The 6th Annual Organic Islands Festival and Sustainability Expo

photo: Maryanne Carmack, Lotus Photography

When Deb Morse first began feeding the idea of a greener earth, her greatest inspiration came from Walden, the meditation on nature by Henry David Thoreau. “Husbandry was once a sacred art; but it is pursued with irreverent haste and heedlessness by us… We have no festival.” Not only did she understand the need for conservation and sustainable behavior, but she recognized that the planet should not merely be dutifully protected. It should be celebrated.

On July 10th and 11th this year, I headed to Glendale Gardens for the 6th annual Organic Islands Festival and Sustainability Expo, the ever growing, evolving manifestation of Morse’s vision. Along with a throng of eco-conscious Victorians, I garnered solutions for how to “Live Green and Buy Local” from 150 vendors and visionaries while wandering between apricot trees and ornamental beds of grass.

As I moved from one booth to the next, taking in lessons on energy conservation and tasters of raw goji berries, a common thread became apparent among all the exhibitors. Not only were they all striving for the same goal – a long, healthy future for our planet – but they had each embodied Morse’s idea of celebration. The enthusiasm was contagious as people talked about the solutions they’d developed.

Someone at the Level Ground Trading booth beamed with praise for the farmers he worked with, and loved hearing what people liked best about the various sampled blends. The ladies from Sea Cider Farm & Ciderhouse smiled broadly with delight over their sunflower seeds, which had been delicately flavored with local honey and cider instead of the traditional sodium-rich seasoning.

And not far down the row, the owners and operators of Sunset Bay Honey Farms detailed their secret for purer honey: Keeping their bees chemical-free by raising them deep in the Cowichan Valley, removed from the reach of pesticides. However, the folks from Woodwynn Farms believed so deeply in their organization that they hardly had to say a word. “I don’t know what they’re selling us in stores,” one of them said, “but this is celery.” I was offered a bright, bittersweet stalk to chew on, and he allowed itto speak for itself. It crunched the way only straight-from-the-garden produce can crunch. It still tasted like the earth. It tasted green, and was simply, undeniably, all around good.

A woman behind the table called the indescribable element TLC. It turns out that their endeavor isn’t only aimed at a better tomorrow for the earth, but they are working on society, as well. She explained that Woodwynn’s crops are farmed by individuals who struggle with homelessness and addiction, who cultivate the land as a form of therapy and re-integration, and she believed the difference could be tasted. Others believed it too, leaning over from neighboring booths to watch me take my first bite of fresh Woodwynn chard.

As the day went on and the sun got hotter, it became more and more apparent that Morse and her team were doing something right. The event had developed a pulse of its own. Aside from learning about change, people were engaging the landscape and enjoying themselves. They gathered in the grass to listen to bands on the main stage, and sampled cold, organic beer, wine, and vodka at the Green Drinkers station. Children ran free in the designated Children’s Village, and couples sought shade in the endless Zen Garden. There was gaiety, there was revelry, there was merrymaking. The Organic Islands Festival was an organic festival, in every sense.

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