14th PepperFest will look more normal this year

Posted 8/25/21

PITTSBORO — Abundance NC will host another PepperFest on Sept. 19, marking its 14th annual celebration and the second restyled due to a pandemic.

In previous years, the festival — which …

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14th PepperFest will look more normal this year

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Posted

PITTSBORO — Abundance NC will host another PepperFest on Sept. 19, marking its 14th annual celebration and the second restyled due to a pandemic.

In previous years, the festival — which celebrates sustainable agriculture, farmers and chefs — drew as many as 3,000 guests. Last year, the COVID-19-safe picnic and farmers’ market-styled event with social distancing precautions was limited to 100 high-end baskets full of pepper-themed dishes.

This year, the event will more closely resemble PepperFests of the past.

“Right now, we are capping ticket sales at 500 and are confident we can spread out at The Plant to mitigate any transmission,” Abundance NC Executive Director Allison DeJong told the News + Record.

Tickets are $44, but will be on sale this weekend for $33, Friday through Sunday. On Sept. 1, ticket prices will jump to $55.

“This event represents the full circle of our foodshed — from our farmers that grow our nutrients and tend our soils, to chefs that transform peppers into their delicious crafts, to the community who connects with one another and tastes,” DeJong said, “and ending with our composting team that brings it all back around. Join us in celebrating all that makes eating local possible.”

Hosted outside The Plant, a 16-acre business complex that includes Abundance NC and the Chatham Beverage District, the event will encourage social distancing by having painted circles and designated areas for people to sit with their groups. Masking is required except for when people are directly tasting dishes.

This year’s PepperFest will feature live music with Colin Cutlet and Diali Cissokho and Kaira Ba, an acrobatic performance by Imagine Circus and an artistic educational and cultural walkthrough. There will also be a 21+ lounge, a kid’s zone with a cooking class and pepper arts and crafts by Circle City Supper Club and a small farmers market.

“PepperFest is a celebration of the vibrancy and yield of the abundant and nutrient-dense Carolinian-grown PEPPER,” Abundance NC said in an email promoting the Sept. 19 event. “...We have attendees from all over NC who complete the full circle nature of this event by tasting, judging and enjoying the day of multi-layered cosmic connection.”

PepperFest began in 2008 as a blind pepper tasting with 40 attendees, but grew to a 3,000-person extravaganza by 2019, taking over downtown Pittsboro and featuring more than 100 vendors, chefs, local businesses and entertainers. The last two years, the event returned to the Plant.

Before last year’s festival, former Abundance NC’s director Tami Schwerin told the News + Record the event was meant to emphasize the value of peppers in a well-rounded diet and to spotlight local farmers.

“The big goal for us as a nonprofit was initially to educate the consumer and restaurants on why it was so important to buy from local farms — for the economy, health and the health of the environment,” Schwerin said at the time. “But that had kind of gotten lost a little bit over the years; it had just become this huge party.”

So while the event was smaller last year, PepperFest 2020 ditched some of the party elements of years past to stay safe and focus on highlighting local farmers and chefs. The event — which was capped at around 200 people — sold out.

“We’re really scaling back so that we can have a responsible, spread out, socially distanced event,” Schwerin said. “People really want to get together, obviously. People are missing events, and we feel like we can model how to hold a safe, well-thought-out event.”

Last year, Abundance NC’s advertising for the festival read, “This year the world is different and so is PepperFest.”

This year, though the pandemic remains, PepperFest remains — with enough precautions to be safe, but still feel like PepperFest.

For more information, go to https://pepperfestnc.org.

Reporter Hannah McClellan can be reached at hannah@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @HannerMcClellan.

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