In the hurly burly of Silicon Valley life, the Quaker Harvest Festival remains a place for community connection amid the wares of simpler times: homemade jams and jellies; chutneys; home-baked and handmade goods; a rummage sale; and a massive used-book sale.
The festival, which celebrates its 50th anniversary on Sept. 24, has remained true to its Quaker values of simplicity and community, said Mary Klein, the event's entertainment organizer.
"It's a place where people can find good things and where people can find connection together," she said.
The precursor to the harvest festival began in the mid-1960s, when Josephine and Frank Duveneck held a pancake breakfast fundraiser at their nonprofit farm, Hidden Villa, in Los Altos Hills. The proceeds went, as they do today, to support the nonprofit Friends Committee on Legislation of California, a Quaker group that advocates in Sacramento for state laws that are just, compassionate and respectful of all human worth, Klein said.
The Duvenecks wrote to friends living in other countries and asked them to send packages of small gifts to be sold at the breakfast. That morphed into the first Quaker Harvest Festival at Hidden Villa, held the next year. There were jams and jellies, buttered corn on the cob, apples brought from Santa Rosa and melons from the Central Valley. People arrived with their homegrown produce. There were necklaces made from seeds and books from an estate, pony rides on the Duvenecks' horses and free tours of the farm, according to member Marie Simiernko, who has documented the harvest festival's history. Over time, sales of jewelry, clothing, crafts and handmade pottery were added. Some years, Madrigal singers provided entertainment.
The Quaker harvest festivals in the 1960s and '70s were more explicitly political and included speakers, Klein said.
By the 1990s, the festival had grown so large that buses shuttled visitors from the Foothill College parking lot to Hidden Villa, Klein said. But the expense was cutting into the proceeds. After the Duvenecks died, the festival moved to the parking lot of the Palo Alto Friends Meeting House on Colorado Avenue in the Midtown neighborhood.
Other changes occurred: Plants replaced garden produce, and the festival offered elegant glassware, china, jewelry and camping and sports equipment. There was even furniture.
Simiernko remembered palm readings, artists who sketched people's portraits, and even homemade root beer.
Anna Koster, a longtime participant, has been making chutneys and jam for the past 20 years to sell at the festival.
"It's the highlight of my year," she said.
The book sale offers 5,000 volumes in 15 categories, each priced for $1 per spine inch, and there are also sales of rare volumes and coffee table books, she said.
"The motto used to be, 'Come early for the treasures; stay late for the bargains,'" she said.
The festival, which raises about $8,000-$10,000 annually, has helped pay for a lobbyist in Sacramento to advance legislation that focuses on equal justice in the criminal and prison system and environmental and economic justice, such as increased funding for greenhouse gas reduction in low-income communities.
Recent bills co-sponsored by the Friends Committee that became law include SB 1010, which equalizes penalties for possessing cocaine base and powder cocaine, prior to which African Americans were receiving longer sentences; SB 260, which allows prisoners who committed offenses as juveniles and were sentenced to longer adult terms to demonstrate rehabilitation and earn parole.
Koster said that taking part in the festival has also given her an outlet to support societal changes that she believes are "immensely important."
"There's so much hatred spreading around. With everything that's happening I would be desolate. It gives me some hope for positive change," she said.
IF YOU GO
What: The 50th Annual Quaker Harvest Festival
Where: 957 Colorado Ave., Palo Alto
When: Saturday, Sept. 24, 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
Cost: Free admission