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A Durham Moment: Celebrating Earth Day with conservation tips — and free merch

As people took turns spinning a nearly 2-foot-wide multicolored wheel, a woman sporting a “Celebrate Everyday like It’s Earth Day,” T-shirt jumped up and down frantically nearby,  waiting for the spinner’s hands of fate to settle. The needle slowed, then landed on “Silicone Cup.”

“Yes!” she said, stuffing her new reusable treasure from Durham Parks and Recreation into a canvas tote bag.

This was the 2023 Durham Earth Day Festival on April 24, where people ate, danced, and learned about how to make Durham’s corner of the world a more sustainable place, while getting some free merch.

Before heading into the festival at Durham Central Park, attendees checked their bikes at Durham’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission’s bike valet station. Kids were encouraged to test their skills at the parking lot’s colorful obstacle course, courtesy of Bike Durham, a nonprofit advocating for safe, affordable, sustainable transportation for all.

Those looking to toss their dirty napkins didn’t have to lift a finger. Trained Durham Parks and Rec volunteers dutifully took each attendee’s trash at a central trash station, sorting it into bins labeled “recycling” or “landfill.” 

Anyone inspired by the festival’s commitment to proper recycling could sign up for the new ReCollective subscription service. The team of two is one of the first in the Triangle to handle hard-to-recycle materials that can’t go in the curbside bin, such as styrofoam and light bulbs.

Festival-goers treated themselves to artisan crafts like beaded bracelets and flower-pressed charms. Off-The-Hook, a crochet business run by a team of three high schoolers, showed off handmade flower and bear coasters on theme with the spirit of the day.

“For me, I’ve been loving the free stuff,” said Kaleela, who came with her kids but escaped them momentarily to gather as much merch as possible from the various stands around the park.

Kids beat their own homemade drums alongside professional bands such as Grupo Caribe Vibe, Vertigo, and Sensory Expressions Band & Steele Drums. Face-painted toddlers weaved through the crowd, while dogs dragged their owners through the park. 

A little girl tugged her mom to greet Kismet, a gentle black dog awaiting his permanent home by the Animal Protection Society of Durham table. There, festival attendees flipped through binders filled with adoptable dogs and cats coded by each creature’s “personality color” — orange for more energetic dogs, blue for mellow and green for sweet and sensitive.

Even though they weren’t looking for a pet, the mother and daughter pair couldn’t resist bringing the pup home with them. Within 24 hours, it was official—Kismet had found his new family.

Nearby, a festival-goer in a floral orange button-up stepped into a forest of houseplants under the shade of the pavilion provided by KW Edible Landscaping Nursery, a local business run by a husband and wife team.

Some visitors took one sample, then snuck a few more, of Piedmont Farm Animal Refuge’s vegan snacks.

“We do a lot of things that people don’t think vegan food is good at,” said John Tallent, the farm’s administrative director. For Earth Day, they offered chocolate, cheese, and soy jerky on shiny silver platters.

In addition to producing gourmet plant-based delights, the nonprofit also provides a safe home for rescued farm animals in structures that are specially designed with particular animals in mind.

At Honeybee Hemp Farms’ stand, tie-dyed patrons took generous samples of the group’s medicinal CBD and THC honey. Even pups could partake of  Honeybee Hemp Hounds, a line of calming CBD dog treats.

“We have traditional calming and then hip and joint supplements over here,” said Allen Pickett, Honeybee Hemp Farms’ beekeeper, gesturing towards a rack of dog treats. “These are great for dogs with higher energy or anxiety.”

Thirsty festival-goers could wash all the Earth Day snacks down at a water refill station provided by the water management department of the City of Durham. The booth educated visitors on how to conserve water, complete with a miniature toilet to advertise the city’s new WaterSense Toilet Rebate. Durham implemented the program to incentivize switching to toilets that cut down on water usage. In most cases, the rebates are applied as credits to customer’s water bills.

Other environmental groups like the Environmental Protection Agency, Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association, and the Durham Master Gardeners all shared resources on how to get involved in making Durham a greener place.

As the day came to a close, festival-goers biked away with pockets stuffed with free merch and a commitment to bring Earth day energy to every day.

Above (from top): Jason Breslin, co-founder of KW Edible Landscaping Nursery; a young cyclist tackles an obstacle course near the festival entrance; Piedmont Farm Animal Refuge volunteers shared vegan snacks.  Photos by Abigail Bromberger — The 9th Street Journal