What’s the Plan for Hands & Harvest?

Written By: Dorothy Stephenson

Highland County, Virginia, Hands and Harvest Festival, fall, festival, autumn, pumpkins, COVID-19, coronavirus, friendly, agriculture, agritourism, fall leaves, leaf viewing, shopping, vendors, eventWe’re glad you asked!

The Highland County Hands & Harvest Festival will take place virtually starting on Thursday, October 8th followed by a weekend of in-person experiences throughout the county from Friday, October 9th through Sunday, October 11.

Any good business owner tries to be prepared for everything. However, when Coronavirus hit in early Spring, we were all thrown for a loop. In order to carry on during these difficult, social-distanced times, we’ve all had to get a little creative. And, the story is no different for our Highland County Chamber of Commerce.

Because of COVID-19 awareness and restrictions that swept the country during the unfortunate timing of the second week in March, the Highland County Chamber of Commerce was forced to cancel the 2020 Highland County Maple Festival.  (Who wanted to make that call? Not me!)

“Cancelling the Maple Festival in March was the hardest decision the Chamber has ever had to make,” explains Chris Swecker, who was looking forward to his first Maple Festival as the Chamber’s Executive Director. “It felt like the air went out of the room when the decision was made by the Board.”

Ugh… Can you imagine??

But, after picking themselves up and dusting themselves off, the Chamber of Commerce saw the writing on the wall – without an innovative plan, the 2020 Hands & Harvest Festival would also likely be lost. So, brainstorming and planning began.

 “The Chamber board and staff have been discussing a variety of options for our mass events for the past few months, reaching out to community members to gauge interest, and continuing to keep an eye on coronavirus guidelines,” Swecker says. “We want to move forward safely and responsibly.” 

Using that Highland County determination we all love, the Chamber board and staff have worked together with input from the community to continue this Fall tradition in a new semi-virtual way.

“In these challenging times, we felt a hybrid model of a virtual event and in-person offerings would be an innovative approach to our current situation,” Swecker explains. “There is no playbook for the times we are in, but we are hopeful the 2020 Hands & Harvest Festival will be a success.” 

This year’s festival format will offer virtual shopping and experiences for those who don’t feel comfortable traveling as well as safe and precautionary in-person attractions that will be dispersed throughout the county.

Under circumstances like these, the Chamber has done an excellent job providing what they can, how they can, and to work with as many as they can.

Bravo to the Chamber!

Here are a few more specific notes about this year’s Hands & Harvest Festival with more updates and information expected from the Chamber in the coming weeks:


Due to safety concerns and current guidelines restricting mass events, the Chamber of Commerce will be unable to host vendors on the Courthouse Lawn like previous years. However, the Chamber is working with BoothCentral, a virtual event management and marketplace platform, to allow businesses and organizations to sell products and/or promote their service or mission digitally. It’s as simple as shopping online but with the added bonus of speaking with a vendor directly through live streaming. (Would you like to set up as an online vendor? Email Chris at director@highlandcounty.org!) 


One main reason for this autumnal season is the Fall colors of Highland County, and with the precipitation we’ve had throughout this Summer, the mountains may very well offer some vibrant views. (Of course, Mother Nature will hold the final say-so.) No matter the colors, Fall in Highland County never disappoints those who enjoy crisp, refreshing, mountain air and the coziness it brings. Grab your favorite sweater, a hot beverage, turn up your favorite tunes, cruise the backroads, and bring your cameras. A road trip awaits!

Highland County, Virginia, Hands and Harvest Festival, fall, festival, autumn, pumpkins, COVID-19, coronavirus, friendly, agriculture, agritourism, fall leaves, leaf viewing, shopping, vendors, event

COVID-19-friendly attractions include the NEW Barn Quilt Self-Guided Tour, the 2020 Harvest Trail, scenic drives, and fall foliage.



And, while you’re enjoying the scenery, make stops along the 2020 Harvest Trail featuring agricultural-based stops where you can experience, first-hand, the different products created or naturally-raised in Highland County. (More info on the Harvest Trail coming soon!)


Highland County, Virginia, Hands and Harvest Festival, fall, festival, autumn, pumpkins, COVID-19, coronavirus, friendly, agriculture, agritourism, fall leaves, leaf viewing, shopping, vendors, event

The Sounding Knob Fire Tower offers a birds-eye-view of expansive mountains and fall foliage.


The Highland County Chamber of Commerce recently received a marketing grant through the Virginia Tourism Corporation. The grant’s purpose is to help destinations recover after COVID-19 and provide information about safe ways for travelers to explore Virginia. Highland County’s WanderLove efforts include climbing the Sounding Knob Fire Tower, exploring the new Virginia Maple Syrup Trail, following the recently-updated Highland County Barn Quilt Trail, and other natural and historical attractions. All of these opportunities should be open and available at Hands & Harvest time.

Yes, change is difficult, and yes, these are hard times, but we applaud the efforts of the Highland County Chamber of Commerce as well as other local businesses, organizations, and crafts people, who are doing their best to meet challenges head-on and rise to the occasion. After all, folks in Highland County are pretty good at doing that, right?

For more information about the Highland County Hands & Harvest, visit the Highland County Chamber of Commerce website at www.HighlandCounty.org.


About the Author

Blog Designer & Editor-in-Chief

Dorothy Stephenson grew up on her family's cattle operation in Meadowdale, located in the southwest corner of Highland County. When she wasn't on horseback helping her father gather and work cattle, you'd likely find her (still on horseback) jumping creeks in her family's nearby "Big Pasture." Today, though she doesn't ride horses much anymore, she has her own cattle, land, and expansion plans for a farm. Additionally, (and with the inherited, Stephenson, entrepreneurial spirit) she owns two small businesses in Highland County - Sundance Media & Design and Sundance Studio & Productions, which houses another of Dorothy's long-time loves - Clogging. Dorothy loves exploring new places, skills, and ideas, and she intends to live life to the fullest as long as it will let her. (Oh! And she LOVES Christmas!)


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