Thirty years ago for the first Wine Country Harvest Festival, North East native Marjorie Stewart-Barker helped her friend with his produce stand and sold some of her jams, jellies and assorted canned goods from a card table.
This weekend for her thirtieth consecutive year, she will sell her 20+ varieties of jams and jellies (including a limited amount of sugar-free varieties), chili sauce, bread and butter pickles, corn relish, apple butter and more at her tent at Gravel Pit Park. A sitting room in Barker’s home this week showed the fruits of her labors, as case after case of canned and labeled goods sat ready for the Wine Fest.
And the 89-year does just about all the work on her own.
Eighty-five percent of what Barker cans is grown right on her property, from peaches and pears to red raspberries. She purchases the rest of the ingredients locally from North East growers.
Methods of canning have changed considerably over the years, but Barker’s dedication and attitude have not. She has set up her booth at every Wine Fest for 30 years, through sun wind and rain, heat waves and cold spells.
Over these 30 years Barker has made friends with customers from near and far, along with neighboring vendors. She has loyal customers who return year after year with their lists; one couple from New York City has a His and Hers list as well as a list of items they will give to friends as gifts.
She receives letters and Christmas cards from her long-distance customers and their kindness brings a smile to her face.
“They [the cards] are like rewards for what I’ve done,” Barker said.
“Each year still seems to get bigger and better. It’s a fun time. I don’t do anything that I have to do. I enjoy it,” she continued.
Barker’s favorite item she cans is the sour cherry jam. It can be a tough decision to make though, with flavors like pineapple kiwi, Bartlett pear and even nectarine jam to choose from.
The work doesn’t stop for Barker after Wine Fest. She sells her wares at various events throughout the year in the area, including the North East Farmers Market on Thursdays in the summer. And she has no intentions of slowing down.
“Life is nice if you can give back,” she said. “You get back what you give. I’m just glad I can still do it. You’ve got to be active and like what you do.”