by Christopher Peterson, Executive Director
Let me start out by admitting that fundraising is not my most favorite part of being Executive Director of GrowMemphis. As most folks who raise funds as part of their job description can attest, it is easy to feel like the weight of the organization (and in your mind, the world) is on your shoulders. For our 2013 GrowMemphis Garden Party, planning began back in June and July and was ongoing literally to the minute I put on my tie and stepped into Stone Soup Café to start greeting guests. The anticipation is the most stressful part. Will people even show up? Will there be as many people as last year? Did I forget anything important?
It is heartwarming enough to be able to walk away from this event and be able to say that we raised the funds we need to help Memphians start new community gardens; that we more than broke our attendance targets; and that we successfully balanced the evening so that our garden partners, funders, supporters, and newcomers alike felt welcome and had a good time. The true blessing, though, is to come out of the event knowing that we didn’t do this on our own: we had a community of supporters who donated time and talent to make this happen because they believe in our work. Let me take a moment to thank some of these individuals who made our fall event special:
At this time of year every chef in Memphis is inundated with calls to support local fundraisers. We were proud to have such a wonderful crew supporting us this year. We are greatly indebted to Justin Fox Burks, Amy Lawrence, Jennifer Chandler, Jake Miller (Cultivate Memphis), Jesse Keenan (Slider Inn), Catherine Miller and the Rhodes Garden Fellows, and, of course, the illustrious Michael Hughes for doing what they do so well. Not only was the food absolutely delicious (if you missed it- a locally sourced slider, tamales, deviled tomatoes, pimento cheese tartlets, homegrown soups, a sorrel based cocktail and more), but working with these folks was a dream.
A special thanks is owed to Justin Fox Burks for his help reaching out to other chefs and for making sure the meal was well balanced.
Stone Soup Café:
We learned this year that venues in Memphis seem suited to either 50 or 500 guests. For a small organization like ours, that presents more problems than you’d think. Troy, Sharon, and Stone Soup Café were the hosts that everyone dreams of working with. Open with communication, flexible with needs, and always happy to help, Troy and Sharon were ready for us at 4:00 when we started to set up (having been there since 6 that morning), helped us tidy up (being quite generous with their standards for reorganizing their restaurant), and then back to serve breakfast at 6:00 the next morning.
High Cotton Brewing Co:
When I contacted High Cotton to purchase beer for our event, Shawn not only offered to deliver the evening of the event, but he stayed all night to pour. Now that’s definitely a high standard for customer service! It’s little things like this that make an event run smoothly.
This year we were able to offer all food and libations completely free of charge with only a $35 ticket. The only way this is possible is through wonderful sponsors. I’ll admit, I was hesitant to even offer a “Grower” level sponsor, thinking it would be difficult for us to attract that type of donor. Splash Creative Design, though, stepped up and did all of our design work free of charge. Likewise, Christian Brothers University’s Office of Advancement and School of Arts transformed our event overnight through their Grower Level Sponsorship. With the addition of our supporter level sponsors (Carl & Pan Awsumb and the Memphis Center for Food and Faith) and Friend Level Sponsors (Molly & Jason Wexler, AmpleHarvest.org, Rhodes Environmental Sciences and Studies Program, Noah and Allyson Campbell and Huey’s Midtown), we were able to go into our event relaxed and confident.
Silent Auction Donors:
Although these folks are too many to name here, I want to point out that the bulk of our auction donors are small restaurants, artisans, and business people: they donated their talent not because they had cash or inventory to spare, but because they want to make our community a better place.
One story sums up these folks perfectly. In a panic looking for sorrel to complete Michael Hughes’ cocktail, I ran into Jill Forrester of Whitton Farms and Trolley Stop Market and asked if there was an off chance she had some that I could purchase at short notice. Not only did she donate two pounds of sorrel, but she also threw in a fantastic Trolley Stop Gift Basket for the auction.
Thanks is also due to Mya Donald, Caroline Carrico and Kenny Latta for coordinating every aspect of the Silent Auction (Kenny also spent personal time and talent building the fantastic chicken coop we auctioned off.)
Mark is an incredibly gifted guitarist. Gifted musicians are not always the most laid back individuals. I can’t thank Mark enough for donating his Saturday night and being one of the nicest, most laid back individuals I know.
Finally, special recognition of GrowMemphis’ Board of Directors, team of interns, and Food Policy Coordinator, Carole Colter is in order. Every step along the way there was a sponsor who needed following up with, an item that was nearly not purchased, a personal invitation that needed to be made, or one more poster to hang. Not only did these folks produce tremendous ideas, pick up slack when needed, and prod me along when necessary, every single one of them came to the event to celebrate the work that community gardeners are doing all around Memphis.
Some would say that the dollar amount raised is symbol enough of community support for our work to transform Memphis’ food system, but we’re tremendously fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with such a dedicated community of individuals. We look forward to next year.
A special thanks to Paul Crum for these photos. To see more photos and read his article visit: http://udistrict.micromemphis.com/6/post/2013/10/grow-memphis-garden-party-proves-funding-can-be-fun.html