By Julia Baratta, Freelance Writer
When Ned Stump began his tenure as the agriculture education teacher, he wanted the parents to have an opportunity to see where their children were learning about farming. He started the Fall Farm Festival with an emphasis on exposure of the facilities that the school was offering for the young people to work in.
After 45 years, the event is now called the Prairie Heights Heritage Festival and includes school-wide participation along with a lot of support from the community.
The 2017 Heritage Festival was held on October 8 with a large number of vendors and guests in spite of a neighboring town’s annual festival. The school farmstead hosted foods of all kinds, handmade items, a stage that featured local talent, activities for children, and antique tractor pulls.
As with any local festival, the fundraising efforts come from the communities around the area.
This Sunday event boasted churches selling pulled pork or pulled chicken sandwiches, many of the youth clubs from the high school selling food, athletics raising funds with walking tacos, boy and girl scouts offering goodies, and the Prairie Heights’ FFA chapter providing cast iron cooking over a campfire.
Several demonstrations were presented with items being sold. Apple butter, grilled pork burgers, and cracklins cooked over open fires with free scents and inexpensive products.
Handmade gift items including camel’s milk soap, hand knit baby sweaters, hand spun yarns, art, photography, crocheted kitchen items, and hand sewn aprons were available. The spinning of yarn was also demonstrated at a number of booths.
A wooden stage called the “General Store est. 1972” featured several solo acts along with the Prairie Heights’ school band and the theater group. The band presented the National Anthem within a myriad of tunes wrapping up their set with the school’s fight song. The high school acting troupe presented a preview of the show they were currently working on, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”
The established play ground on the property was a popular attraction for the children but other activities were available such as a tin punch project, a pallet maze, a small golf course, fishing in the pond, a pumpkin decorating contest, and pedal pulls.
The antique tractor pulls began a little later than planned due to the rain the evening before but that didn’t quench the enthusiasm as over 180 entries tried to pull their weight and more. The pullers ranged in age from the youngest being 10 years old to the oldest coming in at 91, 93, and 97 years old.
“We have had this for over 25 years during the festival,” Steuben County Antique Power Association President Steve Shank said. “I was a student of Ned Stump when I was in school.”
That sentiment was echoed throughout the grounds as many vendors remembered coming to the festival and/or participating in it as an FFA member. Stump’s influence is obvious in the various traditions kept during the annual event. Part of the reason is the involvement of so many from the community along with FFA alumni including the current teachers, Ron Noll and Ben Leu. In addition to being one of Stump’s students, Leu is proud to share that Stump was his grandfather.
The vision of the original festival is still being realized as families, friends, and communities are connecting on the farm.