Earth Day is most definitely near and dear to Santa Barbara.
“We call ourselves the birthplace of Earth Day,” says Dave Davis, CEO and executive director of the Community Environmental Council. The CEC was part of the inaugural Earth Day—held one year after the devastating 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill—to remind us of the environment’s fragility and to teach us how to better protect Mother Earth.
Santa Barbara’s Earth Day Festival has grown tremendously since the early days at the county courthouse. It’s now a two-day event at Alameda Park, with 39,000 people attending last year.
You can discover eco-goods sold by 250 exhibitors, learn from the lectures, let your imagination run wild in the Kid’s Corner, challenge your body in the Sports and Recreation Zone, visit the beer and wine garden, sample local organic foods and dance to live music.
A bike valet and free tune-ups are available for the thousands who pedal to the festival, and the green car show featuring electric and hybrid vehicles is one of the largest in the country.
The purpose of the festival is to educate the public about what’s needed to make this a more healthful, livable place.
“We’ve done everything from green building to outdoor recreation, harvest-to-home, the whole nine yards relative to environmental issues,” Davis says.
One year, festival organizers built an actual “green home” in the park from scratch over the course of a few days.
“It was pretty amazing! [We] had lectures in there. It was like an E-ticket ride; the line to get in there was out the door,” recalls Davis. “We picked that house up and we donated it to a fire victim up in the foothills.”
Each year, organizers hand out the Environmental Hero Award to a prominent citizen or celebrity deserving of recognition.
Last year, the festival awarded two people: green jobs activist Van Jones and TV’s Bill Nye, the Science Guy.
“There were more people to see Bill Nye the Science Guy wanting to basically touch him, just like a celebrity red carpet line. It was unbelievable,” Davis says. “That guy is a rock star!”
Nye visited the festival’s green car show and was fascinated by the earth-friendly sports car built by San Marcos High School students.
“He spent 45 minutes talking with them about the technical aspects of their electrified Porsche and was just totally immersed. And the kids were just eating it up,” Davis says.
How will they top that for 2014? We’ll have to wait and see.
Earth Day Festival is April 26 and 27; Sat. 11 a.m.–7 p.m. and Sun. 11 a.m.–6 p.m. Alameda Park at Anacapa and Garden streets. Admission is free (sbearthday.org).
—Wendy Thies Sell
Originally published in the Spring 2014 issue of Santa Barbara SEASONS Magazine.