Photo by Patrick Leonard

AT THE END OF SUMMER, with autumn threatening to bully its way in, a Labor Day picnic becomes a devotional act to a dying season. Some might argue it's the best picnic of the year, given its location in the growing season and the variety of produce being harvested.

This is the first year the TBA Festival has been able to take advantage of the long Labor Day Weekend—so to celebrate, organizers are throwing an enormous picnic. The grounds outside Washington High School will be transformed into a giant checkered picnic blanket to welcome anyone who is hungry for both food and art.

The free event, co-sponsored by Slow Food Portland, has been slowly growing all summer. Earlier this year, PICA sent out a request for volunteers to help grow a network of mobile container gardens. Those volunteers have lovingly tended the donated starts all summer, growing a bounty of veggies across the city. These container gardens will converge at the picnic, to be distributed across the grounds, available for all attendees (who are also encouraged to bring the bounty from their own gardens). In the center of it all, Mark Doxtader of Tastebud will be cooking flatbread in his big, mobile, wood-fired oven and passing it out to supplement the picnic fare.

But a picnic wouldn't be complete without additional activities. Pacific Northwest College of Art student and former phys-ed teacher Wayne Bund will be on hand, hosting cooperative games from the past. (Remember parachute? He's got one.) Also on hand is an interactive exhibit exploring the link between community, friendship, and food with printmaker Tricia Martin's The Bread Friend Map.

The picnic will also serve as the launch of Slow Food Portland's school lunch reform campaign. Though Slow Food has always been radical—the movement was started in part as a response to a McDonald's opening in Rome—the focus on respecting food and preserving traditional food culture has sometimes been lost to supper clubs and celebrity chefs. Part of a larger national campaign, this is Slow Food's first foray into aggressive food advocacy, bringing it back to its radical Italian roots. The TBA picnic is just one of 200 picnics being held across the country to promote school lunches that are good, clean, and fair.

If all goes well, everyone will be sated, entertained, and more aware of the bounty of their community. It's a perfect start to the festival, and a wonderful way to bid farewell to summer.