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Marilynn Rutledge

Chanute Tribune Reporter

Local community members and out-of-towners alike joined Patsy Smeed, owner of Summit Hill Gardens at 2605 160th Road in Chanute, for the third annual Blackberry Festival on Saturday.

During the day, guests were invited to pick their own blackberries from the thornless bushes Smeed grows in her garden, or buy a pre-made cobbler or pie while enjoying the rest of the festivities. 

“We had food, we had music, we had blackberries, we brought in some animals just for some kind of interest. I really kind of see this as an opportunity for the kids to pick berries, they’re thornless so that’s nice, and I see this as an opportunity for them to see everything,” Smeed said.

Smeed hired two bands for live music during the festival, the first an Americana band called Simone du Garfunk from Hutchinson, followed by Smeed’s son’s group, the Sky Smeed Band. 

“I was really excited that we had the Simone Du Garfunk from Hutchinson and actually their car broke down while they were trying to get here, but that was nice to have them here because they were brand new,” said Smeed. “I just loved the fact that Sky comes to play, that’s always a highlight for me.”

The two groups performed on a makeshift stage created from a truck that belonged to Smeed’s uncle, parked at the top of Summit Hill. 

“That old truck was my uncle Stub’s from the filling station and that’s the best use we’ve had for it yet, to use it as a stage,” Smeed said.

Smeed likes to think of Summit Hill Gardens as a family business. The location of the soap shop is just behind the Smeed home and is run with the help of son Sky’s girlfriend, Heather Hardisty, who assists with gardening and photographing the products for the newly completed web site, which was created by Smeed’s daughter, Kanza Stich. Stich is also a seamstress for the linens and aprons sold in the shop, and son Sky is the musician of the family, playing during all events and selling albums within the soap shop.

“We always see ourselves as a family affair,” Smeed said. “I have this thing, it’s family, it’s local, it’s good. I really love to do that.

“I think that it’s really improved a lot in terms of what we have to offer. I really wanted our local people as much as possible. We talk about being local and having local people participate and that’s important to me, I hadn’t ever done that before,” Smeed explained. “I’m not striving for a huge festival, but just something that is enriching for the community and I think we’ve really added a lot this year.”

Additions for this year’s festival included inviting the Luther family and their alpacas, Grace Stacy’s Nubian goats, Safari Museum bringing items and gifts, and trying to create an overall a more enriching environment. 

The Blackberry Festival also had the traditional soap demonstration this year, taking guests through a tutorial on soap making and the process that goes into the selections seen in the soap shop.

“We did a soap demo of Farm Girl, that’s our newest soap. That went fine, it actually set up perfectly out there,” said Smeed.

Smeed also took guests on a tour of the Summit Hill School House that was renovated by Smeed and her husband almost 40 years ago. The school was the first in Neosho County and when Smeed purchased the land, the family wanted to keep as much of the history as possible. The old barn on the land has been converted into what is now the soap shop and the school house was fully renovated to create the Smeed family home. 

The weather for this year’s festival was not ideal, but Smeed was happy with the number of people facing the heat to attend her yearly event.

“It was just hot, I know, but I’m just really glad that everyone came, that was just super,” she said. 

The Blackberry Festival will continue on next year with Smeed adding more activities and vendors while hoping for less blistering weather. 

“Often when I’m doing this, I think of what kids would enjoy doing, what would I want my own kids doing, and of course I want them to have access to a little bit of enrichment,” said Smeed. “Everyone has just become really good friends, over the years I’ve just really made a lot of good friends and they seem to always come to any of the things that we have and they’re always really supportive.”

The Summit Hill Gardens soap shop is open from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. on Saturdays and by appointment any other day of the week. Summit Hill Gardens recently launched their new web site where there is more information on the Blackberry Festival, Summit Hill Gardens stories and history, soap selections, and online ordering.

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