Saturday, October 24th was a perfect fall day – unlimited sunshine and crisp temperatures in the mid-70s. We could not have asked for better weather to spend the afternoon eating yummy homemade food with all of our Hope Gardens and community friends at our Hope Harvests event. This event was a winning combination of delicious food, fun outdoor activities and having a generally great time with friends both old and new, and was open to anyone in the Chapel Hill community who wanted to come. On the menu was one of my personal favorite sweater weather combinations – homemade chili with cornbread. The delicious chili was even made in three batches: vegetarian chili, spicy beef chili, and non-spicy beef chili to satisfy everyone at the table. Also on the menu was a freshly made salad, split pea soup, roasted vegetables, and brownies. But the item I was the most excited about was a mysterious orange, gooey cake. I was surprised to find that this was actually a persimmon cake, made with freshly harvested persimmons from the Hope Gardens orchard. The typical reaction to this cake was “looks different but I’ll try it” followed shortly by a “wow, this is actually really good!” By the end of the meal, it was clear that this underdog dessert was a big hit.
As everyone’s stomachs got fuller, the conversation got livelier, with topics ranging from 80s pop hits to possible new Hope Gardens projects. What struck me the most about the conversation I heard was that sitting at each picnic table was a group of people who, until they sat down, had never interacted with each other before. Sure, within each group were a couple of people who already knew each other, but for the most part, the conversation that took place was between strangers. And yet, there was no nervous small talk or awkward silences - the conversation was as natural as the produce on the table. Everyone was eager to chat with people they didn’t know, to listen to each other’s stories and make new friends. This atmosphere of openness and authenticity really struck me as something special that isn’t always easy to find at social events.
As people finished up, groups began to migrate over to the various activities in the garden. One group started a casual game of Frisbee, another began tossing a football. The main event was decorating two big wooden boxes that will be used to house our new herb garden plots. Acrylic paints and brushes were provided and people were free to paint whatever they desired on the boxes. Results ranged from garden-inspired artwork to colorful abstract designs, each painting representing a different person’s ideas. Viewed separately, each decoration was a unique symbol of self-expression. Viewed together, the finished herb boxes were a beautiful representation of the diversity of the Hope Gardens community.
As the festivities wound down and people began to depart, it was clear that many new friendships had been formed. People who had entered the garden as strangers now waved goodbye to one another enthusiastically, big smiles on their faces. And that is what I thought was the real hallmark of a successful day – that a group of individuals from all walks of life was able to come together and share a meal and a few laughs, and even make some friends along the way. If you’d like to join our awesome Hope Gardens community, come to one of our meetings at 1789 Venture Lab on Franklin Street, held every Tuesday at 7pm! We love new people and look forward to meeting you!