This year, Floyd Fest, located just off the Blue Ridge Parkway near Floyd, Virginia, held their greenest festival yet and they managed to turn 4.9 tons of garbage into compost in the process. The majority of the remaining waste, several more tons at least, will be recycled by local centers or businesses, as well. Just about everything the food and beverage vendors provided this year was biodegradable, right down to the plastic cups and utensils made from plant sugars and starches. Anne Bedarf, Green Team leader of Floyd Fest 8, says the festival partnered with PME Compost, LLC out of Riner, Virginia, a small town about forty-five minutes from Floyd.
Although vendors were not required to use all compostable products this year, Bedarf says all were amenable and some were already using them, perhaps having also provided services to other green festivals like Grassroots in Trumansburg, New York, and Shakori Hills in Silk Hope, North Carolina, festivals who have already made compostable products mandatory. Bedarf says Floyd Fest’s Green Team worked hard to think through everything from “set-up to the final clean-up and disposal” process, and viewed this year as their “transition year,” expecting to make compostable and sustainable practices mandatory for all vendors in the future and adding all sorts of educational opportunities for the festival participants along the way.
Bedarf admits they could not have done it without the help of their many volunteers. She and Holly Marrow, this year’s volunteer coordinator, were both pleased to report the large turn out of volunteers this year and their willingness to work at educating others. My friends and I were most impressed by those we affectionately dubbed “the garbage police.” There were volunteers of all ages manning every garbage, recycling, and compost station at the festival, making sure you knew that the plastic cups and spoons were biodegradable, and the hot drink lids (there is not a good manufactured compostable version of these, yet) were not. Even youngsters like this teenager and several younger volunteers seemed perfectly happy to fish items back out of the trash and explain to me how to best dispose of my waste.
Bedarf says the volunteers spent hours sorting recyclables, as well, because the team felt festival attendees would be more likely to recycle if the process was made easy for them, with just one bin for all the glass, plastic, or paper products. Patrick County, where the festival ground resides just over the line from Floyd County, provided bins for the festival’s recycled materials, but unfortunately do not accept glass. Therefore, Bedarf’s Green Team had to sort and save all the glass waste separately and are still working to get it to a company in Richmond who will use it in the mix of their concrete products. She does not have the figures on exactly how much was recycled and how much waste was left over, but it did not escape my notice that each time I made a trip to the waste area, I would perhaps put one bottle cap lid or a small piece of plastic wrap in the garbage and the rest was either composted or recycled. Bedarf says the amount of true waste this year was much smaller thanks to the additional composting.
The compostable material has a somewhat long and involved process before it will be turned back into fertile earth. The 4.9 tons taken to PME will go through about nine months of processing at their facility before it has completely broken down. First, it will be covered with earth to begin the break down process, while also keeping some of the odor down. Then it will be turned frequently and kept moist by the company’s special equipment and make into what Bedarf calls a “batch recipe.” She says each recipe is different, depending upon the items in the compost and the amount of packaging present.
Regardless, at the end of the process there will be a large quantity of fertile soil to spread around. PME has agreed to donate some of it back to the festival grounds to build a new “educational garden” which will also help to educate the festival attendees about what can be accomplished when everyone works together towards greener lifestyle choices. Unfortunately, the compostable plastic products used at the festival are not recommended for regular home compost sites, as they take a much higher volume of compost, soil, and humidity to create the required heat levels to properly break them down.
“PME made our job easy for us,” Bedarf says. As one of only two facilities approved by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, they were willing to provide containers, and brought their own volunteers onsite. They helped the festival figure out the best way to set up the composting process, and they were on hand to help educate people about composting and the need for better permit practices in Virginia.
During one of the festival’s Rock the Earth panel discussions on environmental advocacy, PME representatives explained that it is much easier in Virginia to build a new landfill than it is to obtain the required permits to start a compost sight. Perhaps this also coincides with Virginia’s poor quality recycling facilities. Regardless, Virginia is due for a change in the way it views sustainable practices, particularly with regards to waste disposal.
When asked if Floyd Fest had hired her paid consulting business, Bedarf just laughed and said her “Green Team” consisted of herself, her husband Derek, and a group of their friends who did it “because they love the festival and they want to educate people.” They had the opportunity to volunteer at the Rothbury Festival in Michigan in the past, working for the Spitfire Agency, a paid green consulting firm. After seeing what could be accomplished there, a festival which is about double the size of Floyd Fest, Bedarf was sure they could make a difference here in Floyd, Virginia.
Through her connections made at her “real job,” Green Blue Institute, where Bedarf works on green packaging products, she connected the Floyd vendors to companies who could provide biodegradable products. Then, they set up the partnership with PME, connected the festival with “Rock the Earth,” for which they are also volunteers, and even got online at the freecycle network to find free 5 gallon buckets and larger plastic tubs for the vendors to use as compost and recycling bins. They worked tirelessly to educate the volunteers and in turn the festival goers. Then they rolled up their sleeves and helped clean up and sort the garbage, compost, and recycling with the rest of the volunteer staff after the festival ended.
After attending the festival for the past five years, it is such a joy to see the staff continue to make Floyd Fest even more environmentally friendly, offering all kinds of options to help offset the largely unsustainable practice of gathering large groups of people together for any reason. This year’s festival was not just about cutting back the waste. They also offered a majority of locally grown and organic foods and drinks, with food vendors like Floyd’s own Oddfellas Cantina, who provided a variety of wraps, sandwiches, and freshly baked breads from locally grown, organic products. Local vintners like Château Morrisette and brewers like Starr Hill serving up alcohol in corn cups, and local farmers like Poor Farmer’s Market offering organic fruits and produce and freshly baked snacks in the little onsite market. They even gave out free organic peaches to all the campers around our tent one evening.
And the green choices did not just stop at food and drinks. Rain Lipson, a local proprietor, brought out her Green Label Organic Sustainable Threads. The family says they formed Green Label Organics “after we learned about the severe environmental impact of conventionally grown cotton, we set out to educate and inform as many people as possible on the importance of supporting organic farming and responsible, sustainable business practices.” They provide US made garments which are “artfully designed to deliver fun and positive messages about the environment, fair trade, sustainability.”
Returning vendors Tara Orlando and Kathy Stone brought back GreenDeva and sold their organic tea blends, soaps, and salts again this year. Stone and Orlando have been working for many years to create aromatherapy products and skin products which promote healing in the natural ways of the Native Americans. And speaking of healing arts, The Blue Ridge School of Massage and Yoga was on hand to provide massages and all manner of healing practices to the festival goers, including meditation and yoga classes. Students from the school were able to practice their newly learned techniques while fulfilling the community service and some of the practicum hours required to graduate from the program.
Education about sustainability and living green didn’t even stop at the vendors. A great majority of the musicians playing the festival also make sustainability a lifestyle choice, and find spreading education to their fans one of the best ways to offset their carbon footprints. Artists like Adreinne Young, who supports community gardens and sustainable farming, seemed to be not just the oddity but the norm. Young earned her Grammy nomination for packaging by putting complimentary packets of wildflower seeds in her CDs.
The Duhks have formed their own sustainability project called GreenDuhks, “a think tank and promotional tool for artists, companies and non-profits with the ultimate goal of promoting sustainability and innovation through music and entertainment.” Their latest CD is also packaged green using recyclable materials and printed with soy ink. The Horse Flies arrived via one biodiesel truck and one electric powered automobile. Even members of The Blues Traveler got involved by volunteering to sit in on the Rock the Earth panel discussions this year. (Interviews with several of the Floyd Fest’s favorite musicians will be coming soon.)
Some may wonder if we really are making a difference. Some may feel the practice of gathering all these people, amassing all this waste, using all the resources it takes to put on these festivals is not worth the cost to the earth. To them I say this - people need a place to gather together, to socialize, to enjoy each other’s company. Groups such as these have been gathering for all sorts of reasons for as long as written records can be traced. The people who attend festivals like Floyd Fest, Grassroots, or Shakori Hills, are finding ways to come together and give something positive back to each other, their communities, and the earth.
I too have felt a tinge of guilt before, wondering if attending these festivals was another of those things I really should give up if I were going to “walk the walk” of living green. But, after talking with Riley this year, the eleven year-old son of David McCracken, keyboardist for Donna the Buffalo, my spirits were lifted when he agreed with his dad that although he was taught a few things about sustainable living in school, he’s learned most of what he knows about helping the environment and living green from attending festivals with his dad.
Not long after our conversation, I watched three young boys who could not have been older than eight pick up all of the garbage left on the ground by the main stage between music sets to put it in the proper recycling bins. As the smile crept across my face, I knew we were all accomplishing something invaluable by coming together this way. We were all participating in teaching our children to follow a better path for their future. What could be more important than that?
All pictures were provided by Amanda C. Sandos. Thanks to all who agreed to interviews and photographs and to the promoters, staff, volunteers, and artists of Floyd Fest 8 for helping to educate others about making positive choices for the future of our planet.