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Festival helps put fun in going green

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: September 23, 2008 - Just in time to help with high energy costs, the 2008 Green Home and Renewable Energy Festival brings together a slew of energy efficiency experts Saturday to show you ways to "go green" and soften the blow of soaring prices.

The seventh annual festival, which showcases practical ways to incorporate renewable energy and sustainable practices into everyday life, has something for everybody whether you're planning to build a new home and want to go solar, retrofitting a house to make it energy efficient or considering options to a gas guzzler.

This year, more than 70 exhibitors will offer information about energy efficiency, alternative vehicles and fuels, windows and insulation, renewable energy technologies, heating and cooling systems, green building materials and methods, home performance testing, sustainable flooring, non-toxic home decorating and recycling and waste reduction among other things.

The festival will run from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday only. On Sunday, participants can see firsthand how renewable energy technologies and green home building products work in real homes on a green house tour.

Visitors can shop for recycled-content and fair trade gifts, hand-made children's clothing and toys, organic and sustainably produced apparel, native and adapted plants and other items at the festival's Green Bazaar on Saturday.

The first 1,000 families who come to the festival can pick up a reusable Whole Foods Market bag at Welcome Tents at the east and west ends of the festival block. Energy Star low-mercury CFL bulbs will available for $2 each while supplies last.

Kids will find plenty to do at the festival. At 1 and 3 p.m. people from Advanced Energy Solutions will help those who buy a $5 kit build and race a solar car. All day on Saturday, kids can do recycled material art activities with the staff of Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts and Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis. The cost is $5 per kit. Young festival explorers can also pick up questing maps at the Kids' Activities Tent.

Festival-goers of all ages can help paint a bio-fueled Metro bus with artist Cbabi Bayoc from noon to 2 p.m. "An outcome of this event will be driving around on city streets for the next year or more," Jean Ponzi, program manager for EarthWays Center, a division of the Missouri Botanical Garden, said.

Visitors will find a lot more at this fair than previous such events, she added. The center and the Missouri Coalition for the Environment are sponsors of the event. Ameren UE is a presenting sponsor.

"We're coming up toward 20 different vehicles that use alternative fuel and offer alternative technology," Ponzi said. The vehicles include compressed natural gas lawn mower, a hybrid bucket truck that Ameren UE owns and operates and the Principia College solar car Ra 7 that won second place in the National Solar Car Race this year.

The most significant change this year is the expansion of the festival's schedule of workshops.

"We've had a couple of what we called chalk talks in the past," Ponzi said. But this year, 21 workshops will address such things as urban farming, renewable energy initiatives for Missouri and solar thermal installations to heat your water with solar energy. "You can go to any or all of those workshops for one $5 wristband purchase," Ponzi said.

Participants can choose among three different tracks: Green Building and Energy Efficiency; Renewable Energy, Alternative Energy and Fuels; and Green Living and Growing. Topics range from the lofty such as "If Not Nuclear Power, What Then?" and "Biofuels: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" to the practical such as "Keep City Chickens: A Primer" and "Rain Gardens -- Concepts, Principles and Planning."

Other topics include:

  • Creating Your Own Green Roof
  • Green Home Building: From Concepts to Details
  • Home Performance 101: Hands On Lab
  • Greening Your Interiors
  • Residential Energy Savings: Air Sealing and Insulating Your Home
  • Solar Power for Your Weekend Cabin or RB
  • Solar Thermal -- The First Step in Going Renewable
  • Home Composting Made Easy: Goodbye Waste ... Hello Black Gold
  • Building an Electric Car

"It's like home show," she said. "You can go to a home show and see a massive array of resources for all kinds of things to do home. This is the best of the sustainable, green and renewable energy resources all gathered into one area."
Festival-goers have a bonus. Grand Center is holding Dancing in the Streets, a big event that kicks off the center's fall art season, from noon until 9 p.m., Saturday nearby on Grand from Lindell to Delmar.

"So really the whole neighborhood is going to be a giant street fair," Ponzi said. "In Grandel Square going east and west, we are the green part. Our street is going to be packed with stuff. "

The best part of the festival is the learning, she said.

"What I love about this festival is it's a chance for people to come and talk person-to-person with the absolutely leading experts in the fields of renewable energy, energy efficiency, green building, green living, native plant landscaping and water conservation."

Most people spend between one and four hours at the event, Ponzi said.

"They really talk in depth with people who know what they're talking about," she said. "You can drop in on your schedule and talk to the experts about your interests or your project and then take the whole festival program home and have that as a resource to be able to follow up over time."

For more information, call 314-577-0220 or go to www.grenhomesstl.org where you can also download a schedule of festival events.

Kathie Sutin is a freelance journalist.

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