When it comes to spreading the word about Oklahoma agriculture, there’s nothing like using a slice of watermelon to do the job. One bite, and a person wants to know the story behind the juicy, locally grown fruit.
That is just one example of how Oklahoma’s farmers benefit from participating in the annual Septemberfest, offering homegrown food, goodies and oodles of fun. For the past two decades, the free festival – held the first Saturday after Labor Day in Oklahoma City – has explored Oklahoma’s storied history and diversity, including the ag community.
Founded by Friends of the Mansion, a nonprofit committed to preserving and improving Oklahoma’s historic Governor’s Mansion, as well as its grounds and furnishings, Septemberfest is held at and co-hosted by the Oklahoma History Center.
Young and old attendees experience numerous attractions, activities, exhibits and demonstrations. Septemberfest, sponsored each year by Oklahoma’s governor, features crafts, chuck-wagon cooking, music, storytelling, historical re-enactments, theater and square dancing, among other events. The Oklahoma History Center is also open for the day with no admission charge.
“The festival was put together to celebrate the history and heritage of Oklahoma, along with a look forward,” says Jim Hasenbeck, chairman of Septemberfest. “It’s a celebration of the past, present and future of Oklahoma. There are venues or exhibits that focus on some of the traditional things that maybe were here when we first became a state.”
It also highlights different cultures in Oklahoma, which is a melting pot of people because of the Oklahoma Land Run of 1889 when settlers flooded the state to claim land.
“All kinds of people came here,” Hasenbeck explains. “Obviously, there were a lot of Native Americans, but, for instance, Chinese were here as well.”
Agriculture on Display
An integral part of the festival – and, of course, Oklahoma’s heritage – is agriculture. Attendees can gain knowledge and get a feel for – and in the case of watermelon slices being handed out, a taste – how important the ag industry is in the state.
“We love this event because it is a great way to educate the public about agriculture,” says Meriruth Cohenour, agritourism coordinator for the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry (ODAFF). “Many of the attendees live in the city and don’t have access to information about where their food and fiber come from. Septemberfest gives us the chance to showcase a broad range of agriculture-related things through our partnerships with commodity groups, ODAFF programs and farmers from across the state.”
The Farm to School program passes out slices of watermelon, agritourism producers and FFA groups bring animals for the petting farm area, and commodity groups offer food samples and educational materials. There are also fun activities, like cowboy- rope making and pony rides.
A Fall Fair Experience
With Septemberfest falling the week before the Oklahoma State Fair, it offers many families an opportunity to get a “fair experience” at no charge.
“It’s kind of like the old- fashioned free fair,” Hasenbeck says. “It’s very family-oriented. Everyone can come to Septemberfest and have their fall festival, and it doesn’t cost a thing.”