Chapel Hill, N.C. — It all started with 40 people in a backyard tasting peppers for a research project involving a local farmer's pepper breeding program.
Abundance NC executive director Tami Schwerin saw the potential to grow the event into a plan to help local farmers and revitalize the practice of sustainable farming.
And eight years later, the nonprofit's Pepper Fest has helped raise enough money to support about 200 local farmers.
About 2,000 people are expected to crowd Briar Chapel's Great Meadow Park Sunday for this year's event. More than 40 of the state's top chefs and brewers will be preparing dishes featuring locally grown peppers. Winners will be crowned in a variety of categories.
And it's not only about the hot and spicy variety. There will be spicy peppers, but also a lot of sweet-flavored ones to sample. Schwerin said peppers are also pretty healthy, boasting vitamins C and A.
New this year, Pepperpalooza, a list of children's activities to provide hands-on education about local agriculture. Look for creative workshops such as “Food Fonts,” a chance to play and write with food, and "The Insane Science of Fairyland," a storytelling experience that combines science with fairytale characters.
There will also be artisan booths, acrobatic entertainment and music from The Stacks, which includes Tania Elizabeth (of the Avett Brothers) and Andy Stack.
Pepper Fest is as much about entertainment and economic development, as it is about sustainability.
"This is a zero waste event. Everything is compostable," Schwerin said.
The Briar Chapel community in Chapel Hill is a perfect fit for a festival focusing on green practices. Before opening in 2008, the community made a conscious decision to focus on the environment. Homes there feature increased water conservation with high efficiency appliances and high indoor air quality control. Some homes even have solar panels.
Abundance NC's focus on sustainability and helping local farmers was a perfect fit with the burgeoning community.
"We've known Abundance since the onset of our community," Briar Chapel marketing director Shannon McSwiney said. "It's a really natural partnership."
Many of the residents of Briar Chapel are also involved as volunteers with Abundance.
Tickets for Abundance NC's Pepper Festival are on sale now. Tickets are $30 in advance and $35 at the door. Children aged 12 years and younger are admitted free. All proceeds go to Abundance NC.