PRATIE PLACE

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Blueberries, Hot Sauce, Yoga, and deep-fat-fried Twinkies

Yesterday morning, blearily resenting the radio's prediction of 102 degrees, I left the house at 6:30, heading for a local blueberry patch.



See how the evil orange sun was coming up behind the field as I left my neighborhood.



Until not too long ago, this blueberry patch was owned by John Troy, "The Wizard," inventor of popular hot sauces and creator of The Wizard's Cauldron.

The cauldron itself, a stainless steel state-of-the art beauty which could chug out multi-gallons of hot sauce in the wink of an eye, sat in a small factory facing Route 86 ten miles north of Hillsborough. Behind the factory, up a dirt road, were many rows of beautiful and robust blueberry bushes: a pick-your-own establishment.



Years before, however, when I first met John Troy, his "Wizard's Hot Stuff" was made deep in the woods up a road so rutted Bob Vasile and I weren't sure we could get our car to scrape its way through.

Troy lived at what the papers call (when talking about his origins) a "hippy commune" and he and his friends made the hot sauce by hand.

What were Bob and I doing, braving this rutted road and bumping our way back into the woods to park the car in a muddy clearing, haul out the guitar, bouzouki, and fiddle, and follow a path which wound through the woods and required us to cross a big stream on a bridge made of a very long log?

We, an Irish duo called the "Pratie Heads," had been hired to play for the Wizard's Celtic Halloween celebration, Samhain. (For more info on Samhain see Rowan Moonstone.)

So we played celtic music for these perhaps druidic or wiccan celebrations. I found them very exotic. For one thing, the people that came to celebrate did not come in cars. They just materialized, magically, out of the woods, from several different directions, with grubby naked children in tow. I don't know if they HAD cars. I suspect perhaps they had teepees. I'm not sure the kids went to school.

(I actually heard one of these kids whine: "Mommmm, the tempeh is all gone!")

For another thing, it was very dark back there in the woods except for the fires. The Wizard knew how to build a phenomenal bonfire.
Fire is a central element in all the Druidic celebrations. All hearthfires were put out and new fires lit from the great bonfires. In Scotland, men lit torches in the bonfires and circled their homes and lands with them to obtain protection for the coming year (more).
Years passed, the Pratie Heads broke up. It was maybe 1990 when the Wizard called again. At that time, I was playing with Stephen Smith, a pianist. (Stephen looked very square and had a day job at Qualex - but he had once played in a band that wore green satin Nehru jackets - and now, he plays in an Elvis Impersonator band! - so he can't be THAT square!) The Wizard asked that we play for Samhain.

This time, we were directed to the brand new factory on Route 86, and then up the little dirt road, way back behind the blueberry bushes.

The Wizard and his friends had grown up. Troy had begun marketing his hot sauce and salad dressing through Whole Foods and various multinational corporations.

He and his friends were all wearing clothes, in fact they were all wearing nice clothes. They were drinking cocktails (or something) and talking about their investments (or something). We played Celtic music. There was, once again, a phenomenal bonfire in the darkness. The flames and sparks licked up far higher than the trees. Yuppies and Big Magic.

Stephen and I were paid partly in money and partly in big boxes of salad dressing. Never before had I played for salad dressing, nor, it turns out, have I ever done so since that night.

Anyway, a year or two ago the Wizard moved his operation out of Orange County -- he had wanted to expand the factory, but the development rules were too strict, so he moved to Yanceyville, leaving the old building empty.



Enter Bo & Sita Lozoff. Bo is a master of unusual schemes involving meditation, prisoners, and music.

Bo once applied for a position as a prison guard at the federal prison in Butner. He didn't get the job, but sold the assistant warden on the idea of yoga-meditation classes in prisons. By 1973, Bo had launched the Prison-Ashram Project and since then his very successful fundraising has been done under the auspices of the Human Kindness Foundation.

When Bo heard the Wizard's Cauldron building was empty, he persuaded the Wizard to basically donate the building - and the blueberry bushes - to the Human Kindness Foundation. Bo paid off the remaining banknote with a small legacy of $50,000 left to him by TV's Fred Rogers, who had much admired his work.

Next: to figure out what to make in the factory. Several things were considered, including gourmet peanut butter.

In the end, "Carolina BioDiesel Inc." was born, at least on paper. Bo planned a refinery which would employ 17 parolees and produce 1 to 3 million gallons of biodiesel fuel a year. (At the time, managers of the N.C. State Fair said they would pay him to pick up gallons of yellow grease left over from the annual frying of thousands of funnel cakes, candy bars and Twinkies, but I don't think even the NC State Fair fries a million gallons' worth of twinkies per year, so there must have been more to the plan, but I don't know what it was.)

As of last year, Lozoff was fundraising; he figured $1 million would get the refinery off the ground. Where would/will the money come from? Well, blueberries for one, I guess.



But mainly, as quoted in many news articles, the plan was to raise the money via his CD, Bo Lozoff & Friends: Whatever it Takes.
"All we have to do is sell 100,000 albums," Lozoff says in the matter-of-fact voice of a madman whose schemes have always, inexplicably, succeeded. "Then we'd have $1 million." More.
All I can say is, carolinabiodiesel.org is currently offline and, while there is a guy living in a trailer near the blueberries, the factory is still empty.





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13 Comments:

At 7:18 AM, Blogger melina said...

That's a fantastic story!

 
At 1:18 PM, Blogger Natala said...

oh i loved reading this... and what amazing photo's.
i also play violin, and i am just getting into playing celtic music, i find it so rich and deep...

 
At 3:30 PM, Blogger Chicken Little said...

Lovely photos, interesting story...most impressed with blueberries at $1 a pound!

 
At 9:46 PM, Anonymous corey said...

as i told you at the last meetup, i went there last weekend. hoping to go this weekend. awesome blueberries. definitely fun. I heard about it from WillR and decided to check it out. I called the human kindness foundation and promptly drove out there. I think I might go back to get enough blueberries to make blueberry port or a melomel.

 
At 6:50 PM, Anonymous colleen said...

I enjoyed the update on Bo Lozoff's work. Love the girls in sarongs with chickens as well.

 
At 11:14 PM, Blogger Erin said...

Pratie that really is a great story, from one struggle to another. Enjoyed this very much!

 
At 9:24 AM, Anonymous Jennifer said...

A wonderful read. Thanks for sharing; not only did I love every minute of the story, but I may have found somewhere to go this weekend.

 
At 2:33 PM, Blogger Laurie said...

What a great story! The evolution of a space...and it made me miss my blueberry pickin' days. Yes, $1 a pound is a great price!

 
At 12:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I loved reading this too. I was attracted by the blueberries and yoga, but was surprised to find that you live in NC (i once lived there, my dad still does) and that you know Bo and Sita Lozoff. I was in touch with them for a while and when I was teaching GED in KY (did move on) I used the books of letters written by the prison project authors with my students. WOW!

 
At 12:40 PM, Anonymous Yoga Enthusiast said...

I have found your post by the keyword "yoga", but I got so much more than I expected... I found a great read, which is quite rare these days... Thank you very much...

 
At 8:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's an update on Bo Lozoff and his "unconventional sexuality" with prisoners: see http://www.indyweek.com/gyrobase/Content?oid=oid%3A263212

 
At 12:08 PM, Blogger Edmund said...

What a web you weave? Takes me back, this is the old Aloe community farm? Or where they neighbors?

 
At 12:22 PM, Blogger melinama said...

Hi everybody, I didn't know these comments were here! Thanks for stopping by and saying hello. I don't know about Aloe Farm - sorry -

 

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