BETHEL — The 16th annual Bethel Harvestfest will be held Saturday, Sept. 21, when local businesses will have the opportunity to “tell their stories,” according to Robin Zinchuk, executive director of the Bethel Chamber of Commerce.

Zinchuk said the Harvestfest was first created 16 years ago as a way to bring people to the region during a time that was considered “off-season.”

“The third weekend of September was considered off-season back then, so we set out looking at those shoulder seasons and ways we could schedule things to bring people to the area,” Zinchuk said, “but that  weekend in September quickly became one of our busiest, with all the weddings and the seasonality of the Bethel area.

“The festival became so popular that we decided to keep holding it in September, even if it’s not considered off-season,” Zinchuk continued. “It’s just a great festival, and a perfect venue for our local businesses to tell their stories and give themselves a little boost.”

Many of the old favorites from previous Harvestfests are making returns, including the Chowdah Cook-off, sponsored by Sysco food services and Oakhurst Dairy.

Zinchuk said the Chowdah Cook-off, beginning at noon on Sept. 21, will feature chowders from “more than a dozen area restaurants and their best chowders available for the public to taste and judge.”

Among the restaurants involved in the cook-off are Foothills Grille & Catering Co., 22 Broad St. at Gideon Hastings House, The Bethel Inn Resort, Black Diamond Steakhouse, Crossroads Diner, Erin’s Café on Main, Good Food Store and Catering Co., The Local Hub, Sudbury Inn, Sunday River Brew Pub, Rooster’s Roadhouse and S.S. Milton.

The cook-off has been around as long as the Harvestfest, according to Zinchuk, and was created as a means to “provide people with comfort food during the beginning of the cold season.

“It gives the restaurants a chance to show us what they can do,” Zinchuk said.

She later praised the restaurants for “donating all of the chowder to us for the cook-off.”

“I always encourage them to bring a take-home menu so people can see what they have to offer when they visit us at the common,” Zinchuk said. “It’s as much a showcase for them as it is a cook-off.”

For those who prefer dessert over chowder, Zinchuk said there will also be an Apple Pie Concert at noon, where “professional and home bakers” will have the chance to submit “traditional and non-traditional apple pies” to be judged, with the winners receiving “a gift certificate for the Good Food Store.”

People will also be able to taste locally grown potatoes, loaded with toppings, which will be served hot out of the oven alongside locally grown corn on the cob. Hot dogs, hamburgers and sausage with peppers and onions will also be available.

“People who come to the Common on Saturday will be leaving with a big bellyful of food,” Zinchuk said, laughing.

Zinchuk said there will be many more events happening in Bethel on Saturday, including a chain saw carving demonstration by resident Steve Stone, who owns the local business Stone’s Wood Creations.

“He’ll be carving all day and taking breaks when his arm gets tired,” Zinchuk said. “Steve and his family have been volunteering forever with the Harvestfest. It’s just fascinating to watch him shape things with his chain saw.”

The chain saw carving demonstration will take place from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, between the Bethel Library and the Bethel Historical Society.

Zinchuk said she believes the upcoming Harvestfest will once again be a great way for businesses to network with each other and for people to experience the Bethel region.

“The festival has become sort of decentralized, in the sense that it’s spread out a little bit across the town,” Zinchuk said, “but it’s still a great way for businesses to communicate with each other and tell their stories to the people.” 

For a complete schedule of Harvestfest events, visit the website www.bethelharvestfest.com. For more information, call the Bethel Chamber of Commerce at 824-2282.

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