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HerbFest .....A Healthy Lifestyle Festival

 More information is available at:  http://herbfest2008.blogspot.com

     The Herbfest was established in Historic Downtown Wake Forest 9 years ago.  Originally the only plants sold were herbs and herb crafts such as soaps, cosmetics, potpourri, wreaths made of herbs and perennials.
      Originally in Raleigh the big plant sale of the year was the Mordecai Herb Sale at Historic Mordecai Park in Raleigh on Old Wake Forest Road.  Mordecai Park is an old historic park featuring the orignal home of President Johnson.  The park itself is a heritage park featuring many herbs in the landscape.  The Mordecai herb sale was in the spring of each year and was a successful herb/perennial sale for 30+ years. The Mordecai Park was kept and maintained by volunteers and their biggest fundraiser was the annual herb sale. The volunteers, led by Betty Perry, would take Popsicle sticks and write the name of the herb on the stick and then put the stick in a paper "dixie" type cup packed with potting soil and the young herb plant. Most of the herbs sold for about $1.00 and the event was one of the main gardening events of the year in the Raleigh area.  Much of the uniquness was not only being a historical, heritage park but the uniqueness of offering herb plants and herbal based products other vendors supplied.  Unlike today it was not a spring festival vacation destination sale but a local garden plant sale featuring herbs.

       The Mordecai volunteers had the use of a greenhouse supplied by the City of Raleigh and it was there the volunteers learned the name of the herbs, how to propagate, when to seed, and uses of the herbs. Many a gardener in the RTP area learned much of their trade working with Mrs. Perry at the Mordecai Park. The sale, at its peak, generated almost $30,000 annually for the preservation of the park and the buildings on the site. This was the main source of income for the Park, other than a small amount of funds that were charged for tours of the buildings.  All the buildings were of a historical, heritage design and one could learn the history of the city of Raleigh during the herb sale.
     Over time the land for Mordecai was reduced and the greenhouse was lost as Raleigh had a need for the property.  This spelled doom for the annual herb sale and Mordecai volunteers then would ask herb vendors to come to the Park and sell their  herbal products and donate a percentage of their proceeds to Mordecai to preserve the park and the work that was going on. At this time more perennials started creeping into the sale as it was obvious the herb buyer was a lifestyle customer and not a plant customer.  Also the Mordecai Board started generating more revenue through tours and other income activities that diminished the value of the herb sale to the Park. Over time more and more garden shops opened in the RTP area and it was becoming more difficult to attract customers as well as more expensive due to the higher commercialization for garden services.
      Around 1990 Cameron Park Botanicals opened and specialized in selling only herb plants. Cameron Park began to sell herb plants at the Mordecai sale and donated a % of its proceeds to Mordecai. This situation worked until Mordecai asked Cameron Park Botanicals if they would be the sole vendor for the park, which Cameron Park did until the last sale, which occurred about 1991/92. It was then Mordecai made a decision to terminate the herb sale as many of the volunteers were no longer working the landscape but were doing more non-gardening tasks and Mrs. Perry was not as active.  The emphasis of the park was on it's historical heritage tourism designation, utilizing herbs and perennials in the landscaping, but not as dependent on herb sales for a revenue source.
     The herbal sale was over and shortly after the last sale, during the winter of 1993, Cameron Park Botanicals ceased their retail activities due to storm damage to the facility and its greenhouses. The RTP area had no garden shop or facility specializing in herbs for the next 4 years.

     In 1997 the owners of Cameron Park Botanicals, Elizabeth & Bob Johnson, moved their medical business to historic downtown Wake Forest and there they realized the old annual Mordecai herb sale would be a wonderful fit for Wake Forest.  Wake Forest offered not only a beautiful historic downtown but was beginning to blossom as a heritage tourism vacation destination with the rich history of Wake Forest University, the historically black DuBois Center, the older historical buildings with their varied histories in the downtown area.

     They had kept Cameron Park Botanicals alive as a real estate entity and decided to ask the DRC ( Downtown Revitalization Corp.) to allow the Johnsons to establish an annual HerbFest to replace the lost Mordecai sale. It was determined that the historic side of herbs, and the rich heritage customs of herb usage, would help to save and preserve the historic downtown and hopefully put us on the map as a spring festival vacation destination.  Historic downtown Wake Forest would be a perfect match for the HerbFest to grow while also helping bring attention to the charm, and historic aspects of the downtown area.

     The first HerbFest was held in April of 1998 in the public parking lot on S. White St. in the historic downtown area. The day was bitter cold and rainy. Members of the DRC assisted the Johnsons in setting up the tables and providing box tops for the plants to be carried by customers. Labor was provided free by Roy Gonnella, Elizabeth Johnson’s father and Chris, "Rock" Roan, a fraternity/college buddy of Bob Johnson, who flew in from Memphis to help with the sale, as well as the Johnson’s children, Graham, Paige and Janna. Fortunately about 3 hours after the sale started the rain stopped and many of the herb plants were sold. It was during that time the Johnsons decided from now on they had to make the sale at least a 2 day event as insurance in case of rain or inclement weather. Since the Johnsons were not involved in the retail sale of plants and did not have a retail outlet it was necessary to sell most of the herbs or they would die.
      During the first HerbFest the local businesses would open their shops and speakers were provided to them to lecture on various aspects of herbal uses and heritage lore and legend of herbs in the history. Pam Beck, a local Wake Forest gardener/author, spoke on Biblical Herbs at the local deli, Elizabeth Johnson did two classes on aromatherapy and perfumery, and Bob Johnson did lore and legend of herbs as well as integrating herbs into your life style at Burkenstock’s restaurant. The Wake County Herb Society sent Louise Rogers to assist customers in understanding how to grow and what to do with the herbs they purchased.
     After each HerbFest any remaining herbs were planted in the historic downtown area for the public to see and admire throughout the year. Any business that would plant herbs in their landscape were given the plants. It was felt that the connection of herbs and antiquity was a nice fit for the historic downtown. Over time the free plants were given to schools and integrated into the landscape of the schools while educating the students into the lore and legend of herbs. The Herb gardens ( Susie Powell Garden ) surrounding the public parking area are the results of using the left over herbs as well as the beautiful aromatic rosemary hedges that waft their fragrance as you stroll the first block of S. White St. Beth Jiminez, former President of the Wake County Herb Society and Wake Forest resident, designed the gardens for the town.

     The HerbFest has continued since that beginning. Also through the efforts of Bob & Elizabeth Johnson, as well as Kathryn Drake of the Wake Forest Historical Society and Mark Williams, Town Manager, the downtown has been placed on the National Historic Registry.  Over time the Wake Forest Garden Club has coordinated their annual Well Dressed Garden Tour to be at the same time as the HerbFest. Herbs and perennials are donated to the gardeners that open their gardens for the public to visit. The local businesses that can create an herbal connection with their products exhibit at the HerbFest as well as vendors of herbal products from throughout N.C.

     The idea for a local Wake Forest Farmer’s Market was an idea proposed and adopted in the second year of the HerbFest. It too respected the historical concept of local food production and also the heritage plants of yesteryear with their bountiful flavors.  The 10 a.m "duck parade" was implemented in 2003 and has been a positive addition for the HerbFest and continues to draw parents and their children for this daily occurrence. The duck pen where the children can play with and hold the ducks is one of the most popular events of the HerbFest. The HerbFest has grown from a one day event to the present 10 day event and is truly a healthy lifestyle festival and spring festival vacation destination.
    In 2007 we chose to develop the HerbFest into a spring break vacation festival.  We have always wanted to be known as a healthy lifestyle festival by showing our friends ways to integrate healthy lifestyle habits into their daily living. The 10 days provides the time for people to attend and unwind and relax.

     During the first years of the HerbFest $1500 was contributed to our Downtown Revitilization Corp. to preserve and promote the historic downtown area. This continued until Jan. 16, 2006 when our son died and thereafter we have worked to fund the endowment set up in his honor and memory.

      The future of the HerbFest is to become the premier herb sale in the Southeastern U.S. within 10 years. The plan is to extend the sale to a 10 day event featuring not only the most unusual herb plants but also unique, artsy crafts, and herb related products found nowhere else in one setting. the reasoning is that for a vendor from California to come to Wake Forest they must have more time and opportunity to overcome their costs incurred in attending. We want unique vendors with products that are unusual and unique.

      Future HerbFests will include outside live entertainment, events for families, animal zoos, as well as chef cook offs and wine tastings. The Johnsons continue to strive to attain those goals and to promote and fund the Graham Johnson Cultural Arts Endowment.
      Our Herbfest volunteers have also dedicated their efforts to presenting Wake Forest to the vacationing public as a healthy lifestyle festival destination and we are attempting to work to create an HerbFest that will attract vacationers to our town for their spring break vacation or spring festival vacation for our historical charm and heritage visitor sites.





Thanks for reading the history of the HerbFest, a lifestyle festival!!