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Celebrating Earth Day at EcoFest

Earth Day, originally a national grassroots movement that first took place on April 22, 1970, focused on making the deterioration of the environment a more prevalent issue in American politics. The first Earth Day, more than 20 million Americans participated in environmental rallies and demonstrations around the country. These rallies helped create the U.S Environmental Protection Agency and aided legislation such as the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts.

The event is now a recognized holiday celebrated by millions of people around the world who share a desire for more eco-friendly communities.

This year, the Learning Gate Community School, the City of Tampa and USF’s Patel College of Global Sustainability will help Tampa Bay celebrate Earth Day by organizing EcoFest 2015. 

EcoFest is an annual community event featuring environmentally conscious businesses, organizations and individuals in the Tampa Bay area. The fest highlights the efforts of community members who focus on the principles of sustainability and promote practices that make a positive impact on the environment.

The sixth annual EcoFest will showcase over 100 vendors, including renewable energy specialists, organic farms and gardens, local artists, grassroots activists and large organizations and companies such as The Florida Aquarium and Tampa Electric. 

Tampa mayor Bob Buckhorn recently deemed the event “Earth Day Tampa Bay.” The U.S Green Building Council, a private
nonprofit organization centered on sustainability in building design, named EcoFest the No. 1 green community event in the nation.

Michele Northrup, Learning Gate Community School’s marketing and parent involvement facilitator, said the school has organized five previous EcoFests. However, USF’s involvement with the event began last year after both schools decided to combine their efforts for an Earth Day event.

“Learning Gate Community School has been doing EcoFest for six years, and USF had its Earth Day (event), and we found that we were really … helping each other out so much that I thought we should combine our efforts and make a really amazing event,” Northrup said. “We did that for the first time last year, and it was fantastic. So we decided to partner again this year to make EcoFest bigger and better than ever.”

The event will also feature live music and food trucks, green-living products and a panel of speakers will give lectures as a part of “EcoSpeak.” Of the six speakers, three are associated with USF.

Jason Jackman, a research associate with USF’s Center for Urban Transportation Research, will be talking about WalkWise Tampa Bay, a grassroots initiative focused on providing pedestrian safety education to Florida citizens.

Ericka Leigh McThenia, a graduate student working within the USF Patel College of Global Sustainability will speak about composting tricks for those interested in recycling food waste. 

Lastly, Aydin Sunol, a USF professor of chemical and biomedical engineering, will discuss the renewable biodiesel production process used to power USF’s transportation system, the BullRunner. 

Biofuel and sustainable fuel sources have seen an increase in popularity in recent years, with the USF St. Petersburg campus announcing in February that it would receive a new fast-charging station for electric cars.

These speakers highlight some of the many examples of improving sustainability that will be present at EcoFest 2015 — the kind of people and grassroots movements in the Tampa Bay area who deserve more recognition, Northrup said. 

“It’s important to … give kudos to those who make these choices every day,” Northrup said. “The other important thing is to show the people in our community that it might be easier than you think (to live sustainably). I think sometimes people get overwhelmed with the thought of sustainability or going green, and I think with the variety of speakers, workshops, vendors and even entertainment that we have at the event, it shows people that there are many different choices that people can make within their own families and households.”

EcoFest 2015 will be held at the Lowry Park bandshell area Saturday and will be open to the public for free from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.