By Mackenzie Carmen
exeter – If you’re lucky enough to move onto South Orange Avenue in Exeter, you might be joining one of the most inviting communities in all Tulare County. One Wednesday of every summer month, Carolyn Supinger and her neighbors come together to organize a community-based potluck. Three foldable tables hold the award-winning food that brings so many neighbors, friends and family together.
As neighbor Bill Bibbler said, “If it wasn’t for Carolyn this wouldn’t have happened.” Supinger and her husband Richard have been active members in Exeter’s community all their lives. In fact, their son is the third generation to have graduated from Exeter Union High School. Now, they’re giving back to the neighborhood they’ve called home for over 50 years.
“It all really started with heirloom tomatoes,” said Supinger. Her husband was sure no one had ever tasted this unique variety of tomato before, so they invited all of their neighbors over to try it. At their first potluck 16 people came and they had heirloom tomato salad, cake, and ice tea. These days, the potluck has grown into something much larger. At times, they’ve had upwards of 40 guests and nearly as many dishes to serve. As Supinger says, “The more the merrier.”
Supinger said the potluck also gives the neighborhood a chance to meet new neighbors. Chris Castaneda was one of those new neighbors only a couple years ago, but immediately felt included by the community. Supinger also extended the invitation to Castaneda’s mother, Rose, who has also been attending the summer time gatherings for nearly two years. Castaneda says these get-togethers have provided a chance for all the neighbors to get to, know each other and rely on each other.
It’s not just the sense of community that brings this neighborhood together, but also the mouth-watering food. The Castaneda and Bibbler families each have their own impressive gardens where they grow many of the fresh vegetables that are served. The Bibbler’s family garden is very unique as it sits in what use to be the family’s swimming pool. It just sort of happened, said Bill Bibbler in regards to his remodeled “pool garden.” As the garden continued to expand, the Bibblers decided to fill in their pool and convert it into a lush garden that now hosts over four dozen tomato plants, two varieties of corn, squash and cucumbers. Their garden produces such an abundance of tomatoes that they now give away a large portion of the sweet fruit to others at the potlucks. Supinger then donates the remaining tomatoes to a local hospice.
It’s not just tomatoes that are being served up at this plentiful potluck. One dish that you can always count on being served are Supinger’s artichokes, which took first place at the State Fair. She has also made many other dishes that have won dozens of ribbons at the Tulare County fair each year. Supinger said, “When you live in the number one agricultural county in the United States, you have to take advantage of the bounty.”
Carolyn says the potluck is really all about getting to know your neighbors and keeping in touch with them. As Visalia resident Sheryl Jackson said, “I don’t even know some of my own neighbors, but I know Carolyn’s.”