This year’s PepperFest, like all other public events, has been significantly altered by the COVID-19 pandemic. This week, we speak with organizer Tami Schwerin about the annual festival will look …
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This year’s PepperFest, like all other public events, has been significantly altered by the COVID-19 pandemic. This week, we speak with organizer Tami Schwerin about the annual festival will look differently this year. Schwerin founded the non-profit 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.” PepperFest is one of Abundance NC’s major annual events.
Let’s start with the “spirit of the pepper” and the origins of PepperFest … can you give us a brief history lesson?
Thirteen years ago, farmer Doug Jones was starting his farm at The Plant and growing more than 100 varieties of peppers. His fascination with the pepper was for the incredibly high nutritional value — it has a higher vitamin C content than a grapefruit, plus B6, A and E, and it’s full of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory. Plus, they grew so well in the piedmont of North Carolina.
So Abundance NC partnered with him and held a blind pepper tasting to help him with his data. We had about 40 people in the yard.
The next year we added a band and invited chefs to make dishes with his peppers. It was a cold almost snowy October day and we had 200 people. The next year, we added pepper beer and it was sunny and all of a sudden we had 600 people!
Briar Chapel had taken notice and started to sponsor our event and they invited us to move over to their new park. It was a big decision, and we did it. It kept growing as we moved from park to bigger park to bigger park at Briar Chapel. We had a great partnership with them, many local businesses, so many restaurants from the triangle and beyond as well as WUNC. The event started having a life of its own! It took 100 volunteers, a Spice Squad to plan it and folks started looking forward to it each year. Some people even got engaged at PepperFest.
Pre-COVID, PepperFest was going to look different this year, with a new location. Before we get to the “new” set-up, what was the 2020 version of Pepperfest supposed to look like?
Last year we moved PepperFest to downtown Pittsboro in partnership with the town, the county and Mainstreet Pittsboro. It was a huge success with more than 100 vendors, chefs, local businesses, non-profits and fantastic entertainment as well as an electric car meet-up event. We were on our way to making that happen again and improving upon the success of 2019.
So now that we’re in this new reality, what’s the set-up for this year?
Well, with the pandemic, obviously events all over the country and world have been canceled for the unforeseen future. Abundance NC excels at events and bringing people together. Creating connections and building resilient communities ...
We had to think about this a long time. We thought about canceling and then we thought if anyone can model how to have a COVID-safe event, it would be us! We are rising to the challenge and are creating a mini-PepperFest complete with commemorative pepper masks made from past pepper T-shirts.
We have invited only seven chefs to create pepper dishes and they will put into shelf stable mason jars that will go into picnic baskets custom made for attendees. There will be vegan, vegetarian and omnivore choices. Fair Game Beverage and Starrlight Meadery will be open for beverages and we’ll have local music as well as a farmers’ market. We are limiting the size of the entire event so that people can spread out around the campus, wear their masks and enjoy each other. If there is a mandated shutdown, folks can pick up their basket and take home. We are working on a “Zine” to include with recipes and stories for each basket. Other surprises of course will be a part of the festival, but I can’t discuss.
Tickets are limited, so sell us on the idea of why a ticket is such a good idea?
We only have 100 tickets this year. Each ticket is for two adults (kids are free) and they get to share the picnic basket. It’s a good idea because it supports Abundance NC, local farmers, it will be an adventure, it will be historical and you don’t want to miss this eclectic festival that Pittsboro is now known for.
Where can we find out more?
Tickets on sale now here: https://tinyurl.com/2020PepperFest.