From Pawnee to Berkeley: Harvest festival helps residents welcome fall

With the fall season kicking into full swing, the city of Berkeley hosted a harvest festival Saturday afternoon in San Pablo Park, featuring games, booths, square-dancing with a live band and, of course, pumpkins.

Before the festivities commenced, volunteers gathered to plant, mulch and rake the sand in play areas at San Pablo, Grove and Strawberry Creek parks. The day was one of many joint projects carried on throughout the year by residents and city staff to beautify neighborhoods, build community and play an important role in the 52 parks of the city’s Parks, Recreation and Waterfront Department.

After serving at the parks, the volunteers gathered for a free barbecue lunch to celebrate the city’s seven most dedicated volunteers, who “go above and beyond,” according to PRW Director Scott Ferris.

Riesha Riemer, a 46-year Berkeley resident, was honored for her service at the Strawberry Park Nature Center.

“I was very surprised and also thrilled,” Riemer said. “Being a volunteer is a huge thing to do, and it’s so rewarding. It makes you feel so good that you’re contributing to the lives of other people in a positive way.”

As a docent, Riemer shares her knowledge of nature with the children who visit the center and notes the reward of seeing the excitement on their faces as they learn.

“A great aspect of our Berkeley community is that there are people who contribute so much to the community,” said city spokesperson Matthai Chakko. “It’s part of building a stronger community. We have terrific volunteers and terrific community members.”

As the banjo and violin began to play, friends and family from Berkeley and the surrounding areas enjoyed carnival games, a petting zoo, a jumper house, scarecrow making, pumpkin decorating and many more activities.

Sesh Jalagam, a Fremont resident, brought his two children to the festival. Five-year-old Akhil Jalagam decorated a ninja-themed pumpkin and played in the jumper house.

Zaniya Newton, an 11-year-old from Oakland, came to the festival with her dad, sister and chihuahua named Popcorn, who reportedly did not consume the popcorn provided at the event.

“I’ve been hanging out with my sister and having fun playing games,” Newton said. “I did the rock climbing and went to go get a snack — it’s actually really good, especially the corn.”

Beyond the fun and games, the festival aimed to unite the community through celebration.

“Things like these bring a whole lot of people out to do activities together that may not necessarily live next door to each other or know each other,” said Hilary Worthen, a three-year Berkeley resident who brought his four grandchildren to the festival. “This is a good place to meet people from other parts of the town as kids get together and play together.”

Competing with the nearby Trader Joe’s in the prolific use of pumpkin to ring in the fall season, the festival offered opportunities to decorate pumpkins, conquer in games of pumpkin bowling and participate in a pumpkin walk.

Whether it was a good square-dance on the basketball court at San Pablo Park or a morning spent sprucing up the local parks, residents took Saturday to celebrate and give back to their community.

Contact Amelia Mineiro at [email protected].