|be involved | August 2016
Behind the scenes at Urban Harvest
by Anita Casey-Reed
For the past twelve years, Urban Harvest has provided a place for fun, food and friendship downtown. Each Thursday for six weeks (the 2016 season runs from July 7 to August 11), the corner of 4th and Broadway becomes a combination artisan's market, foodie destination and entertainment hub for people of all ages to enjoy. How does this miracle happen? Thanks to the behind-the-scenes efforts of local volunteers working in many different roles to produce this local tradition (full disclosure -- I've been one of these volunteers for almost ten years now, so of course I think everyone should take a chance and be involved in this fantastic endeavor!).
One of the key members of the Urban Harvest volunteer board is Susan Beehler, a local crafter who spends countless hours throughout the year preparing for the summer market season and promoting it throughout the region. "We are always looking for more artisans and makers to sell during Urban Harvest." Beehler explains, "It is really exciting to see artists who first set up at Urban Harvest to have growing businesses; it is a kick starter of sorts for artisans, makers and food vendors."
She proudly notes that several downtown businesses, including Fireflour Pizza and Modify Alterations and Boutique, started as Urban Harvest vendors before moving into brick-and-mortar locations.
Susan's connection to Urban Harvest's vendors comes from her own experience. A North Dakota native, she began making and selling her "Suzy Starz" jewelry in 2011. Created from cottonwood trees, the craft came about after Beehler heard a folktale from Dakotah storyteller Mary Louise Defender Wilson about the stars hidden within the trees. Soon afterward, Susan began vending at Urban Harvest, and it turned out to be a perfect fit. "I love the relaxed atmosphere, the sense of community, the artists, the musicians -- it is so inspirational, so fun." Beehler later added a component to her booth to all people to create their own wearable art: make and take tie-dye. "I really enjoy seeing people, especially children, who have created a tie-dyed t-shirt and their sense of pride and joy from being creative."
Within a few years, Beehler began to become more involved in Urban Harvest. "I just started showing up to the annual meetings in March," she explains with a laugh. "I wanted to support Urban Harvest in whatever way I could." Now Beehler spends the months prior to the summer season rounding up volunteers to assist during the six market days. For those who think the event miraculously pops up Thursday morning and disappears Thursday night -- think again!
"We need people to help with the setup every Wednesday evening, placing the barricades and the garbage cans," Beehler explains. "On Thursdays we need a setup crew from 8 to 9, and volunteers in 2 hour shifts during the day to help sell pop and water or to empty the garbages. In the evening we need a group of people to help take down and put away the canopy and the equipment." Local organizations like RSVP+ and the Police Youth Bureau help recruit volunteers to assist during the market days, but more volunteers are always welcome.
Anita Hellman, associate director of Urban Harvest and a vendor herself, has known Beehler personally and professionally for many years. "We've worked side by side at many festivals, and have shared the Pride of Dakota experience for many years. Susan has proved invaluable [to Urban Harvest]. She is always willing to take on any challenge we give her, and has done so much to help recruit both volunteers and artisans to the market."
Citing her mom as her inspiration, Beehler says that "volunteering is in my blood, but it's the people, my family, my ties to the community that keep me involved in Bismarck- Mandan."
For those who wonder about finding time to volunteer amid a busy schedule of work and family commitments, Susan explains that for her: "It's all about choosing where you want to spend your time. [For me], inspiring others to be creative or having a venue where creativity is shared is so important for the life and quality of a community."
Anita Casey-Reed is a member of the Cinema 100 Film Society and a volunteer for the Dakota Digital Film Festival. She lives in Bismarck with her husband and two children.