USF hosts Earth Day festival

Alkaline-rich water, African bags and a natural gas-powered car were just a few of the attractions at the Earth Day Tampa Bay festival, which USF hosted for the first time Saturday.

Office of Sustainability Director Christian Wells said hosting the annual festival in the Botanical Gardens equally benefited the University and the Tampa community.

“Our theme this year is ‘Pride of Place,’ and we really feel that a lot of people in Tampa, being a big urban area, and USF, being a big urban university area with people coming from all over the place, tend to be a disconnection between people and outdoors,” he said. “So we really want to promote ‘Pride of Place,’ and (the Botanical Gardens was) the perfect venue for it.”

Wells said USF took part in the event for the first time last year, before becoming this year’s host.

“The Sierra Club of Tampa Bay has been hosting this event for 30 years or more,” he said. “It’s usually at Lowry Park Zoo. They’ve kind of outgrown that space, and they were looking to expand.”

Wells said the event consisted of about 70 exhibitors, each presenting their own unique approach to environmental issues and ways to raise awareness among students and community members.

The exhibitors included sponsors, nonprofit organizations such as the Sierra Club, city and county government agencies such as the Environmental Protection Commission of Hillsborough County, vendors or green businesses such as Amhara African Fair Trade and USF student organizations such as the Student Environmental Association (SEA).

USF SEA member Brooke McDonald, a sophomore majoring in biology, said the organization used the festival as an opportunity to educate students about the Green Energy Fund, a student-paid fee that would address efficiency and sustainability concerns that will be voted on by students this week during the Student Government Senate interim elections.

“Sometimes it’s like a negative stereotype when people hear environmental association,” she said. “I don’t know, I think it just freaks people out. But people need to be aware: it’s not just about saving trees; it’s about their future, too.”

Sierra Club Conservation Organizer Phil Compton said his organization is working to raise public awareness about mercury levels in fish, which they presented at the festival through fliers, poster boards and a booth.

Mercury can negatively affect brain development, he said, so children, women who plan to conceive in their lifetime and nursing mothers should be especially careful, because mercury absorbed into the body remains there and builds up with further ingestion.

“The big environmental issues today really affect college students more than anyone else,” he said. “You shouldn’t have to worry about some fish being safe and some fish not being safe, and it really affects young women who have babies.”

Compton said organizing the event with USF “was a good fit.”

“We finally came to realize, you know what, USF is doing some great things, the Sierra Club is doing some great things, why don’t we do some great things together?” he said.