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Growing a community at the 34th Annual Asheville Herb Festival

For decades, this annual festival has celebrated the farmers and gardeners and growers who call WNC home.

Rows of plants at a booth from Bluff Mountain Nursery as people walk around tables.

The festival is green as far as the eye can see.

Photo via Asheville Herb Festival

Over the course of three days, more than 25,000 people are expected to attend the Asheville Herb Festival. This Friday, April 26 through Sunday, April 28, they’ll wander rows of herbs + plants, browse herb-based goods, sample food, and attend workshops — and in doing so, they’ll continue a local tradition that has persisted since its founding in 1990.

Back then, it was just a small group of herb growers joining together to sell their stock at the farmers market. Now, its wild success is partially the result of a confluence of local factors, according to Andy Reed, the executive director of the WNC Herb Marketing Association (the nonprofit that oversees the festival): namely, an interest in natural foods and holistic medicine that sprouted in the 90s, Asheville’s growth as a foodie town, and lots of NC tobacco farms’ being sold and repurposed as vegetable and herb farms.

Beyond those cultural elements at play, though, the festival’s success, more than 30 years on, is a testament to the community that those original growers were able to nurture.

Cultivating connections

And even though the festival is a great way for local farmers, growers, and makers to connect with customers and build their businesses, that community seems to be a large part of the point.

“I think the community itself is what you get out of the festival,” says board member Danni Speight, who operates Bluff Mountain Nursery with her dad, Tom, one of the festival’s founders. “This is like no other show I’ve been to as a vendor or as a shopper, because everyone is happy. They all have that same mentality of, ‘This is the best thing on earth.’ We’re going to grow things and make things grow, and when you can make something grow, it makes you happy.”

Festival President Darsey Driver, who operates another founding vendor, Wildwood Herbal, agrees — “It’s full of a lot of joy. It brings all these different groups together, from kids getting excited about a pretty flower and hopefully inspiring them to start their own garden to people who have been gardening their entire life.”

“At the end of the day,” Driver adds, “it’s going to get a lot of people outside with their hands in the dirt, which is great.”

A crowd of people looks at a table of plants and herbs.

Browse the herbs and herb-related products from dozens of WNC vendors.

Photo via Asheville Herb Festival

New at the festival

For the first time, the festival will be held at the WNC Agricultural Center’s main exhibition hall, the Davis Event Center. This space has separate education rooms, so the festival is going all out with the free workshops, like medicinal mushroom cultivation, herbal alchemy, and botanicals for pet wellness. No preregistration is required for the workshops, but some will be popular — so get to the classrooms early.

Organizers have also set aside a plant-holding area so that you can just drop off your shopping haul and pick it up later, rather than running back and forth your car. Plus, the master gardeners are back this year to share their plant-based expertise.

In addition to new food and ice cream trucks (which Speight is particularly excited about), 70+ vendors will be sharing their wares — from masses of plants and herbs, of course, to worming castings to tinctures to fermented foods.

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