Bill Fisher laughed a deep, full-bellied laugh into the microphone. His dreads shifted and bounced wildly as he swung and hopped between dancers, giving directions to couples who looked a little lost.
“Now swing the one you walk with!” he shouted, an 11th grin of the evening breaking on his face. Local favorite Wry Bred picked up the tempo, bits of “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” peppering a folksy, loping refrain.
On Friday evening, Fischer had a lot to smile about. In addition to leading over 180 New Haveners in a three-hour barn-style contra dancing lesson, a talent for which he has become borderline famous between New Haven and Bethany, he was participating in the first annual fall fundraiser for New Haven Farms at 1253 on Whitney Avenue. For $5 to $10, dancers of all ages were invited to participate in the event, which raised around $5,300 for the organization.
Founded in 2012, the organization (which was just profiled in The New York Times) provides several on-farm wellness programs for at-risk groups “that combine experiential agriculture education, nutrition education, cooking education, and harvest shares” in the hopes of creating a healthier community. Constantly looking for new and inventive fundraising ideas, NHF director Rebecca Kline (pictured above) paired up with Fischer and several vendors and artists for an evening that included a fair amount of foot stomping and partner swinging, locally sourced food and beer, a raffle, and a silent auction to raise funds for NHF’s seven farm sites, which rely heavily on financial contributions and donated plots of land.
At the core of the evening was a deep sense of community celebration and collaboration, which Kline believes is necessary to NHF’s urban farming approach. “We really wanted it to be a harvest festival. We wanted as many people to come as possible, and we had over a hundred people. The intention was to celebrate a fabulous season ... I think it was a success for us,” she said as the event was winding down.
Some of Friday night’s highlights included perusing the items up for silent auction, which ranged from Cher tickets and a drum circle with Fischer and 50 friends of one’s choosing to ceramics by local artist Kiara Matos, a CSA subscription, and some of the farm’s hand-pickled cucumbers.
And of course, some sweaty, smiling, stupendously side-stepping dancers, contra beginners learning right alongside seasoned professionals like Fischer ...
... and some pint-sized participants.
“We’re a very small, local nonprofit in New Haven, but ... we’re doing something pretty innovative. That whole model is really exciting. Your being here is really a celebration of the season ... thank you for supporting us,” Kline said to the audience at the end of the evening.
Outside, there was a distinct chill in the air; autumn was quickly changing into winter. As audience members left, however, they didn’t quite bundle up, coats hanging over their arms as they let long, unbridled streams of laughter out onto Whitney Avenue. They would be warm all the way home.