Abundance NC fills a lot of niches.
Unlike the single-issue focus of many nonprofits, this 10-year-old Pittsboro organization is more like an umbrella. Under its aegis fall sustainability, renewable energy and promotion of the local economy. It’s responsible for the annual PepperFest, a celebration of food and farms, and for numerous workshops on topics as varied as permaculture, mushroom cultivation and cooking from a CSA box. There are camps for kids, too, and tours of the biodiesel plant and eco-complex down the appropriately named Lorax Lane.
Every year, the umbrella seems to open a little larger.
“The next terrain is death and spiritual enlightenment,” said Tami Schwerin, founder and executive director at Abundance NC. “My goal is to change the culture and the education of death and look at it differently and keep it near and dear.”
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Last December, as the creative director’s husband was dying of ALS, Abundance NC held its first Death Faire, a gathering that offered death-centered workshops, vendors, even celebrations. It sold out quickly; people needed this, Schwerin said. Looking directly at death and discussing it together was absent in their lives. A few months later, when her own son died, Schwerin needed it, too.
Whether with sustainable agriculture or slippery, metaphysical topics, then, Abundance NC isn’t one thing: functionally, and by design, it’s whatever the people in its orbit need it to be.
“Community resilience is what we do,” Schwerin said.
Abundance NC was initially formed out of a need for local food, sustainable agriculture and renewable energy education, she said. Schwerin had helped start Chatham Marketplace, Pittsboro’s co-op grocery store, while her husband’s biodiesel plant was getting off the ground: a nonprofit merging of these streams was a logical step, and Schwerin took it.
“We’ve done about a million things over 10 years,” she said. “We started (PepperFest), and we just had our ninth annual and it was the biggest. We added an eco-fashion show.”
On the Abundance schedule each year are Pecha Kucha – storytelling nights in which six speakers gets six minutes and 40 seconds each – and a climate change adaptation conference. Its larger events, such as PepperFest and Death Faire, require numerous volunteers – 100 to run the former, Schwerin said, and 50 to run the latter.
Abundance NC also helps nurture nonprofits it has spawned or sponsored. They mentor and assist fledgling organizations that jive with their own mission statement, helping them get nonprofit status and leave the nest, so to speak. One such group at the moment is Slow Money NC, which makes small loans to agriculture and food ventures. Over the years, Abundance NC has partnered with about 20 organizations.
“That really extends our reach quite a bit,” Schwerin said. “We do a lot and a lot of different topics. We don’t just do one thing.”
And now Abundance NC is focused inward, toward potentially thorny questions of mortality and spirituality. Schwerin’s life turned upside down, she admitted, when she lost her 19-year-old son; she was already planning Death Faire anyway, but the tragedy catapulted the organization more fully into community resilience than she could have predicted a decade ago. A lot of people may be freaked out by it, she said, but Abundance NC is going to get up close and personal with death. Like PepperFest, she knows this approach will evolve over the next few years, but she doesn’t yet know what changes will come.
“You live your life way better if you keep death close, and we’ve had to learn it really quickly,” Schwerin said. “We still have so much to learn from it.”
220 Lorax Lane, Box 5
Pittsboro, N.C. 27312
Contact: Tami Schwerin, 919-533-5181
Description: Abundance NC is a 10-year-old nonprofit focusing on community resilience, environmental concerns and digging into the root causes of some of our cultural problems. We bring people together to celebrate and learn about local food, renewable energy and the health of our people and our planet.
Volunteers needed: For events and conferences. We like to put volunteers in a place that is fun and where they will learn or utilize specific skillsets.
$10 would buy: Art supplies for kids activities.
$20 would buy: Admission for someone to take one of our workshops. We offer sliding scale so that we do not exclude anyone.
$50 would buy: A month’s worth of phone and internet service for the office.