A 'berry' festive day in Carrboro

Aug. 23, 2014 @ 03:50 PM

The Elderberry Festival is a celebration of community, resilience and sustainability in the town of Carrboro, and for founder Rodger Lenhardt, it’s a happening full of passion.

Lenhardt, along with his wife, Ann, and daughter, Erin, started the event last year and, now in its second year, it’s seen a tremendous amount of growth.

“It was intended to celebrate the elderberry through local crafts, artists, musicians, along with local businesses that are supporting us,” he said of the one-day event that took place Saturday.

Lenhardt said the entire festival is volunteer-based and through donations he’s able to pay musicians for their time at the festival.

For the inaugural Elderberry Festival there were only about six vendors and 16 bands that played on 3 stages.

This year there were 20 vendors and 31 bands that played on five stages.

The festival which spanned two locations around Main Street in Carrboro — 2nd Wind and The Station — was expected to draw some 2,000 visitors this year. Last year Lenhardt estimated attendance at close to 1,000.

“All these (bands) have agreed to come out to play for us,” Lenhardt said. “They’re not expecting money, but we’re going to treat them like royalty.”

By about 1 p.m. Lenhardt had already raised almost $2000 in donations that will be divvied up equally among all the musicians.

The festival really began as a way to give back to the community.

“It’s our way of thanking the community that supports us,” he said. “It’s a way to say the party’s on us.”

It’s also a way to advocate for the community.

“We want to encourage to people to spend their money locally,” Lenhardt said. “People don’t really know, they go to the store and fill their shopping carts with national brands, and we have lots of wonderful businesses here.”

Lenhardt, aside from being an elderberry farmer, is also a musician and knows the majority of the bands playing the festival along with many of the attendees.

Many make their way to his stand at the Beer Garden Stage and greet him yelling “Rodge” and then discuss the day’s events. Many ask questions about what bands are playing where or comment about how excited they are for the day.

Lenhardt mirrors their excitement. The planning for the Elderberry Festival takes almost a year, even though it’s only a one-day event. Just days after last year’s festival ended, he held a “post-festival follow-up” meeting to discuss what went right and what went wrong during the first festival.

“We were all just delighted everything came together,” he said.

Elderberries, Lenhardt said, are a type of super-fruit that has more antioxidants than blueberries. The crop of elderberries grown at Norm’s Farm goes toward a variety of products like jams, jellies, preserves and even elderberry extracts.

“It’s like having a liquid and mega-vitamin,” Lenhardt said.

He said North Carolina is a wonderful place to grow the elderberry because of its climate and the support farmers get from the state Department of Agriculture.

Going forward as they festival enters its third year, Lenhardt hopes to grow and get involved with other local businesses around Carrboro. But as it grows, the need for more volunteers comes into play.

“We couldn’t do this alone,” he said. “The whole thing is completely run by volunteers.”