Earthworms’ Castings

By Jean Ponzi

EarthWays Green Living Festival

Sustainable – Useful – Funfor TWENTY YEARS!

We celebrate Earth Day every April 22. On a chilly fall day in 2001, an Energy Fest in mid-town St. Louis anchored the other side of the year. One Green event in spring, one in fall. For a while, that was it!

This June 2-4, for one more cycle mostly on Zoom, the Green Living Festival carries this banner for a 20th year, presented by Ameren Missouri and hosted by the EarthWays Center of Missouri Botanical Garden.

 I’ve been involved with all twenty, helping to plan, barking announcements on the day. Up early, staying late. Indoors, outside – happily working the crowd to grow awareness of our species’ place on a planet that sustains us all. Recycling and changing lightbulbs and celebrating plants.

The Healthy Planet has been involved too! Fun to recall some highlights and this festival’s years of evolving service here.

Energy Festival, Early 2000s
Our enviro-education group, then known as Gateway Center for Resource Efficiency, held a mini street fest. Spilling into the street outside the EarthWays Home, our headquarters then. We filled a canoe with beverages to sell on ice but had to scramble for coffee for what turned out to be a fleece jacket weather. A few hundred people came. Basic Energy Efficiency was our focus that day.

Soon after, Missouri Coalition for the Environment put on an Energy Fest in mid-MO. Could we partner with MCE for a broader event in St. Louis? Yes! Out to our city street, Grandel Square, came wind turbines, solar panels and much more. Energy continued to lead the way.

For years when a street-closing permit was not an option, we filled the two-story EarthWays Home and its urban garden with as many exhibitors as we could squeeze. It got mighty cozy one of those years when downpours hustled everyone inside, guest exhibitors and attendees. Damp and curious, we had lively learning exchanges!

Green Homes Festival, 2007-08
The global green building movement from US Green Building Council scaled from commercial buildings to homes in 2007. EarthWays Center (our new name) geared up to demonstrate, educate, promote and whoop about sustainable products and practice in our homes. Augmenting two-day festivals (rain or shine), we hosted House Tours of locally Green-certified homes.

We also sold light bulbs – by the hundreds. Our Change-A-Light Bulb Sales sent cases of compact fluorescent bulbs (that pre-LED efficient lighting option) out into attendees’ homes, for ninety-nine cents per bulb, a big discount underwritten by event sponsor Ameren Missouri.

EarthWays Green Homes Festival, 2009-10
Teaming up with a neighborhood arts event, Dancin’ In The Streets, we recouped our capacity to close our block and filled it with tents for over 90 exhibitors and an Electric Vehicle Show. Workshops in Cardinal Ritter High School, at the western end of our street, covered “28 topics ranging from beekeeping to composting, green party planning to electric cars, solar power to backyard chickens, rain barrels to native plant landscaping, and more!”

Shopping came to Festival in these years too. Made from Scratch – The Green Marketplace -featured one-of-a-kind fashions for adults and kids, jewelry, toys, home décor – plus organic produce and food goods, tapping into energies that have mushroomed into our local Makers and Farmers’ Market movements.

Whole Foods celebrated a birthday with a 100-person Flash Mob that “popped up” into Festival. After, truth be told, secret rehearsals.

These years were wild! Our Director, Glenda Abney, and Energy Manager Korey Hart pulled all-nighters supervising the tent rental company we could only let on-site at midnight when our street officially closed. By 6 a.m. Grandel Square was bustling with exhibitor check-in, drop-off, and unload, till crowds brought our bazaar to life at 9.

Painted Buses: Green Education on Wheels
Over several years, EarthWays Center partnered with Metro Arts In Transit and various sponsors to transform Metro buses, painted-by-number by Festival crowds. Buses were transformed with vibrant designs by artists Cababi Bayoc, Sarah Linquist, Genevieve Essen, Eric Stevens, and William Burton and Robert Ketchens of Screwed Arts Collective. Each EarthWays Center bus rolled the streets for a year or more, inspiring Green living withall the colors of Earth.

Green Homes – Great Health, 2011-13
Time to let go of the EarthWays Home. Our team moved to the Garden with Festival in tow. New partnerships in new spaces.

GH2 merged our sustainability focused fest with content from BJC and Siteman Cancer Center that had been a one-day event at the Garden called Healthy You – Healthy Planet. GH2 was an opportunity to connect our enviro focus to real human health concerns and a whole new set of exhibits and displays, like Siteman’s 30-foot inflatable walk-through colon, showing cancerous and healthy tissue. Curving along a Garden path, the colon presented a special photo op to several brides.

The Green part of GH2 filled a giant tent and much of the rest of the Garden’s upper parking lot. We expanded in these years to include novel content like the Rockwoods Summit High School Biofuels Project, with students demonstrating how they refined used French fry fat to run a diesel school bus. From Missouri Energy Center, a walk-through energy-saving display trailer inspired our team to create The Wall, our own 16-foot efficiency model, still in use and stored in a trailer of its own. These years were sunny, fun, and action-packed.

Happy Returns: Green Homes and Spring, 2014
Festival transplanted, September to June, and moved to the blooming walkways of the Kemper Center for Home Gardening. This round of Green Homes Festival connected plant-based green-living ideas and solutions to issues with energy, water, and waste, in glorious indoor-outdoor spaces. Green learning happened undeterred by a morning thunderstorm and afternoon tornado warning.

Green Homes at the Butterfly House, 2015
While “Lantern Festival: Magic Reimagined” illuminated Garden grounds, our EarthWays team, exhibitors and workshops headed west to festivize in and around the Butterfly House in Faust Park. Folks toured a Tiny House this year and folks got to ride Faust Park’s Carousel. From Kansas City, Eco Elvis swiveled in to croon and wail in emerald spandex splendor, on a 95-degree June day. Butterflies were everywhere!

Green Living Festival, 2016-19
Appreciating how millennials might not be fixed on “home” we rebranded our teenaged event and returned to its Garden home, on the beautiful Kemper Center grounds. Hundreds stretched into their festive day with outdoor Yoga! Limits to this physical space prompted focus and content pruning, as we acknowledged proliferation of enviro-events year-round, in our towns, schools, colleges, and workplaces. We have helped to grow a Green Living movement!

Virtual Pivot, Resiliently Green, 2020-21

Our entire human species sequestered, and the EarthWays team mastered Zoom. Resourcefully ready in early June, Green Living Festival moved online, over three days, without missing a sustainable beat. Last year’s exhibitor interviews are expanding in 2021 to host you in a Virtual Exhibit Hall, Friday June 4. Once again, you can bring your project ideas and talk them through with our region’s sustainability experts: about Solar Power and RainScaping, Energy Efficiency for Healthy Homes and Known & Grown, our regional local food brand.

Live panel presentations, family and kids activities, DIY fun, workshops you can “attend” on demand – all are part of an event now celebrating service over twenty years.

From 1970 “teach-in” roots, Earth Day is now the largest non-sectarian holiday on Earth, observed in communities worldwide. Many other enviro-events have sprouted up, everywhere, year-round. There are plenty in St. Louis: in malls, workplaces, schools, on campuses, at houses of worship, in parks – and online. Thanks to artists, product and service innovators, activists, kids, and enviro-elders – like me.

Celebrating Earth ways, Green Living Festival is proud to renewably power this movement, engaging humans in good, Green stuff.

Jean Ponzi is Green Resources Manager for the EarthWays Center at Missouri Botanical Garden. Her volunteer community service is Earthworms, a conversation podcast, from KDHX St. Louis Independent Media.