Apple Harvest Festival

Apple Harvest royalty rides on a parade float through the streets of downtown Onalaska in 2017.

Looking back at the event brochure from the first-ever Onalaska Apple Harvest Festival, Onalaska Alliance president Cathy Murphy noted how small the event was at only 10 events held on a single day.

Today, the festivities are held Thursday through Sunday and the festival continues to grow and change each year.

“For our community, one of our responsibilities is to be thinking of what our future community could look like and always be moving toward that,” Murphy said.

Apple Harvest Festival

A member of the "Las Estrellas" performers group sports a mask traditionally worn during "La Danza de los Viejitos" at the annual Apple Harvest Festival parade in Onalaska last year.

The 11th annual Onalaska Apple Harvest Festival takes place this year Oct. 3 through 6. Many of the mainstay favorites such as the parade, apple pie contest and trout fishing will still be available. One local insider tip Murphy had for the event is the Apple Harvest Festival royal court’s caramel apples. The apples are sold during the Friday night football game (where the new royal court will be introduced at half time) and during Saturday’s festivities. Murphy said last year’s royal court sold about 700 apples at the football game alone.

A few new experiences have also been added to the agenda for this year’s festival. One event that Murphy said she is particularly excited about is the “Celebration of Rural Life” poetry reading with Washington State Poet Laureate Claudia Castro Luna on Saturday night at The Mason Jar. Murphy said this new event, which is free and open to the public, will feature Castro Luna reading poetry as well as other local poets reading their works about rural life, including local high school students.

Apple Harvest Festival

Kids pick candy up from the streets as the annual Apple Harvest Festival parade makes its way downtown in Onalaska last year.

“I feel like it really fits with out festival and it could become something that’s fresh and new every year. I think there are a lot of hidden poets out there,” Murphy said.

Besides hosting the poetry event, for the first time, The Mason Jar has also been added as part of the main festival activities. Murphy said the area for vendors on Carlisle Avenue that is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday has run out of space. More vendors will be available Friday and Saturday at The Mason Jar and a car show and axe throwing demonstration will also take place on Saturday. 

Apple Harvest Festival

Jeff Siebert leads Curly the Camel through the Apple Harvest Festival parade in Onalaska last year.

“They have a lot of space over there and they do these kinds of things over there during the year,” Murphy said of The Mason Jar. “They’ve been a fantastic partner for this event.”

This is the third year the Apple Harvest Festival will include a Farm & Homestead Tour and Farm to Table Dinner on Sunday. Event organizer Lori VanClifford said this year’s self-guided farm tour includes seven farms and two partner farms. Last year, about 150 people total toured the participating farms and VanClifford said the tours are a great way to acquaint yourself to local farms, some of which are not always open to the public, and be inspired.

“This is a chance for these farms to highlight what they work so hard on all year round and they don’t often get to show the public,” VanClifford said.

This year, a nominal fee of $5 per person or $15 per car load is being charged for the farm tour to offset expenses such as insurance and bathroom facilities for the event. Though farm tour participants can begin at any stop on the tour, it is recommended they begin at The Mason Jar. VanClifford also cautioned that while the tour takes place over six hours, it is not really possible to reach every farm during that timeframe. She recommends picking a maximum three or four farms to visit.

Apple Harvest Festival

The Onalaska High School football team presses apples to make cider last year in Onalaska.

“Pick the ones that really speak to you and go to them,” VanClifford said.

A Farm to Table dinner held at The Mason Jar tops the day of farm tours. This popular event has sold out every year so far. VanClifford said the $60 per person ticket price is extremely affordable for such an amazing event and she said the food is really top notch.

“It felt like world-class cuisine,” VanClifford said of her experience at the Farm to Table Dinner. “I tried things I’ve never tried in my life. I’d call it the third best dinner of my life.”

This year’s Farm to Table Dinner will be cooked by Donnie Stancil of McMenamin’s Olympic Club. Murphy said Stancil is originally from Onalaska and graduated from Onalaska High School. 

“He’s a local guy and he is so excited to come back and do this for the community,” Murphy said.

Though more tickets were added this year, Murphy said she expects the event to sell out as it has in the past. No tickets will be sold at the door and Murphy said she recommends anyone interested in the dinner purchase their tickets as soon as possible.

The Onalaska Apple Harvest Festival is one of the largest events for the non-profit Onalaska Alliance. The group was founded in March 2009 and held its first Apple Harvest Festival that fall. VanClifford said she thinks the event has not only put Onalaska on the map but brought the community closer together.

“I think Onalaska has really grown since we started this,” VanClifford said. “We are a community rather than just a name.”

Proceeds from the annual event help the Alliance fund projects throughout the Onalaska community. At the moment, Alliance members are focused on completion of the Carlisle Lake park, which just recently got a major boost from the announcement of a $200,000 grant award that will pay for needed infrastructure to add power and a security to the site. 

“The Onalaska Alliance is very excited about what’s happening at Carlisle Lake,” Murphy said. “When it’s finished, then we start planning events for our community at the lake because it’s meant to be a community space. That’s what our mission and vision as an organization is about is bringing the community together.”

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