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Kempenfest's Emerging Talent tent a breath of fresh air for artisans

'Without the Emerging Talent tent, I would not have been able to come out and not just sell some items, but really connect with people. Everyone has had wonderful comments and the feedback has been very positive'

Kempenfest 2019 is celebrating the 49th year of the festival, but organizers are showing that, no matter how long you’ve been going, there is always room for something new and fresh.

Despite closing in on a half-century, Kempenfest organizers and those particularly with the Huronia Festival of Arts and Crafts, who over see the over 300 vendors, went out seeking input from those who pay for booths that make the event a sight to see along the waterfront.

What they found was that small businesses barely get a chance to be involved, as the task of preparing for such a huge event is quite daunting.

But co-ordinator of the Huronia Festival of Arts and Crafts, Ashlea Growcott, told BarrieToday that is where the new Emerging Talent tent comes in.

“This section is a new one and features 12 artisans, mainly from Simcoe County and a couple from out of town, but all are new to Kempenfest and have never showed with us,” said Growcott. “They are small businesses who are looking to get their foot in the door of a big event like this, and Emerging Talent allows them that chance.”

Growcott says that the organizers received a lot of feedback from businesses who wanted to participate, but didn’t have the means. They were hesitant to take the leap, so putting together the tent for vendors who may potentially come back to the festival next year was an idea that she feels has paid off.

“We decided to do a tent that would have half-size booths which would allow artists to get involved at a lesser rate and without a whole lot of work in comparison to getting a full-size booth and bringing a ton of product to fill it,” said Growcott.

“This is great for them, but for sure a great way for us to invest in young businesses and have them potentially come back," she added. 

One of the newbies to the festival scene is Lindsay Russell. Russell officially launched Backwood Design Co., in May 2018 and has product in 30 retail stores across Ontario, two in British Columbia and even one in Rhode Island.

“It started as a hobby for my husband and I as we were working out of our home shop making furniture for family and friendss. Once we got our logo and business cards, things really blew up quickly,” said Russell.

The main product being displayed by Backwood Design this weekend is the very popular Georgian Bay line of cutting boards, which will appeal to anyone who loves the look of the lake.

“A couple years ago I started doing the epoxy artwork, which I refer to that line as my Georgian Bay boards because it features the epoxy artwork that looks like water,” said Russell. “Once that line started things really took off and the neat thing is all the wood is salvaged locally and comes Simcoe County, Grey-Bruce and Muskoka.”

Backwood Design Co. also plants a tree for every piece they sell, even if the wood comes from storm damage, bugs or other natural occurrences. While the wood can be in pretty rough shape before the work starts, Russell says the work is plentiful, but seeing the reaction from people at events like Kempenfest is rewarding.

“Getting the business started has kept me busy and I’ve not been able to get to the festivals and fairs so this is a really fun thing for us, seeing all the people stop and comment on the product,” said Russell.

“Without the Emerging Talent tent, I would not have been able to come out and not just sell some items, but really connect with people," she added. "Everyone has had wonderful comments and the feedback has been very positive.”

Oh Beehive beeswax food wraps is an alternative to food wrapping and is not only better for the environment, but also keeps food fresher longer.

Oh Beehive owner Alison Oakes told BarrieToday she was thankful for the Emerging Talent tent as an entrepreneur, because even though she attends many events that can be found on her website, Kempenfest is clearly the largest with the most opportunity.

“I hit my two-year mark this summer and I do have an online store and some retailers around Ontario, but this is just such a huge opportunity for a small business,” said Oakes. “The idea of running a booth all weekend and trying to set-up and fill that booth is a little nerve-wracking, but this is just perfect and helps us so much.”

The connection between healthier and greener products is apparent as one walks around the festival and Oakes believes it is no accident, with many not only becoming more aware of the need to shop local but also feeling inspired by being outdoors.

“There is definitely a need for greener products and cutting back on waste, I think people who hit these outdoor festivals know that and see the many options here and grab stuff that is also usually local,” said Oakes.

“It could also be as simple as being outside for these events and enjoying the outdoors help people see how beautiful the outdoors is, making them want to further shop for a greener alternative.”

Kempenfest continues along the city's waterfront until Monday evening. 

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Shawn Gibson

About the Author: Shawn Gibson

Shawn Gibson is a staff writer based in Barrie
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