Local family business uses celebration to lend a helping hand for the community
March 17, 2017 By Daniel Brammer
The inspiration for On Sunny Slope Farm came roughly five years ago, when the owner’s daughter wanted to have her dream wedding on their farm in Rockingham County. The land has been in the family since 1828, and it now operates as a scenic location for various events. “I enjoy what I do, and planning events is where I get my energy,” says Harry Jarrett, owner of On Sunny Slope Farm, “I can always see through the planning stages knowing how wonderful the celebrations will be.”
Considering its award-winning status as a licensed wedding and special events venue, Jarrett has taken great strides to ensure this family farm could provide more than just holy matrimony to the surrounding community. They have had enormous impact on many non-profit organizations in the area by hosting fundraisers, festivals, and other special events. “I’m a pastor, so funding non-profit organizations, benefitting the community, and doing good for simply good sake is one of my core values,” says Jarrett, who is also currently an interim pastor at Elk Run Church of the Brethren.
Realizing the amount of potential and amenities his farm had to offer, Jarrett was more than reluctant to begin reaching out to help. “I’ve always been involved in altruistic, non-profit things, so it was a natural part of what I wanted to do here,” he explains. His venue hosts 12 events annually for local non-profit organizations, including JMU SafeRides, New Creation, Bridgewater Historical Society, and more. All proceeds go towards the respective organization with no profit returning to On Sunny Slope Farm.
One of the biggest festivals they host is the annual Food Truck Festival coming this April. Every penny raised during the event helps to fund Open Doors, a homeless shelter operating in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County. This fundraiser alone raises half of Open Doors’ annual budget at over $30,000 each year. Without the supporting efforts from volunteers, along with generous donations, Open Doors would cease to even exist. It is organizations in need that inspire Jarrett to roll up his sleeves and help make a difference.
“This event has allowed us to think less about getting the bills paid, and more about how we can grow and better serve our guests and their needs,” says Rachel Howdyshell. As Executive Director, Howdyshell witnesses first-hand how much impact the Food Truck Festival has on the organization and its efforts. Funding from the community is what makes Open Doors possible, so the people at On Sunny Slope Farm take every step necessary to provide the best experience they can offer. Jarret says, “I find great joy in helping others, especially in their time of need. My farm would almost be going to waste if I didn’t use it to support organizations like Open Doors.”
Open Doors began its efforts roughly ten years ago, in hopes of providing shelter and support for homeless individuals in Harrisonburg and Rockingham. Because of their non-profit status, they rely on the generous help offered by countless volunteers within the area. “I fell in love with the organization and became passionate about the work because I believe everyone deserves food and shelter,” says Howdyshell, who started as a volunteer in 2009.
Not only do they rely on volunteering individuals, but Open Doors reaches out to local churches and faith communities to be the hosting shelter for scheduled weeks. The two organizations team up to provide the necessary amenities, such as meals, bedding, toiletries, and volunteers, to serve the homeless individuals. Open Doors receives support from over 30 faith communities that offer shelters throughout Rockingham County.
Just last year, the shelter helped house 171 unique individuals, with an average of 29 guests every evening. To help manage and support these people, Open Doors had the help of over 1,300 shelter volunteers and over 55 different volunteer groups.
To help organize, Howdyshell relies on each shelter’s staff to have everything in place and ready for the arrival of those planning to use the shelter. Phil Kniss, pastor at Park View Methodist Church, tells us, “We often volunteer to host at least one or two weeks each year, and provide all the meals and volunteers necessary.” He also detailed that they provide overnight presence from staff, personally prepare the meals, and even transport linens for laundry. Along with providing shelter, Kniss says they include support of Open Doors in their annual budget as well.
When asked about Food Truck Festival, Howdyshell explained, “The event’s success draws from its ability to bring the community together to celebrate food, music and warm weather. Not only that, but also knowing the money is supporting such a great cause.” At last year’s festival, they had over 2,000 people attend, with 14 food trucks, three local bands, and 24 vendors. With all the moving pieces involved, both Howdyshell and Jarrett say their organizations begin planning for this event roughly nine months in advance each year.
Along with the thanks given to the volunteers and donors that support Open Doors, Howdyshell was also more than grateful for the support from On Sunny Slope Farm. “On Sunny Slope Farm was generous enough to donate their venue to us. Harry and his employees are great to work with and work hard to pull off a successful event year after year,” says Howdyshell. She sincerely appreciates their ability to treat Open Doors like family and help with the fight against homelessness.
Especially after seeing success in recent years, Jarrett is more than ready to see what the Food Truck Festival will bring this year. As he and his family prepare for this event, they are making every necessary adjustment to top previous years. Although there are still weddings to plan for the spring, Jarrett assures they will never fall short of providing Open Doors the festival they deserve.
At the end of the day, those at On Sunny Slope Farm want nothing less than to bring people together to celebrate and enjoy life. “This is more of a family-friendly, local farm that is big in its surroundings, but intimate in the sense of how we go about doing business,” says Jarrett. Whether its running their own business, or offering services to others, everyone is welcome in the Jarrett family when coming to the farm.