by Joy Salyers
On October 27th, I headed to Sophia, NC just outside Asheboro for the Resourceful Communities annual convening. I took along Program and Development Director Evan Hatch, and as we drove through the absolutely stunning fall foliage of the Uwharries region of the state, I tried to explain to him what a treat he was in for.
Resourceful Communities is a program of the Conservation Fund and I can genuinely say that I think it is one of the most effective organizations in the state. We often share information, sometimes collaborate on an idea, and NC Folk has been a recipient of Resourceful Communities’ Creating New Economies Fund small grants for projects in the past. But one of my favorite things the Resourceful Communities team does every year is the annual Grassroots Convening.
In a day and a half, I told Evan, you might hear a powerful keynote speaker, learn practical skills to take home like building better coalitions or telling your story more effectively, do yoga or go on a hike, network your brains out . . . and then there’s the talent show. I always like to share some aspect of folklife’s potential power for community building at the talent show, and when I finished the song I chose, Event and Project Coordinator Donna Pratt told me to draw a slip of paper from the basket she held out.
Many community organizations who have benefitted from Resourceful Communities’ programs and grants as well as sponsoring organizations had donated items for participants in the talent show to receive. My slip of paper told me what to pick up at the table at the back of the room – “Pickle Willie.”
“Yay, pickles!” I thought. I love pickles, which must be partly hereditary, because a kosher dill pickle slice was the first solid food of both of my kids! But when I got to the back of the room and picked up the big quart jar, I must confess I felt my enthusiasm falter. Cinnamon Cucumber Rings? Somehow the flavor my mouth imagined when I thought “pickle” and the flavor it imagined when I thought “cinnamon” were NOT compatible.
However, after I returned home, it wasn’t too long before curiosity got the better of me, and I popped the seal on the jar for a taste. OH. MY. GOODNESS. I wasn’t sure I could keep from eating them long enough to take a picture before the jar was empty! I mean it. These things are GOOD.
First of all, cinnamon is not what you taste until you are swallowing, and then it is more cinnamon candy than baking spice (minus the heat, though). They are sweet, but also very tart and vinegary. And they are incredibly crisp as well, one of my requirements for pickles. They crunch satisfactorily when you bite into them, and between the resulting juice shooting out and your mouth watering from the sweet-and-sour combo, you would think you’d taken a drink.
Some of the pieces in the jar are thin rings, but many are big old chunks of pickle, large enough that you’d have to cut them up to eat them in polite company. (OK, confession – writing about them made me have to leave my computer, go to the fridge, and bring the jar back with me to eat while I type!)
Even cooler, Pickle Willie is a special project of the Little Willie Center in West Greenville. Founded in 1990 as a space for local “latchkey” children to find “love, encouragement and a hearty meal with quality role models,” the center provides tutoring, mentoring, and daily programs. For 20 years the Little Willie Center has maintained a small garden to encourage healthy eating. Master Gardener and Little Willie Center board member Art Wallace had the
idea to grow cucumbers, pickle and can them as a fundraising effort as well as a youth development initiative.
These pickles I’m eating were produced, harvested and packaged by the agency’s youth, parents, and local community members. The center has donated pickles to the Pitt County Council on Aging, a community shelter, and a soup kitchen. And they have order forms you can download online to get your own quart jar full of pickles. If you are faint of heart, they do have bread and butter pickles, but you should just order the Cinnamon Cucumber Rings. (Note that, if you are not a tomato or cucumber fan because of the seeds and “goop” in the middle, all of that has been removed.)
While you’re there, read about some of the Little Willie Center’s other cool projects and services. As the jar says, “It takes a village to raise a cucumber!”