of not only how they can get involved, but also what services may be available to them.

“A lot of people who live right in our community can use the assistance of the non-profit organizations,” Sansone said. Along with Mercer Street Friends Food Bank, other non-profits with booths include Lawrenceville based non-profits HomeFront, dedicated to ending homelessness in Mercer Country, and Womenspace, an agency providing services for women in crisis.

“We are proud that we are able to help,” Sansone said.

Since the Fair is run completely by volunteers, there is always an opportunity to lend a hand.

Schroeder became involved with the fair after moving to Hopewell from California. New to the community and with a new baby, she offered her services as a graphic designer. This is her ninth year designing the fair’s Almanac, and fourth year serving as president of the board.

Sansone grew up in the Hopewell Valley and she returned to the area after college. A big desire was to be more involved in the community. “The Harvest Fair just seemed like the perfect fit,” she said. This is her fifth year volunteering with the Fair.

Whatever expertise a volunteer has, Schroeder says there is always a way they can help out with the Fair. “I think that is one of the best ways to volunteer–to bring your own interests,” she said.

Sansone says the Harvest Fair is a great way to also celebrate the history of Hopewell. “It’s part of who we are.”

“We have a rich tradition of farming and agriculture, horse farms and produce farms,” Sansone explained. “It’s been brought into the modern age with CSAs, farmland preservation and organic farming.”

“It’s a good way to celebrate our heritage,” Schroeder added.

Part of the Harvest Fair tradition is kept alive through the Almanac, the event program that continues to be printed and distributed in local shops around town prior to the big event.

“It used to be the main carrier to get the word out,” Schroeder said of the Almanac. “It’s a tradition to pick that up in the borough.”

Sansone urges everyone in the area to come out to the Fair, bring the whole family and celebrate with neighbors and friends.

“Part of the reason why the harvest fair has lasted as long as it has is you can come here with your family,” she said. “It’s about connecting with each other.”

The Hopewell Harvest Fair will take place on Saturday, Sept. 26th, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Rain date is Sunday, Sept. 27th. For more information, visit www.hopewellharvestfair.org. The Almanac will be released in early September. To volunteer, email volunteer@hopewellharvestfair.org or fill out a volunteer sign-up form available on the website.