Deerfield Township Harvest Festival began in 1979. For a few people like Roy Spoltore, Tony Stanzione, Linda Ferrara and their friends and families, it has been where they have spent Columbus Day weekend for 40 straight festivals including plans for 2018. Other volunteers have served for almost that long too. They are a loyal, committed group of people who have kept the festival together and guided its growth. There are children who grew up with the festival and now they are involved and their children are attending. It is a source of pride for this community, and one of Cumberland County and South Jersey’s most popular fall events.
It all began in the winter of 1979 when the late Dorothy Waechter, Deerfield Recreation Committee member and past Township Committee member suggested that the Township have another parade like the bicentennial parade in 1976. Tony Stanzione was a Township Committee member then and Roy Spoltore a recreation committeeman. They wanted to create a small version of block party. “The next thing we knew, it was the night before the festival in October 1979 and five or six of us were building floats, putting up signs, moving booths, and building a stage by putting two farm wagons together in the fire company picnic grove,” said Stanzione. These volunteers included Dorothy Waechter, Tony’s wife, Mary Jane, Roy’s late wife, Patty and Linda Ferrara. About 3,000 people got the message the first year beginning what is now a 40-year tradition that brings the community together, strengthens the townships identity and spreads the good news about living in the rural, farming town.
By October 1980, the festival grew to a two-day event and the hours were extended into the evening under the bright lights of the Frank LoBiondo, Sr. Park and the grounds of the Rosenhayn Fire Company.
The celebration included a dinner to honor local farmers. In 1981, the festival’s reputation as a great place to have fun with family, neighbors and friends was spreading and the royalty pageant was added before the festival. It featured youngsters from Deerfield Township in the talent competition that lead to the selection of the harvest prince and princess. In 1983, Phillies former All-Star centerfielder Richie Ashburn served as grand marshal for the parade. The popular Philly Phanatic made his festival debut in 1984 and more than 8,000 people attended. In 1987, the festival attracted more than 10,000 visitors over its two days. In 1988, the festival welcomed nationally-known stars, The Drifters, The Box Tops and The Shirelles on Saturday night billed as “Magic Moments from the 1960’s.” Attendance jumped to nearly 14,000 visitors.
In 1990 the festival honored area veterans. Popular rock music by an up-and-coming band was featured on Saturday night -- John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band. With the temperatures in the 80s and beautiful clear skies, mother-nature helped the festival attendance climb to an estimated 20,000 people over the three days.
In 2001, planners of the festival revised its theme less than three weeks before the event after the terrorist attacks on America. Thousands joined in a candlelight ceremony just prior to the fireworks display on Sunday night, waving flags and singing "I'm Proud to Be an American.” Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes entertained.
Weather challenges over the years have occured as in 2006. Better weather returned on Saturday and Sunday that year as Nationally-known performers included the Gin Blossoms, Emerson Drive and Ricochet.
The 29th festival in 2007 honored America and featured nationally-known Country music bands Emerson Drive, Lady Antebellum and Starship featuring Mickey Thomas. One of the biggest crowds ever attended.
In 2008, the 30th celebration of the festival attracted the largest crowds in the event’s history to see country music stars Lonestar. More than 15,000 people came to the festival on Saturday alone. U.S. Armed Forces were honored and Lost Trailers, Gloriana, Whiskey Falls, Lee Brice and Danielle Peck performed. 2009 featured Bucky Covington, the Carter Twins, Patty Smyth & Scandal, Jessica Harp and more. Farm Heritage Awards recipients were Frank and Dom Buono & families of Buono Farms, JV Sparacio, of Parkside Farms, and Frank and Josephine Paladino, of Paladino Farms.
In 2010, Darryl Worley who closed the festival on Sunday night, invited representatives of our armed forces and 1st responders onto the stage, to be recognized for their service to our country. Jason Michael Carroll and James Otto performed on Saturday night. The new jumbo high definition, LCD screen, known as "Fest-a-Vision" was introduced.
In 2011 more than 30,000 people enjoyed Uncle Kracker and Love and Theft. Vernon Smith & Family-Chris Smith’s Tree Farm were farmer of the year. In 2012, Phil Vassar, Jo Dee Messina, Josh Gracin, and Craig Campbell performed.
To achieve 40 years of success for this Festival or any event or organization, you need a team of people who care and who enjoy working together. The Festival and Deerfield Township has been blessed with that kind of volunteer. Thank you. Thank you, Thank you!
The Festival would not be what it is without the public's support, especially the people of Deerfield Township, thousands from neighboring towns in South Jersey and visitors from other states, too.