Building a New World in the Shell of the Old at #PBOPepperFest

Had a great time at the Pittsboro Pepper Festival yesterday. The 2012 Pepper Festival is the 5th annual fundraiser run by the Abundance Foundation, a neat organization provides an organizational umbrella for community projects. (Check out their website: here.) The festival hosted good music, great food and some amazing people. My top food items were a super spicy Burmese lemongrass fish from the Non-profit education/refugee-run Traditions Community Farm (covered in the Indy: here) and a polenta/pepper crostini with basil-habanero chevre (I think from 6 Plates in Durham?).

One thing that really stood out about the event was the location: Briar Chapel. Briar Chapel was planned as a gigantic planned development between Chapel Hill, NC (home of the University of North Carolina) and Pittsboro, the center of a major upswing in local farm production. The development was apparently the center of some controversy before it was eventually approved. (I must mention that some locals like parts of the development, especially that the developers provided space for two schools and mountain bike trails.) The neighborhood was planned as three parts, but apparently only one has been mostly finished because of the effects of the housing crisis.

Yesterday during the festival, struck by my surroundings, I captured this photo:

Most people didn’t take much notice of the people hanging out on the stoop of an unoccupied house, but to me it symbolized a lot about what is happening in America right now. Two economic models are living side by side; one is anemic and aging, while the other is new and promising, but in need of care and nurturing. The old system has demonstrated it is vulnerable to price shocks and a declining middle class. This decline is the result of a big confusing mess that has been created by a “bipartisan consensus” that has written ever more complex policy that caters the needs of big business and top donors rather than average Americans and their small businesses.

During the recession, this new system has made surprising progress. In my last post, I talked about innovative new online communities that support hundreds of “lemonade stands on steroids.” Community garden and farm projects are also benefitting from this wave of innovation, with social media helping raise awareness about new projects and bringing in volunteers as well as Kickstarter donors.

While this wave of innovation is inspring, projects related to food have more difficulty than websites like AirBnB (an innovative peer-to-peer network of room rentals for people with a spare room). Over the past 50 years, many barriers have been put in place for food-related enterprise. For example, Here in Durham, it’s technically illegal to grow food on basically any residentially zoned property (a major reason I’m involved with the hugely important Durham Food Prosperity Council, coverage here). More onerous examples are documented in the film “Farmageddon,” in which federal agents seize multiple farmers’ food products and livestock.

Sometimes these barriers may frustrate us as much as the news of job losses and record earnings by key figures in the economic collapse, but we are confident in the future of this new world that has been born. With nurture and love for one another, this new economy will create more wealth for more people than was ever possible under the old system.

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