Still Dirty at Thirty! Hoes Down Harvest Festival at Full Belly Farm

Sep 28, 2017

Still Dirty at Thirty! Hoes Down Harvest Festival at Full Belly Farm

Sep 28, 2017

The Hoes Down Harvest Festival invites all to play on October 7, 2017

people play in the river
About thirty years ago, young organic farmers Dru Rivers of Full Belly Farm and Annie Main of Good Humus Produce were having trouble selling their dried-flower wreaths at small shops and art shows around Davis, so they had a little brain-wave. They decided to bring people out to the farm to see where the flowers were grown. To their surprise, two or three hundred people showed up for an afternoon at Full Belly Farm in the Capay Valley, a couple of hours northeast of the San Francisco Bay Area.

Dru gave a spinning demonstration and introduced the visitors to a few sheep. Annie, Dru and two other women in the wreath-making group gave a wreath-making demo and led a tour of the farm. Dru remembers, “ It might have been a potluck; we didn't sell any food. There was some sort of music, probably bluegrass. People walked down to the creek. The trail was all overgrown then; there wasn't a path. It was a miracle that people came, even some people we didn't know! We probably sold about five wreaths that day.” That was the first Hoes Down Harvest Festival and the start of a tradition enjoyed by thousands of Northern Californians.

A few months later, at the annual EcoFarm Conference of California organic farmers, an announcement on the bulletin board invited everyone to the second annual Hoes Down Harvest Festival, a fundraiser for the EcoFarm Conference, tickets $5 a person. There was no going back.

Hoes Down Fest 100309 017.crop
The annual festival grew by a hundred or more people every year. Dru Rivers was the primary Hoes Down coordinator for many years. Full Belly Farm partner Judith Redmond coordinated the volunteers. Annie Main was the brains behind the children's area full of farm crafts, ice-cream making, a huge hay fort, story telling and games. Other Capay Valley farmers and community members joined in the effort every year as organizing volunteers. Hundreds, and then thousands, of San Francisco Bay Area and Sacramento farmers' market shoppers and Capay Valley farms' CSA members made the annual drive to enjoy the festival and visit the source of their vegetables.

In the early years, creativity thrived on a shoestring budget. Dru recalls, “for three or four years we used to to put up long irrigation pipes and string a huge nylon tarp that had come from Christo's ‘Running Fence' project to make a big tent.” These days, a crew sets up large festival tents and awnings for the event.

After running entirely on volunteer energy for more than fifteen years, the organizers hired a former Full Belly Farm intern, Gwenael Engelskirchen, as part-time Hoes Down coordinator in 2002. Gwenael, who now works with the UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, says she started in late spring. The monthly organizing meetings at Full Belly Farm usually were ten or twenty people – each taking responsibility for an area; music, crafts vendors, kids area, food, even a committee on how to make the festival environmentally friendly. For many years, before biodegradable plates and utensils, Hoes Down organizers borrowed hundreds of dishes from Davis's Whole Earth Festival, which were washed by several shifts of volunteers all day and into the night.

Paul Muller and Amego Bob lead a farm tour
The Hoes Down Harvest Festival has always been a community effort, drawing on the volunteer energy of Capay Valley farmers and community members for months of planning and on donations from food to equipment to art and wine for the silent auction. Gwenael remembers a big roll of poster paper taped to the wall of the barn about ten days before the festival, listing all the donations from farms, businesses and vendors, and the names of who would drive where to pick up what in time for the festival.

After months of organizing effort, another 400 volunteers show up for the festival to be part of what has become well-managed organized chaos. Gwenael says, “From a farming point of view, you watch the total transformation of a working farm to an event facility and back in a weekend. On Friday the volunteers arrive and set everything up – the tents, the tables, the stages and everything else. On Saturday, thousands of people arrive for the festival and many stay for Sunday tours and classes. On Sunday afternoon, the clean-up crew takes it all down. On Monday, Full Belly is back to work as a working farm.”

contra dancers sashay down the middle
Dru Rivers and Annie Main have passed leadership of organizing the Hoes Down Harvest Festival to the next generation. Dru's daughter, Hallie Muller Ochoa, took over as Festival Coordinator six or seven years ago, and has now handed the job over to Claire Main, Annie Main's daughter. A young neighbor farmer, Annie Hehner, is now in charge of the popular children's area.

All of the proceeds from the Hoes Down Harvest Festival go to non-profit organizations that support sustainable agriculture and rural living. Over its thirty year history, the festival has raised about a million dollars. The 2016 Hoes Down Festival raised about $90,000. None of the money raised has gone to Full Belly Farm; it has all been donated to organic farming and local agricultural organizations. Beneficiaries include the Ecological Farming Association, Community Alliance with Family Farms, agricultural scholarships for local high school students, the local 4H club, Future Farmers of America, and other local organizations.

Hoes Down Fest 100309 034.crop
On October 7, 2017, Full Belly Farm is expecting five or six thousand visitors to celebrate “Still Dirty at Thirty!” – the 30th annual Hoes Down Harvest Festival. Everyone will enjoy music and good food and a circus. Some will do si do in the afternoon contra dance. Some will play in the river and shop for arts and crafts. Some will watch sheep be shorn and then card and spin some wool into yarn or carve pumpkins or paint gourds, or pet baby goats or churn ice cream. Some will go on farm tours and join workshops on creating herbal remedies or growing the earliest tomatoes. Many will dance into the evening, camp overnight in the walnut orchard, and get up Sunday morning to a hearty farm breakfast and more tours and workshops.

You are invited to bring friends and family to join the fun!
Full Belly Farm,
16090 County Road 43, Guinda CA 95637

Saturday, October 7, 2017
11am - 11 pm


Admission Prices

Adults: $25 online, $30 at the gate

Children (2-12): $5 - 
Under 2: Free

Saturday Night Camping: $30 per car - no reservations are needed!

Visit California Farms and Ranches - learn more at

By Penny Leff
Author - Agritourism Coordinator/Public Education Specialist