Mardi Gras parade helps rebuild family chicken farm - DatelineCarolina

Mardi Gras parade helps rebuild family chicken farm

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By Ellen Meder
Edited by Sam Barker

The good times will roll in Rosewood Saturday, as an afternoon Mardi Gras parade winds through the neighborhood's streets and revelers party at City Roots Farm late into the night.

But Columbia's first Mardi Gras celebration, Krewe de Columbia, isn't just about crawdads, costumes and king cakes. It's about community.

All the money brought in by the festivities will go to rebuilding the barn at Wil-Moore Farms in Lugoff, which burned down in an electrical fire Feb. 8.

Keith and Robin Willoughby have owned and operated the 160-acre farm, known for eggs and chicken, since 2003.

Keith Wiloughby said the insurance company wouldn't cover the $15,000 of lost equipment and facilities, and the more than 900 chickens killed. Once word spread, it became clear the road to recovery would not be lonely.

Emile DeFelice of Caw Caw Creek Farms knew the couple and their four children from their work at the All Local Farmers Market and set up an online fund to help raise the money needed to rebuild the barn.

By the end of last month, $12,115 had already poured in, according to the All Local Farmers Market website.

"Its been tragic and painful, but a wonderful learning experience for our whole family," Keith Willoughby said. "It's been extremely humbling. We could've never imagined this. That people would care that much to put their time, energy and money into it, we've just been blessed.

"The community has rallied around this and brought us together, and in this economy there's not a lot of talk about coming together as a community to solve problems."

Tom Hall, a Columbia lawyer from Mississippi, and Eric McClam, the City Roots farm manager who got his architecture degree from Tulane University in New Orleans, were both missing the magic of Mardi Gras. They joined DeFelice to form the "Benevolent Order of the Grieving Chickens" to raise more money for the Willoughbys, but also give Columbia a party it wouldn't forget.

In New Orleans, social clubs called krewes put on elaborate parades and balls leading up to Mardi Gras, French for "Fat Tuesday," a day of celebration before the start of Lent. Hall, McClam and DeFelice formed Columbia's first krewe.

"We're always behind Charleston, and they've had a krewe for two years," Hall said. "But they've never held a proper parade. If you're a real krewe, ‘you roll.' That's what you call it. We are about to beat them to the punch, on top of helping good people."

McClam said the krewe will have quarterly parties to plan next year's events, which the group hopes will entice additional krewes and community participation. Founding membership costs $100.

Saturday's events will kick off at 3 p.m. with an all-ages two-mile walking parade starting at City Roots Farm, near Owens Field Park on Airport Boulevard, up to Rosewood Boulevard, and back. Hall said anyone can "roll," but crazy costumes are mandatory, while noisemakers and dancing shoes are recommended.

"Columbia's not really a dancing town, and we aim to change that one song at a time," Hall said.

Later, the krewe, along with guests who pay $50, will feast on all-local food that will include a gourmet City Roots salad, crawfish, low country boil with fresh Beaufort shrimp, a whole smoked hog, Caw Caw Creek sausages, gumbo, artisan breads, pies and ice cream.

And of course there will be king cake, a traditional Mardi Gras dessert woven into a ring, covered with icing and green, gold and purple sugar and stuffed with a small plastic baby Jesus figurine.

There will be live jazz, blues, bluegrass and Cajun music by local bands, along with wine and craft beer.

The entire event has come together in three weeks, with 160 guests.

"There's been a lot of great core support and momentum from so many amazing people," Hall said. "With this much help, it can't fail, and they'll have that farm back to normal in no time."

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