grass roots: our community place annual lawn jam.

burgIMG_8510Before meeting Brandy at the (approximately 18th) Annual Our Community Place Lawn Jam, I had lunch at The Little Grill. Sitting on a stool at their three-seat counter, I read an article on my CNN app called “America’s Quietest Town.” Greenbank, West Virginia – home of the Robert C. Byrd Greenbank Telescope, a massive, 485-foot structure weighing 17 million pounds that cranes its ear into the darkest corners of space and lures passionate and accomplished scientists from all over the world. It’s a big deal.

And to live in a town with such incredible, powerful, cutting-edge technology, one must sacrifice one’s own modern conveniences. Because even the tiniest emission from someone’s house can disrupt months of research. Spark plugs have caused problems for the telescope. Electronic doorbells. Even faulty electric blankets. They all create “noise” that can interfere with interstellar communications. And so, of course, bigger items, like microwave ovens, cell phones, and wifi are strictly prohibited. Employees of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory ride around Green Bank, patrolling the town’s 143 citizens for illegal emissions. These technological restrictions have rendered the town of Green Bank forever old-fashioned, if you will. Forever lacking all the bells and whistles of our web-connected, web-constructed reality. Oh, those lucky souls.

From there the article trails into a rant about cell phone dependency. It makes me think of the video going around Facebook of the guy who misses the whale that swims right next to him because he’s on his phone. “Pathetic!” we all scream at him. The irony that I was reading the article on my phone while eating alone at the Grill was not lost on me.

All trends reach an apex and fold in on themselves. A few years ago, a new form of snobbery was in full swing – owning a smart phone. I mean, what kind of loser doesn’t have one? GAH. Now that force has reversed itself and I find myself feeling judged if I pull out my phone anywhere, even just to check the time. I kinda hope the folding in continues, because yes, we have become a rude and detached society. And as the Green Bank resident explains in this video, the lack of technology has allowed people to “discover who you are” in a way that is different from the modern world and its huge, global context.

burgIMG_8569So when Brandy arrived, I chucked my phone into my purse (plus, it was almost dead anyway, haha), knowing I was already with the people I wanted to be connected to. And we walked into the crowd.

burgIMG_8547May I say, Our Community Place has really got their act together. Having officially opened in their current location (E. Johnson Street) in 2008, the idea for OCP was born across the street in The Little Grill. Ron Copeland, who bought the Grill in 1992, wanted to prepare a free meal for “anyone in the world,” where people of all walks of life could sit and dine together once a week. That’s how Soup Kitchen Mondays began at the Grill. In 2008, the meal moved over to the finally-renovated (I mean, years and years of fundraising and renovations!) Our Community Place, where they’re now able to serve five meals per week. According to their web site, Our Community Place is “a Christian organization that seeks to accommodate, foster and provide activities and programs related to personal growth and community well being; be a resource in the community for individuals seeking information or services already provided by other organizations; educate and empower individuals toward self-sufficiency, thus creating social capital for the community at large; and nurture a community that appreciates diversity and sees differences and conflict as opportunities for spiritual growth.” And anyone in the world, anyone and everyone, is welcome. People can get a meal there, do laundry, get Internet access, worship, shower, and enjoy each other’s company with games and sports. There’s also arts and crafts, a theater group, classes like drumming, pottery, and Tai Chi, and movie nights. Finally, they host and sponsor lots of events, such as the Lawn Jam and the Shenandoah Bicycle Fest earlier this month, an annual plant sale, Walk for OCP in October, and the OCP Christmas Concert.

burgIMG_8548 burgIMG_8549The purpose of this year’s Lawn Jam was to raise money for their kitchen renovation and new food-based business enterprise. They need to raise $36,700 to complete their projects. To that end, they sold raffle tickets for fifty cents each; prizes included gift certificates from Clementine, Bed Bath & Beyond, Greenberrys, Chanello’s, Court Square Theater, Fox’s Pizza, and Capital Ale House. They also had an AWESOME silent auction with a zillion really great items:
~ a half hour airplane ride with pilot Scott French
~ a beautiful framed mirror
~ assorted rings from Hugo Kohl
~ a one-hour massage from Kathryn Cheeks
~ two tickets to the American Shakespeare Center
~ Old Crow Medicine Show merchandise
~ bicycle panniers
~ a Natural Hair Care Basket
~ a compost roller
~ a day of skilled carpentry
~ a Natural Garden tote bag
~ two watercolor paintings by Shelley Pope
~ a kids’ cycling jersey from SBC
~ New Creation Body Products gift bag
~ JMU football tickets and prize pack
~ Walkabout Outfitters water bottle and t-shirt
~ Lunch with Mayor Jones
~ and a gift certificate from TJ’s Dermographics!

burgIMG_8561 burgIMG_8564On the lawn, people enjoyed two free meals, volleyball, face painting, tie-dyeing, corn hole, basketball, a swing set, each other, and live music all day by Tom Weaver, Eric Olson-Getty, Jeff Gorman, Jake Cochran, Kat and the Travelers, Dr.How and the Reasons to Live, Nic Melas, and members of the Walking Roots Band. You could also put money in a jar to vote either for Mark Doll to wear a Hillary 2016 shirt or for Ron to shave off his beard (!). Not sure if you’ve seen his photo on FB yet, but Ron lost. Big time. Hopefully, though, this year’s Lawn Jam was a big win for him and Our Community Place.

burgIMG_8513 burgIMG_8522 burgIMG_8524 burgIMG_8530 burgIMG_8534 burgIMG_8538 burgIMG_8540burgIMG_8551 burgIMG_8553 burgIMG_8555 burgIMG_8559burgIMG_8566 burgIMG_8572 burgIMG_8579 burgIMG_8582 burgIMG_8587 burgIMG_8590 burgIMG_8593 burgIMG_8596 burgIMG_8598 burgIMG_8607It was truly a beautiful day of beautiful people being simply connected by their common humanity and not disrupting a giant telescope. If you’re interested in volunteering or donating to the Kitchen Renovation, visit their web site, call Ron at 540-236-4314, or email him at ron@ourcommunityplace.org.

burgIMG_8584Copyright © 2012-15 · All Rights Reserved · ilovemyburg.com. Written content by Katie Mitchell. Photos by Brandy Somers. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

harrisonburg outing no. 2: the little grill

On the way to the Little Grill Collective (a Harrisonburg original and LEGEND) with Brandy and my kids, a discussion occurred about superheroes. I’m sure Cal started it because he’s absolutely obsessed with taking over the universe. The super power he would most want to have is to shoot “fire lasers” out of his eyes. Bree wants the power of invisibility; Brandy’s son, Blake wishes he could see a thought bubble over people’s heads so he can literally read their minds. How cool would THAT be? And would the bubbles make that sound like on VH1’s Pop-Up Video? Even better. Brandy touts time travel as her superpower of choice (and to be honest, that’s not a bad idea for me, either). I’ve already named her Brandybot because of her ability to take awesome photos of herself using her Gumby/Elastigirl/bionic arm.

Anyway, to the Grill we went, camera and notebook in tow. MexiNite. Oh, baby. Two-dollar Dos Equis and all-you-can-eat authentic Mexican food, prepared with authentically fresh ingredients, by deliciously authentic people.

We were a bit early–Mexi nite doesn’t actually start til 5pm. We were greeted by two employees prepping the food we’d be privileged to soon devour; one other occupied table; and Dr. Dog on the stereo. You know, it’s good it was not crowded when we arrived. Brandy was able to move around and photograph things without awkwardly dangling her strap in someone’s face, and Cal was full of himself and a bit annoying. I mean “enthusiastic.” No matter; by our second beer, the place was slammed.

Our waitress was Camille, and I had what I thought was a senior moment/deja vu because I could have sworn she worked somewhere else and NOT at the Grill. I checked my surroundings: bike, Gonzo, Yoda, Trivial Pursuit cards… yes, this is the Grill.

Turns out she also works at Jack Brown’s and USED to work at Clementine. Of course! She’s served me many a beer there. Funny how you only recognize people in their “original environments.” Anyhoo, in talking with Camille, we learned that not only is she working two jobs, but she’s also involved in a documentary about the Maasai culture and the change it’s undergoing. You can find information about it here. If you like what you see, you can attend the fundraiser Camille’s organizing to raise money for farming initiatives in Kenya, being held at the Blue Nile in March. Talk about super powers—someone give this woman a cape.

It was nice chatting with Camille, and her service was great. The food, as always, was excellent. My favorite is the potato roll-up. But honestly, any food that delivers sour cream to my mouth is a favorite.

I could go on and on about why I love the Little Grill so much. I’ve been going there since I moved here in 1993 and it’s one of my favorite places in the entire world. Just being in there makes me grateful to have something so unique and humbly special in my town. So here are just a few reasons why we love the Grill.

1. Sunday brunch. ‘Nuff said. There are no words; just go and try it. It’s religious.

2. The people who work there are just cool. As Brandy put it, “this place is full of slashers.” Take Camille. She works at the Grill/Jack Browns/Kenya. Ashley Hunter, who was also there tonight: LGC employee/fantastic singer. Chris Howdyshell, whose face was notably absent the day we were there: LGC employee/musician/Open Mic host/happy guy. And the list goes on. And they’re all worker/owners, too, which is why the food and the service is always perfect.

3. They are socially conscious. From the food quality to the shirts they sell, the Grill cares about the planet, the local economy, and you. They buy as much locally-produced food as they possibly can, and organic/cruelty free to boot. They make everything from scratch so you know what you’re eating is wholesome and nutritious. They buy fair trade items so you know your purchase is not exploiting someone somewhere. Many of the shirts they sell are actually re-purposed—they buy shirts at thrift stores, then screen print the LGC design on them.

They operate a soup kitchen and hold lots of community events at Our Community Place, which opened a few years ago (BTW, I tried to link to their website, but it doesn’t appear to be working). They’ve just been a peace-loving, forward-thinking part of our community for a very long time and I can’t say enough about them. Go there. You’ll feel it when you walk in.

4. They promote the goings-on in Harrisonburg. Whether it’s an art show, a local band, a benefit, a museum exhibit, a film festival… you can find it all on their giant bulletin board. They are truly community-minded, and most of the folks who work there are also heavily involved in these community events themselves.

5. There’s so much to do in that teeny, tiny place. While we were there, we (obviously) ate a great meal and had lots of laughs, but I also played Crazy Eights with my kids (Cal kicked our butts pretty soundly).

Brandy and I looked through the Muppets lunchbox stuffed with random notes people have left over the years. Bree and Cal played with the big bucket of Potato Heads. You can also enjoy trivia, look through old photo albums, and write in the “Book of Alternative Commandments,” or whatever it’s called—it was missing tonight when we were there. Has anyone seen it??

And…
6.The Elvis picture. It speaks for itself. I won’t even try.

Obviously, you HAVE to go to the Little Grill as soon as humanly possible. It’s on North Main St., north of Chanello’s where Main and Liberty meet, and just past the (garish) NAPA Auto-Parts store. Park on the street. Sunday brunch starts at nine, but you better get there at 8:30 if you want to make the first seating.  Don’t worry; you’ll have great conversations with other Harrisonburgonians while you wait. Just wear your sidewalk shoes. I promise you’ll feel good when you come out of there.