Though we are still being teased by a spring that has not quite broken the last of winter (at least not in the Chesapeake Bay region), we have entered the early days of the growing season and green festivals throughout the region. MKCREATIVE will be highlighting regional festivals through the spring, summer, and early fall of 2011, and we encourage our readers to contact us at [email protected] with information about such events in your area.
The season gets under way in Howard County – between Baltimore and Washington DC – with its free “Howard County Community College. Though the festival was launched by the county’s administration in 2007 as a hastily-developed local workshop to tie in with Earth Day, it has steadily grown under the care of co-chair Lindsay DeMarzo, Environmental Planner and Sustainability Projects Manager for the Howard County government, into a full-fledged festival in just four years. She took time away from the busy run-up to the festival to speak with us.,” this Saturday, April 2nd from 10:00am to 4:00pm on the campus of
Howard County officials wanted to improve the sustainability and life-quality of their constituents, and County Executive Office of Environmental Sustainability. Ms. DeMarzo was appointed to that office in 2008. The office runs a number of programs, and we asked her how the GreenFest fits into their rich calendar.set up the
Some of the events we manage include 2010 Trees in 2010, which was a tree give-away to residents – they were four or five foot tall trees to increase survival and to help increase our tree canopy and prevent storm-water runoff. Other projects include a 20-Minute Cleanup every spring. We encourage all our residents and people at work or in schools to get out for 20 minutes during the day to help clean up trash and to make our community more livable and green.
We do a great deal of outreach via schools and other groups – holding workshops and lectures. We work with school children on environmental initiatives. We also have a rain-barrel program, in which we give out free rain barrels to residents. It is coordinated with theand other County departments. In fact, GreenFest is coordinated between the Departments of Planning and Zoning, Public Works, and Recreation and Parks, as well as the Office of Environmental Sustainability so it really is a team effort.
GreenFest not only brings people in the community together, but also provides us an unbelievable opportunity for outreach, education, and idea sharing. GreenFest is the biggest outreach tool we have in the Office.
The original GreenFest proved surprisingly successful, given the rush to get something together to markfive years ago: “No one really even remembers who came up with the brilliant idea! It was a small event, and it didn’t have its own name or location. It was simply in the parking lot of our offices. There were about a dozen vendors, and we got about 1000 people, which was considered pretty good, given the last-minute effort and the minimal advertising.”
Ms. DeMarzo was hired soon later, precisely to develop the festival and to coordinate outreach and education across the greening agenda of the county government. Growth was almost immediate and exponential, as her office clearly had tapped into a demand for information about greening products and advice. How was that demand made evident once she was hired?
[In 2008] We had already gathered about 65 vendors and ran out of table space! We had quite a waiting list. It was our first big festival: we had demonstrations and children’s activities that day too. We had over 1500 people join us that year, when we focused on green buildings inside and out. We had lots of information about using green products in the home or office in terms of building materials, cleaning products, etc.
In preparing for GreenFest 2009 we had the enviable problem of having so many people, both attendants and vendors interested, that we were concerned how we were going to accommodate the event. Fortunately, Howard Community College (link) approached us because they had been a participant in the event and they said they would love to be a partner of the event. So we have worked with the college ever since. It was a great experience to have them on board with the festival. By 2010 we had 140 vendors and over 2,000 people attending the event and workshops, so we continued to grow.
In order to achieve that success, the office had to sharpen its focus on the metrics of their media outreach to see what was working. Online media, not surprisingly, proved a boon to the county government. But the trick, Ms. DeMarzo stresses, was to make the outreach not feel like a government project.
We wanted to create a website that is part of the county government’s site, but with its own clear name, not attached or embedded to a complicated government URL. We have really developed our presence on Facebook over the last year too, and we have a Twitter account. Our Live Green Howard County site uses Google Analytics and we can see from there how many hits we’ve gotten on pages that link to the GreenFest site. Also, we watch the number of fans, etc. on Facebook and retweets on Twitter.
Even with the growing success of the online outreach, GreenFest still gets great mileage from communication via ‘traditional media.’ Moreover, the office has grown ever more conscious of the need to measure the success rates of these various means of outreach. I asked her to outline some of the other means of communication she and her colleagues have developed.
We use posters, put up in schools, parks, and local businesses (see the GreenFest-2011 Student Poster Winner), and radio ads. Getting stories in newspapers has been important to us as well. People do not read newspapers so much in hardcopy of course, but we find that reading online still makes them valuable to us. We also take out traditional advertising in these publications.
This year we have the opportunity to advertise on the Howard County buses for the first time. We will take a survey of participants at GreenFest this year to see how they heard about the festival, so we know which media are most effective.
Ms. DeMarzo does not shy away from the challenges her office has faced and where she hopes to see success in the near future. She continues to reach out to the schools in the county, which are receptive to the festival, but which have pretty full curricula and time demands already. Another weak link is trying to turn the students’ activities around GreenFest into parents’ participation and attendance. Indeed, she mused more than once about the effort to turn passive interest into active engagement.
This year, the focus is limiting waste by educating the residents about recycling, composting, and even being aware of packaging and environmental impact before purchases.
We really want to encourage recycling, and composting, and reducing packaging to begin with. Looking at what we are purchasing and reducing waste from the very front. We are also having a ‘Dumpster Dive’ with the Howard County Community College students, so we will be sorting through our trash to find out how much is reusable, how much is compostable, and how much is actually trash. That will be an eye-opening experience!
But the GreenFest is not specifically for Howard County residents, as it is designed to engage all ages and interests, and it is meant as an opportunity to build networks of communities, businesses, and environmental/technology educators. Lindsay stressed the many ways an attendee can also be a participant – and how a participant can become a long-term change agent.
We get a lot of questions and interests from residents about solar-energy companies or people who do energy audits. The GreenFest is a great way for consumers to meet those companies and talk with them one-to-one in one place. It’s definitely a great way to bring the green community and residents together. It works as a community-building event and a networking opportunity among the businesses and between them and new customers.
We have great workshops, and activities for all age groups and interest-levels – activities for young children and information for adults. We have stuff that will get you dirty: tree-planting and searching for reptiles and amphibians to help with a state-wide study. If you want to stay inside, we have workshops, vendors, andlectures. We also have lots of freebies like reusable shopping bags. We are giving away free rain barrelss in three workshops (though they filled up in 3 days after announcing the workshops). We have lots of information from the Master Gardeners about container gardening and organic gardening and bee-keeping from the. We really offer a smattering of all sorts of topics from developing green technologies to reducing waste.
Mid-week weather in our area is not expected to be too pleasant, but by the weekend we should see sunny skies. Let that sun warm your greening spirits and head out to Howard County Community College to enjoy a great schedule of events to start the growing season. And be sure to stop at the booth of the Office of Environmental Sustainability to tell her how you heard about GreenFest!