South End-based nonprofit Friendship Trays is preparing to celebrate the harvest of its 15 Charlotte-area gardens and its urban farm at Charlotte Correctional Facility with its third annual garden party.
Friendship Trays partnered with Slow Food Charlotte early in 2009 to begin creating gardens at the Friendship Trays facility and places like public schools.
The gardens supply locally-grown produce for the meals Friendship Trays provides those who no longer can prepare meals for themselves.
Since July 2010, more than 8,000 pounds of produce from the Friendship Farm and Gardens have gone into Friendship Trays meals.
According to Katherine Metzo, coordinator of the Friendship Farms and Gardens Initiative, the Slow Food Movement is "really about reconnecting with your food and understanding the relationships that bring food to your table. It's about taking time to stop and appreciate your food for all it represents in society."
Slow Food encourages local food partly because produce retains more nutrients when it does not travel far before consumption. Maximizing the nutrition of Friendship Trays meals is important for recipients with long-term health problems. Using food from its own gardens helps Friendship Trays pack in as many nutrients as possible into its meals.
The Friendship Trays Garden Party boasts a carnival-like atmosphere and 200 or more guests. This year it will feature several tapas-like food and dessert stations and a bar prepared by Friendship Trays and local chefs.
The party Oct. 1 also will have entertainers including belly dancers, musicians and a troupe of performance artists. There also will be a silent auction including prizes such as yoga and wellness passes, special meals by local chefs, garden-based artwork and other gift items.
New artwork created for the gardens will be unveiled at the event. The works are part of a partnership with Core Visual Arts, a collective of artists who have created original works to reflect on the gardens as places that bring people together around common goals.
According to Lucy Bush Carter, executive director of Friendship Trays, the party "celebrates our efforts to infuse our meals with as much locally grown produce as we can."
It is also a "celebration of more gardens, more food, more music, more dancing, more mischievousness, more art, more bees and more of you," she said.
Why is the party celebrating more bees? In June, Friendship Trays added an apiary, or bee yard, to its on-site garden. The bees help pollinate crops in the garden.
"Without pollinators, we wouldn't have a crop," said Metzo.
Beekeeping is a mission inspired by Slow Food International's goal of bringing awareness to Colony Collapse Disorder. CCD is a phenomenon in which bee colonies worldwide are failing for unknown reasons.
Metzo, one of Friendship Tray's beekeepers, hopes the nonprofit will use honey in meals and sell it to raise money once the hives are built up enough. Metzo treats the bees with great respect, taking care to not harm them as she reassembles the hives after checking their progress.
Metzo treats the compost worms with the same respect. The on-site garden's brightly painted compost bins are full of worms that help make the compost richer for growing crops. Metzo said the worms have certain favorite fruits and can even eat paper used for bedding if it is printed with soy-based ink.
Friendship Trays hopes to teach classes on worm composting later this year.
Friendship Trays started in 1978 with the goal of providing meals to hospice residents and has since expanded to help many populations. The organization also partners with Meals on Wheels.
It takes about 100 volunteers daily to help assemble and deliver the meals. Many volunteers are students of the Community Culinary School of Charlotte.