Pie in Patagonia

The Patagonia Pie Auction offers a glimpse of community in action.

July 9, 2015

GleaningsGreenIssue 13: July/August 2015
Martha Kelly (left) and Janet Winans expect more than 100 people to show up for the Patagonia Pie Auction, which benefits the community garden.

Martha Kelly (left) and Janet Winans expect more than 100 people to show up for the Patagonia Pie Auction, which benefits the community garden.

When Woody and Janet Winans retired to Patagonia, it didn’t take long for Woody to become involved with the community garden. He had been part of the University of Arizona’s Cooperative Extension Master Gardener program, and became president of the board for the Patagonia Community Garden. When it came time to fundraise, the Winans recalled their experience of a pie auction up in Queen Creek, and thought it might be a hit in Patagonia’s tight-knit community. The first Patagonia Pie Auction event was held in 2004; since then, it has become “the event” of the year, according to the current board president, Martha Kelly.

“It’s more a ‘friendraiser’ than a fundraiser,” Janet Winans says. Kelly recalls how Woody Winans would describe it: “It’s not just a pie auction, it’s gathering the tables and chairs and bringing the community in.” While Janet Winans doesn’t consider herself a gardener, after her husband’s death in 2006, Winans says she had no choice but to step up and become honorary co-president of the Patagonia Community Garden in order to keep his spirit involved on the board. These days, Winans primarily takes care of things behind the scenes, which includes recruiting the piemakers and receiving donated pies on the day of the event. She says, laughing, “I’ll be up to my elbows in pies.”

Every year, the auction raises money for improvements around the garden, such as new irrigation or improvements to old structures. Tables and chairs for the event are borrowed from community members, further enhancing what Kelly describes as the “down home” feeling of the event. A portion of the money raised also goes to fund a college scholarship for a local graduating high school senior; Patagonia-based Borderlands Restoration matches the garden’s $250 scholarship gift, and the total amount is given to a student pursuing a degree in the field of agriculture. This year, Kelly notes, the recipient’s goals are a little different: graduating senior Verena Miller plans to attend the University of Arizona in the fall with the goal of becoming a scientist, because she wants to “help save the world.” As Kelly says, “How can you say no to that?”

Kelly says some people have been donating the same pies for years. Favorite pies have developed celebrity status; people wait for one particular chocolate pie to show up before they begin bidding. Other notables include a coconut cream pie brought in from Sonoita, and a five-pound mincemeat pie made by Tom Bartholomew of the Spirit Tree Inn B&B.

James Fish, who auctions off livestock with tongue-twisting speed at the county fair, serves as auctioneer, and the extra excitement (as well as community goodwill) pays off: pies have sold for as much as $160. With the average pie selling for between $40 and $60, Kelly estimates the auction brings in around $3,000 for the garden, but emphasizes that they just want to “make sure people have a good time.”

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