The Spring Planting Festival is the perfect opportunity to take in Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co.’s picturesque Mansfield farm while learning about plants, enjoying a great meal, and listening to the sweet sounds of traditional folk music.

By Caroline Dohack

If you’ve ever bitten into an heirloom tomato—a tart Green Zebra perhaps, or maybe a smoky-sweet Beefsteak—you know they’re something to celebrate. And that’s just what’s happening May 12 and 13, when Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co. hosts its Spring Planting Festival at its historic homestead in Mansfield, Missouri.

“The Spring Planting Festival, like all our festivals on the farm, is really a way to bring people together in community and to celebrate heirloom gardening, to raise awareness of these remarkable varieties, and to have fun,” says Michelle Johnson, media specialist at Baker Creek.

Heirloom fruits and vegetables—sometimes called heritage plants—are old cultivars that have been maintained by generations of growers through seed saving, swapping, and selling.

“The value of heirloom varieties is they connect us to the past, they nourish us in the present, and we are able to cherish them into the future,” Johnson says. “To us, the beauty of promoting and sharing heirloom varieties is that they are 100% accessible. They don’t belong to a corporation. They don’t have a patent on them. They belong to the people.”

And so the Spring Planting Festival is an opportunity to explore the myriad ways heirloom enthusiasts can incorporate them into their own gardens and farms.

“We have a long tradition of just wanting to have a party,” Johnson says. “We love to share the farm and we love to meet people and we love to think that we’re building a bigger circle for the love of heirlooms.”

In addition to a large walk-through display of everything currently growing on the farm, the two-day event features a full lineup of guest speakers presenting on a range of topics.

“This sort of emerged by accident, but the theme that runs through our speakers is about building community and community health as well as individual health through gardening,” Johnson says. 

One speaker is Maile Auterson, co-founder and executive director of Springfield Community Gardens. Working in conjunction with physicians from the Cox Health system, Auterson secured a USDA grant to build a community garden on the hospital campus and implement a program called HealthScripts, which provides fresh, healthful produce as well as nutritional guidance to people with low incomes. 

“It’s a ‘food as medicine’ kind of approach to health and reducing chronic disease,” Johnson says.

Other speakers include:

  • Rev. Chris Battle of BattleField Farm in Knoxville, Tennessee, who left the pulpit to refocus his ministry on issues of food security and economic injustice in his community
  • Crystal Stevens of Flourish Farmstead in Godfrey, Illinois, who teaches classes on gardening, foraging, herbalism, and cooking will discuss diversified income streams on the farm
  • Tina Marie Wilcox, head gardener and herbalist at the Ozark Folk Center’s Heritage Herb Garden in Mountain View, Arkansas, and food writer and photographer Susan Belsinger, who co-authored “The Creative Herbal Home,” a guide to making and using herbal products in the home 

In addition to the educational series, Johnson says there will be about 70 vendors on the farm selling Ozark folk arts, musical instruments, crafts, and local foods. 

“There will be lots of live plant starts,” Johnson says. “If people are looking for plant starts, this is the place to be.”

As far as sustenance goes, there will be a number of food trucks. Additionally, Chef Tong Trithara of Tong’s Thai Cuisine in Springfield will be cooking in the Baker Creek restaurant. 

“All the proceeds from what he makes will go to his charity. He’s building an education and gardening center for underprivileged children in northern Thailand — where he’s from,” Johnson says. 

Live music is a huge draw for the Spring Planting Festival. In addition to fourteen bands and solo acts playing on three different stages, an old-fashioned music contest invites guests with a musical bent to compete for cash prizes.

Live music also is a huge draw for the Spring Planting Festival. There also will be fourteen bands and solo acts playing on three different stages.

“It’s always great, old-time music that really sets the tone,” Johnson says. 

Guests with a musical bent are invited to enter the old-fashioned music contest on Sunday. All songs must be pre-1926 or public domain, and participants are judged on quality of performance, style and content of the music, period costume worn, and stage presentation. 

Sunday also will feature a costume contest, so break out the bonnets, pioneer dresses, straw hats, and suspenders.

“The judges are looking for an old-timey, pioneer, Little House on the Prairie kind of garb,” Johnson says. “It’s been my observation that children seem to do especially well in this contest.”

Admission to the Spring Planting Festival is free. However, parking is $15 per vehicle. Because parking is limited, Johnson recommends purchasing parking passes in advance of the event. Up until now, Baker Creek was mailing parking passes as they were purchased. With the event days away, Johnson says it’s best to purchase your parking pass, then print out or save a screenshot of the order confirmation. Parking passes are available here

All photos courtesy of Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co.

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