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Harvest Homecoming Vendors Dish Out Food Despite Festival's Cancellation

VFW Post 1693 in New Albany has been serving chicken and dumplings at Harvest Homecoming for more than 50 years.
VFW Post 1693 in New Albany has been serving chicken and dumplings at Harvest Homecoming for more than 50 years.

Harvest Homecoming isn’t happening this year, but that isn’t stopping some New Albany vendors from finding ways to dish out their crowd-favorite treats to would-be festival goers.

During a normal year, Harvest can bring up to half a million people to downtown New Albany. But organizers scrapped plans for the annual fall festival in June due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The cancellation meant vendors and small businesses would miss out on the financial windfall brought by the festival. It also meant residents and visitors to Southern Indiana wouldn’t get their hands on some of the food items that draw them to the festival every year.

“Harvest for some people is one of the defining moments of the year for the community, especially in the New Albany area,” said Chris Gahagen, a member at the Knights of Columbus. “It's a great way...for fellowship, to get together and celebrate what we are, the great things we have here. And obviously it's a big moneymaker for a lot of organizations, too.”

In a move welcomed by vendors and consumers, some organizations are selling their Harvest food items this week, even though they won’t be setting up booths downtown. One of the most sought-after dishes, alongside corn on the cob, porkchop sandwiches and donuts, is chicken and dumplings.

New Albany’s VFW Post 1693 and their made-from-scratch dumplings have been a mainstay at the festival for more than 50 years. The group usually prepares 2,000 pounds of chicken every year for its dumplings, Post commander Jim Dexter said.

Despite the Harvest cancellation, Dexter said online support from the surrounding community prompted the VFW to set up a drive thru at its Grant Line Road location to sell dumplings.

“It shows us support,” Dexter said. “And people at this time are wanting to get out of the house and do something. And it's safe, because we're doing a drive thru. Everybody's wearing masks and trying to do the right thing.”

Katina Wilson visited the VFW with her aunt Sandra Mobley to get some dumplings Friday. She said the setup offered a little slice of Harvest, a festival she described as “one big family get together.”

“I think it makes the world feel normal for a minute, just to have something that we're used to having,” Wilson said.

The VFW’s operation was a bit smaller this year, because it was operating with just one kitchen instead of two, and preparing half of the normal amount of chicken. Between Wednesday and Friday, Dexter estimates the earnings will top $20,000. But such a high number of guests in such a short amount of time means the product is limited, likely running out Friday.

On Saturday, New Albany residents looking for some dumplings can get their fix at the Knights of Columbus on Main Street. Gahagen said the organization will be offering dumplings and their rolled oysters throughout the day.

“We're going to try to bring a little bit more of Harvest, to bring some live music and kind of liven it up a little bit,” Gahagen said.

The Satuday drive-thru service will operate at K of C from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and sit-down service will go from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.

John, News Editor for LPM, is a corps member with Report For America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Email John at jboyle@lpm.org.