All roads led to Black River Saturday as the businesses surrounding the waterway that leads from Milford’s Millpond to Lake Ontario put out the welcome mat as part of the first annual Black River Fall Festival.
The festival is part of the bookend set of events that are the brainchild of Black River Bed & Breakfast owner and operator Conrad Biernacki. The summer season opened with a similar festival on the Victoria Day weekend and closed with a one day send off on Saturday.
“We were really pleased with the turnout and how many people came by,” Biernacki told the Gazette. With the Spring edition being a run away success, organizers added a parking lot next to Vicki’s Veggies and running tallies were kept. “We think around 600 people attended which is incredible for a one day, local event. A number of them were returnees from the spring event,” Biernacki enthused.
The event naturally featured the reincarnated Vicki’s Veggies but also had other stops along County Rds. 13, 16 and 17 as well as the aforementioned Morrison Point. Rd. Loyalist Jams, Quinta Do Conde Organic Farm, Black River Cheese, Cabin Fever Kayaks, The pARTnershop Art Co-operative and Vintage Map Company were just some of the area businesses taking part this weekend.
For Vicki Emlaw, it was a return to the glory days of previous Labour Day weekend Heirloom Hurrahs where tomato tasters from far and wide would attend the farm and taste-drive scores of rare varieties.
“It’s been so great to have other businesses involved so there’s something else for people to do other than seedlings sales and the tomato tastings. It’s awesome to be part of what’s happening here on Victoria Day and Labour Day weekends,” said Emlaw, who is growing produce for the first time since 2016.
After expanding operations and marketing fresh vegetables to the high-demand Toronto market, Emlaw said she’s decided to return to here roots and sell exclusively from the roadside.
“What I love about farming is being in the garden and what was taking me away from the garden was having to sell in Toronto,” Emlaw said. “Once I started selling in Toronto, I needed to get bigger and grow more and hire more people and I asked myself ‘Why am I doing this when all I want is to be in my bare feet and growing tomatoes?’ Everyone has been really supportive and happy I’m here, the store’s here and they can come and pick up what they want, when they want.”
Located near the Black River Cheese outlet store is the pARTnershop, a 12 member co-operative organization made up of local artists and chair Joanne Frieday said the festival events have been a boon for the organization.
“The pARTnershop depends on people coming to Black River to find us, this festival, both ends of it, has been wonderful in terms of getting people to notice us. Unless you are coming here for cheese or you know where you are going it’s kind of hard to find so the festival has been a God-send for us The pARTnershop features a mixed collection of artists who’s specialties include pottery, fabric art and quilting, painting of various mediums and photography.”
“The spring and fall festivals have been an exceptionally good thing for all of the businesses in the Black River area and we are so happy to be a part of this wonderful group,” Frieday added.
Biernacki said the unique characteristics of the Black River area which hosts a good proximity of “wonderfully industrious agricultural and artistic people and their love of what they do and where they live with everybody else.”
“Everyone seemed to think that was a good idea whether Vicki was in or out this season. Thankfully she was in and took part,”Biernacki said, adding planing for the 2020 Black River Spring Festival is already underway.