Sacred Harvest Festival Searches for New Home

Cara Schulz —  August 14, 2014 — 18 Comments

Harmony Tribe, the group that produces Sacred Harvest Festival (SHF), a Pagan camping festival held in SE Minnesota, celebrated its 17th year last week. While the festival has experienced ups and downs over the years, most recently a new campground zoning restriction limiting night time drumming, it now faces the challenge of finding a new location.

The Harmony Tribe stewards announced at this year’s festival that it was the last time the event would be held at Harmony Park. They also said that they had not yet secured a place to hold the festival next year.*

The campground, which has hosted the festival for all 17 years, is a favorite with attendees. It’s small, private layout combined with a full grove of Burr oak trees gave the festival an intimate feeling and helped attendees connect with nature and one another. “I’ve loved the serenity and privacy of Harmony Park,” says festival attendee Traci Amberbride, “the way the weather seems to be held somewhat at bay, the shade of the trees, the dappled sunlight coming through. Watching the sunrise of the lake and set beyond the parking field. I love the flow of the park and the ability to determine how in the middle of things you want to be.”

The announcement was met with a range of emotions. Heather Biedermann, who has attended the festival since 2007, said she was heartbroken at hearing the festival would no longer be at Harmony Park, “The oak trees have always felt like home to me. However, I understand that with the changes that were happening at Harmony Park, it just wouldn’t be right to stay either.”


Sacred Harvest Festival 2013 [Photo credit: Teo Bishop]

Some of the changes included the noise restrictions which took effect in 2011. This meant drumming ended at 10pm on weekdays and 1am on weeknights. This year, attendees could no longer drive vehicles into the park to load and unload their camp gear while campers and RVs had to park in the treeline just outside the park.

Harmony Tribe member Tasha Rose says Sacred Harvest Festival was treated differently by the campground owner than the camp’s larger music festivals. She says,”I honestly saw it coming. It sort of felt like a slow pushing out by [the owner] Jay. We have such a positive impact on the land there and have had one obstacle after another thrown at us for the past few years, while large events that disrupt the environment are allowed to continue doing their thing.”

Rachael, one of the Harmony Tribe Stewards responsible for helping produce SHF, says, “The decision to move was a series of factors including the limits placed on us by the sound curfew, the limited access to the park, and the camping restrictions for RVs. We have many who attend our fest who are mobility impaired or have small children, so limiting where we could go and how we get our things into our space was difficult to work within those confines.” She noted they are a community who drums into the night as part of their spiritual experience and said the drumming curfew has detracted from the festival experience.

Moving a festival location is not without risks. Author and SHF presenter Crystal Blanton says changing venues is challenging for any festival, “I anticipate that SHF might lose some of it’s regular festival goers but will gain some more in other area. I think it is a chance to shake things up and grow in the process, but it is always sad to see people leave the community after large change. It is to be expected though.”

There is an additional layer of risk in announcing a festival is changing location before securing the next venue. “Being an event planner, I know that not having a secured place to host even a year out is not ideal in the least,” says Tasha. She says her family doesn’t have plans to return to SHF with the move.

[Festival Theme Art 2014 by Judith Olson]

[Festival Theme Art 2014 by Judith Olson]

Heather says her major concern is that the festival will take a year off while they search for a new location, “What that usually means to me is that the festival won’t happen again. I sincerely hope that wherever Harmony Tribe decides to go, it will be a positive, growing change for the better.” She says she plans to attend the festival next year, although location and dates may affect that decision.

Traci is more optimistic about the venue search, but knows it won’t be an easy task. “As sad as leaving the Oaks is, I think this is a change for the better. Everything has a cycle, and there have been many changes in the last several years within Harmony Tribe. It’s time for a new birth and beginning. To reestablish what this community is and to whom it is important. I’m excited about the possibilities a new beginning brings.”

Moving a Pagan festival is more challenging than moving other types of camping festivals. In addition to a venue which allows late night drumming, there are other needs and wants particular to Pagan festivals, such as privacy and nudity. Rachael says the Harmony Tribe board is weighing all the criteria and asking for community input, “We put it out into the community to tell us what they need and got a lot of responses. The most popular responses to that question were showers, communal campfires, RV parking, shade, and privacy. The responses that were given as wants were a swimming place and a playground. The places that we’ve seen have great amenities, but where you get a little more, you have to give a little more.” She says attendees are encouraged to fill out the festival feedback form located here.

There are non-tangible criteria as well. Crystal Blanton isn’t just a presenter, she’s also an attendee. She has flown from California with her family multiple times to attend SHF because of its importance to her spiritual and emotional well-being, “The supportive, loving and family atmosphere is very important to me personally, and my desire to expose my children to other Pagan families. This particular festival has something very special it offers to my family – the ability to come and be a part of a community that embraces our diversity and supports our collective needs.”

Tasha, who has attended the festival for ten years and whose husband has attended all 17 years agrees that SHF plays a large role in her spiritual life, “The grove and the people who live in it for the week of SHF are all a part of who I am.” She says the festival is also important for her children to experience Pagan culture, “I go because my children get to have time with other children in their own culture. They don’t really have that in our day to day aside from their siblings. Without this festival in that Grove, we won’t have what we have come to need in our spiritual family life, and I am sad about that.” But she says it feels like it’s time to move on and create that culture with new people in new places.

“This Festival is very important to my spiritual health and my family’s,” says Traci. “We have grown, experienced, and learned so much from both the Tribe and the presenters. My children have made lasting bonds, as have Jackie and I. We live in a small, rural community and aren’t always able to find time to commune with our spiritual/religious community. This is a big chunk for us.”

The search continues to find a new home for the Sacred Harvest Festival. Only time will tell if this is the end or the rebirth of a much loved part of upper Midwest Pagans’ spiritual lives.

“We will do our best to continue to meet the needs of the community,” Rachael says. “There is no place like the grove, but we are going to find some place that gives us a new home with the same or better festival experience.”

* [Harmony Tribe and Harmony Park have no formal relationship and were named independently of one another]

Cara Schulz

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Cara Schulz is a journalist and author living in Minnesota with her husband and cat. She has previously written for PAGAN+politics, PNC-Minnesota, and Patheos. Her work has appeared in several books by Bibliotheca Alexandrina and she's the author of Martinis & Marshmallows: A Field Guide to Luxury Tent Camping and (Almost) Foolproof Mead Making. She loves red wine, camping, and has no tattoos.
  • Ann Luloff

    We are a people, not a place. As pagans (loosely speaking), we connect with the land, sky and sea. It doesn’t matter if there are buildings, or concrete, between us and Gaia. The moon shines over all the world. Her breathe carresses in field or city. Her rain washes our cares away on a beach or in our backyard. We will miss and revere the time spent under those oaks, but the next place will be just as magical because we are the magic.

  • kenofken

    There is little point in mourning losses like this. Unless and until festivals and their community come up with the juice to either buy land or negotiate tight long-term leases or other agreements, this sort of thing is always, always going to happen. Always. It was lucky to have gotten as long a run as it did at one place. Outside of the pagan world, the spiritual investment and stewardship we might make in someone else’s land counts for squat. Contracts, deeds and dollars count. When it’s done on a year to year basis at someone else’s place, they are going to be in the driver’s seat on the nature of your festival and whether it happens at all.

    We also have to get more realistic about the things we want, the things we’re willing to pay for and the tradeoffs. We want locations that are an easy drive from metro areas and right off the expressways. That means you’re in the suburbs, or exhurbs. They’re not gonna be down with all night drumming, or nudity where their trespassing teens might “accidentally” see it. We want amenities and big-name presenters and entertainer and a professionally run event…..for $20 a day! I know these aren’t flush times for anyone, but it ain’t 1986 anymore, and if we’re not willing to put up more for 24 hours of good event than we spend on a single fast food run…

    We want a pristine nature experience, but only if it has nice flushable toilets, a shower house, RV parking and hookups, good wireless reception and paved paths to every corner of the place for golf carts.

    My own views on institutions and infrastructure are mixed, but it’s time we engaged the debate in a serious way. Unless we want our festivals to keep lurching from one year to another and mourn the many that don’t make it, we have to figure out what we value in the experience. Is it the tribe or tribal grounds? Can we have one without the other? If location is important, we better start putting ourselves in a position to drive the train. If not, we need to get used to pitching camp and surviving wherever the thing takes us.

    • Lēoht “Sceadusawol” Steren

      Completely agreeing with everything you said, but I would like to add one more thing:

      Seems a bit odd to be making an issue of nudity at events when there was
      such a fuss made recently about sexual predation and nudity at events, does it not?

      • kenofken

        Predation isn’t about what anyone is wearing or not wearing. It’s about attitudes and behaviors which involves a sense of entitlement to other’s bodies and a disrepsect of boundaries. Ending nudity is not the answer. It won’t eliminate the underlying problem and will in fact reinforce and legitimize the harasser mentality which says “she had it coming” because of what she was wearing. Whether we have nudity or not at festivals, the solution to predation is to develop a culture of positive consent and then to eject people who can’t live within such a culture.

        • Lēoht “Sceadusawol” Steren

          It is not about anyone “having it coming” it is about accepting that there are predators out there (and will always be) and acting accordingly to minimise risk.
          Anything else is naïvety, at best.

          • kenofken

            There are voices to eliminate ritual and recreational nudity in paganism. I’m not having it. I’ll be fed to Cerberus before I recreate the sick theology of the body many of us left behind in Abrahamic religion. We and our sisters and daughters are no longer going to live in fear of the predators and harassers. It’s time those bastards live in fear of us.

            We can make our communities a very unattractive hunting ground for them and we can do so through a positive culture of consent and personal freedom. It is the only way we can do so. Once you accept the idea that women are responsible for how men act around them, the only place you can go with that sooner or later is the burqa and the idea that men have no real moral or ethical agency of their own. The quintessential rape culture. Some of the most dangerous places on Earth for women are also the most modest. Women aren’t getting raped en masse in Taliban country because they’re showing too much skin!

            Women come in for huge workplace harassment in professional dress that is anything but provocative or revealing. The Catholic Church’s abuse atrocities certainly had nothing to do with ritual nudity. Abuse and harassment are about the culture of interpersonal relationships you create or fail to create. It’s about accountability and transparency of leadership and institutions.

          • Lēoht “Sceadusawol” Steren

            Again, it is not about women being responsible for how men act.

            It is that *some* people *will* act in predatory ways and it makes sense to be proactive, rather than reactive about this.

            To use sharks as an analogy – you don’t swim with sharks when you’re bleeding.

            Nudity being part of Paganism, as far as I can tell, is a pretty modern conceit.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            Let’s say it’s modern. It’s also widespread in the community, suggesting it means something. Maybe it takes 100 years of it to finally divest Abrahamic body-negativity and absorb a positive theology of the body.

    • Anna H.

      For this, and many other reasons, I am very pro-“Pagans getting enough money to buy land.”

    • Owning land comes with a lot of headaches that you don’t have when renting. Yearlong upkeep, constant need of volunteers, squatters, and continual development. Then you really have to work on neighbor relations because you can’t pick up the land and go elsewhere. On the other hand, with renting you can focus on the festival itself rather than dealing with all these other things.

      • Lēoht “Sceadusawol” Steren

        However, owning land can be a revenue stream.

        If you hold four (weekend long) festivals a year on a campsite you own. How much time do you have available to rent that land out for other purpose (such as a general purpose campsite)?

        The land, whilst requiring paperwork, will pay for its own upkeep and, quite possibly, a bit more for other things.

        • Baruch Dreamstalker

          We now have two business models outlined by Cerowain and Sceadusawol. A third would be to own land and use it year-round, of which we have an actual example: Circle. How do they do that?And, in fact, Circle becomes a renter when they hold PSG. Models can be mixed.

          • kenofken

            Circle is the result of something like 40 years of relentless effort of founders and volunteers and a mix of timing and geography and a critical mass of pagans at the right place and time. It’s a great place, but it also has its own limitations as a major festival site. Ownership and permanence of this sort may not be the best model for every festival, but we should consider the trade-offs, costs and benefits. The more I think of it, there may be a third way to address festival problems. Rent, but lock in 10 or even 20 year leases or agreements guaranteeing what we want. We have to start putting some more serious money on the table to do that.

        • Mistress Judy

          Owning is what we dream of, but there is so much hidden cost…taxes, maintenance, compliance with lisencing, insurance, insurance, insurance…and that is if the entire administration is volunteers, which we are.

  • Pagan Spirit Gathering has moved *twice* in the past ten years and is still thriving. There were around 1200 in attendance this year. It can be done.

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      Circle has a year-round operation on its own land elsewhere. It has institutional endurance.

      • Tasha Rose

        Exactly. The fact that Circle has survived would be an anomaly if they didn’t have their own land that they steward.

  • Mistress Judy

    I am a council member at large with Harmony Tribe, and just wanted to clarify a couple things regarding the status of our new location for Sacred Harvest Festival. We have been actively searching for a new site since 2012, and we have discussed these issues of renting, leasing, and buying, and will continue that dialog. We have asked our festivants for feedback and suggestions. With these discussions and our mission to guide us, we looked at several sites in person. We have done some negotiating with one site in particular, and that is likely the one we will be contracting with for SHF 2015.
    I find much inspiration in the comments here so far, please, carry on!