SeptemberFest celebrates the community harvest

Image courtesy of Paula Nelson

The growing season is winding down, which means it’s time for gardeners to celebrate their harvests. In that spirit, Waynesville’s Frog Level will host the inaugural SeptemberFest on Saturday, Sept. 13. The event, organized by a volunteer group called Daydreamz Project, aims to celebrate and share the bounty of community gardens in and around Frog Level, while raising awareness of sustainability, preservation and community-building.

“The idea was really based around, ‘How can we promote these gardens, broaden the outreach and get more people involved?’” says organizer Pamela Norris. “We wanted a big, loud, fun harvest festival that people would be excited to attend.”

SeptemberFest will be held in the Old Armory on Boundary Street. The event will include tours of the Green Thumb, Open Door and Grace Episcopal Church community gardens, all of which grow food for Haywood County senior citizens and food pantries.

Representatives from gleaning organizations and school gardens will also be at the event, as will Cherokee storyteller and preservationist Paula Nelson. Nelson will use a combination of storytelling, song and lecture to discuss the history of gardening in Cherokee culture and its relationship to the community today.

“Our way of gardening was not to work the land, but to allow the land to work for us in the way only the land knows how to do,” Nelson says in an email to Xpress. “We did not cut down trees, clear fields or alter the land in any way. Thousands of years of knowledge and observation taught us what was edible and what was not … and how the land regenerates itself through relationships between plant species.”

Nelson says the Cherokee gardening philosophy is a stark contrast to the European style of gardening that has shaped much of modern agriculture. For part of her presentation, Nelson will discuss how European settlers viewed Cherokee lands as vast wilderness that was underutilized and used these views to justify a claim to the land.

“This is one of the great misunderstandings of history,” Nelson says. “It was declared that we were ignorant underlings of the human species and did not deserve the lands on which we lived. What they saw as wild, unkempt, untamed wilderness was in reality our gardens — gardens working within nature and not separate from it.”Like the community gardens that will be featured at SeptemberFest, Nelson says the Cherokee also have a tradition of growing food for neighbors in need.

“The Cherokee, or Anikituwah people, have a long-standing tradition of ‘gadugi,’” Nelson says. “This roughly translates to ‘helping hands’ or ‘using our hands to help others.’”

She explains that gadugi may involve donating a portion of the harvest to others who are lacking food, but it also refers to the broader practice of giving away free labor to one’s neighbors. These efforts may include gathering and donating firewood, or building additions onto homes in order to provide ease of access for the elderly. The practice can extend to helping a neighbor start a garden or sharing meat from a hunt — though Nelson adds the practice is often so informal that many in the community do not even realize they are practicing it.

“I know of hunters and gatherers who share their catches, kills and harvests of wild edible plants and mushroom with those who cannot do these things any longer,” Nelson says, adding that being unable to hunt and gather can limit access to many traditional Cherokee foods.

“My father was a gadugi fisherman, hunter and gatherer, but he never realized that he was,” she adds.

Nelson says that, like many language and cultural practices, much of the traditional farming and gardening methods have fallen out of use in favor of European-style gardening. But she says oral history has persevered many traditions and she believes there is an interest in reviving older practices — as well as combining old and new gardening techniques. She gives the example of a European-style plowed field used to plant traditional crops such as the Three Sisters — corn, squash and beans — grouped together in a style that was common in many Native American groups, including the Cherokee.

“I see a great potential for the revitalization of these practices,” Nelson says. “Farmers would need to feel the desire to learn the older ways and let go of the teaching that man dominates Earth. They would need to get back to letting the Earth and its creatures teach us what to do and how. “


SeptemberFest runs from 1-5 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 13, at the Old Armory in Waynesville. For more information, call 246-4485 or visit


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About Carrie Eidson
Multimedia journalist and Green Scene editor at Mountain Xpress. Part-time Twitterer @mxenv but also reachable at Follow me @carrieeidson

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