Chatham Ch@t | Abundance NC’s Schwerin looks to spice up 12th annual Pepperfest

Posted 8/30/19

Pepperfest has grown in the last decade or so into one of Chatham County’s largest annual events. This year’s 12th annual Pepperfest is Sept. 22 in Pittsboro, and this week, we spoke to Schwerin …

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Chatham Ch@t | Abundance NC’s Schwerin looks to spice up 12th annual Pepperfest

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Pepperfest has grown in the last decade or so into one of Chatham County’s largest annual events. This year’s 12th annual Pepperfest is Sept. 22 in Pittsboro, and this week, we spoke to Schwerin about what makes it special. Schwerin founded Abundance NC as an organization dedicated to celebrating community resilience. She also manages The Plant, the eco-industrial park and Beverage District on the edge of Pittsboro. She has been creating things in Chatham County for almost 30 years. Her fellow workers at Abundance NC describe her as a person with an “utterly contagious” vibrancy, as well as “a fearless visionary, community builder, and cartographer of the impossible,” and someone who sees “in pure potential.”

The 12th annual Pepperfest is set for Sept. 22. What’s new and different about this year’s event, and what can the attendees — you’re expecting 3,000 — look forward to?

This year’s Pepperfest is entirely new as we are closing down the streets of Pittsboro to put on one of the largest local food festivals in the state! We have never done this. The good folks of Briar Chapel have been the hosts for seven years and before that it was held at The Plant on Lorax Lane, where it originated. We have a record amount of chefs and beverage makers...we’ll have more than 50 this year plus the local non-profits and businesses that make this county so so special! There are great activities for kids, there is a star-studded cast of judges who will be sampling and presenting awards to the top chefs and beverage makers. Our music this year is soulful Up and Up and to top it off, we are having the most amazing 70s dance band: 8 Track Minds!

This event has evolved over the years, but…we gotta ask: why peppers?

Thank you for asking that! The message has gotten buried amongst all the fun and flavor! Twelve years ago, Farmer Doug Jones (a research and variety trials farmer) was growing more than 100 varieties of peppers down at The Plant as we were working on the local food movement at Abundance NC. He needed to have some data for his research, so we cut up a bunch of his red, yellow, purple, orange, and brown peppers. About 40 folks blindly tasted and filled out surveys about the taste, texture, smell, sturdiness of the pepper. Parents were amazed that their small children were eating the peppers like candy. Farmer Doug was interested in the pepper because it has more Vitamin C than a grapefruit, and is a superfood. We don’t need to import citrus from other countries if we have the local pepper.

Pepperfest is all about sustainable agriculture and celebrating local people who grow, and create, amazing food (and beverages). What do people in Chatham County need to know about these farmers, chefs, brewers and other artisans?

After the first year of tasting peppers, we asked a few chefs to take the local peppers and make dishes for people to taste. We had a band and it was a weird, almost snowy October day and we had about 200 people show up. The next year we added pepper beer, it was sunny, we had more chefs and 600 people crowded in to The Plant! Briar Chapel stepped in and asked if we wanted to move it to their new development. We did and had the benefit of their logistics and we continued to grow there until we outgrew them last year with almost 3,000 people in attendance. We expect more than 3,000 this year in downtown Pittsboro! The chefs, beverage makers, and food artisans are invited to show off their wares. Abundance NC works with the local farmers and we buy the peppers and distribute to the chefs and beverage makers. That way we know exactly where the peppers come from. Peppers have become a key crop here in the piedmont of North Carolina since we began. The more we support the sustainable farmer, the healthier our soils are, our people and our local economy....part of community resilience.

Proceeds from Pepperfest help fund Abundance NC’s local community resilience programs. Can you tell us more about that?

Pepperfest is our biggest event of the year and it costs a whole lot to put on. The proceeds go to Abundance NC for our other programming which includes Death Faire (an event to celebrate our life and our loves as well as educate about green burial, culture, grief support, logistics and legalities). We also hold a summer camp for kids to teach sustainability and bike skills and safety. We incubate a number of other projects, support the Chatham Social Justice Exchange, Pecha Kucha, and a spring Think Again event.

How can people get involved, and learn more?

People can join our newsletter at abundancenc.org and find something that interests them, volunteer, donate money, spread the word, live their life fully, jump into this vibrant community that we are so privileged to be a part of! And of course get your pepperfest tix at pepperfestnc.org.

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