Every year, sometime around mid-August, I bolt up in bed in the middle of the night, and in a sweat, I wake my husband up and gasp, “We can’t possibly put on another Pepper Festival! We’re running behind. The sponsor goals aren’t met. The restaurant goals aren’t met. Who is going to organize the volunteers? Are the pepper crops even having a good year ?! OMG, I can’t do it! We have to cancel!”
And then he looks at me, kind of rolls his eyes, and says, “You know this is a pattern you have. Every year, the closer it gets, you say, ‘I think we might get good turnout. I think the sun is going to shine. Wow, amazing press this year. Incredible the amount of collaboration that goes on. Goodness, I love working with all of these people and organizations and businesses.’” And then, yes, we have the biggest and smoothest-running Pepper Festival yet.
So, why do we (event planners and organizers) do this to ourselves? Is it worth it? What is the purpose and meaning behind these events?
There are so many details and moving parts in any event, much less a pepper festival for which you coordinate chefs, farmers, non-profits, sponsors, volunteers, kings & queens, zero waste management, education, entertainment, press, logistics, and of course the all-important weather. Each year we strive to make it better and add more education and variety and surprises.
Why do we do it?
Well, the reason PepperFest started was because Farmer Doug of Piedmont Biofarm needed some data for his pepper plant variety trials and seed saving research. Our mission at Abundance NC is about educating people about, and supporting local farms and food, and this particular plant has won a special place in our hearts for it’s adaptability and success in our bioregion, as well as for its incredible health benefits. Plus it’s fun. People love peppers!
As with all our projects, the Amazing Pepper Festival morphed over time and became a way to educate the public about local food, and a chance to celebrate our farms, restaurants, brewers and creative food artisans from central N.C. It became a great way to bring in and involve the vast number of incredible restaurants that already use local food in their menus or are learning how to.
The week leading up to the Pepper Festival is always pure adrenaline, and usually Jenny looks at me and says, “That is crazy talk,” while I’m muttering incomprehensible words at her. She does the same muttering though. We laugh, and sometimes we argue, and tempers fly, but we keep moving forward on the white waters.
The Board of Directors all chip in. Thankfully, Charlotte is our steady wisdom and grace, and Beth keeps us thinking about the big picture and quality control. This year’s volunteer coordinator ascended to “angel status,” as did our lead volunteers. At the last minute, tons of people always chip in to make the festival go well – just out of the goodness of their hearts.
I noticed the weekend of Pepper Festival how the whole town was cheering for a good outcome. I walked around the Chatham Mills Farmers Market, and almost everyone wished us well. They had either supplied us with peppers or helped us with tents or were volunteering or tabling. Our emcee, Bryan Welch of Mother Earth News, was my guest and couldn’t help but notice the community involvement. This festival has become bigger than Abundance NC. It is how we know that fall is here, that the harvest is on. The smell of tobagos goes hand in hand with chillier weather, sweaters and longer nights.
The day of Pepper Festival this year is lovely – cool and crisp and windy. All the restaurants and drink vendors put their best Dishes out, we are amazed that food can taste that good, and so many different flavors. Everyone is happy. The children eat peppers and vegetables, to their parents amazement. They play hard and go home tired and happy. The food and beer judges award prizes to the well-deserved people that worked so hard. The attendees are having a great day, and all I see are smiles.
So, standing back, for just a minute, I realize why I do this. This is what Abundance is about… real community and connection, and seeing the pure bliss that this festival brings. Everyone here is special and gives our lives real meaning. Thank you. Gratitude for the amazing work we all get to do.