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The Greening of the Sonoma County Fair

August 19, 2011

Sustainability has always been a goal of the Sonoma County Fairgrounds, and with each successive fair we have continued to improve our environmental footprint. A regular feature at the fair is the Sustainable Sonoma Expo, where vendors and community organizations are able to highlight their efforts to protect and preserve the environment in Sonoma County. This year’s expo featured several energy effeciency vendors selling solar panels, insulated windows, and reclaimed home hardware, as well as the Environmental Discovery Center, Capay Organic, which offers a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) vegetable subscription service featuring locally-sourced, organically-grown produce, and Sonoma Compost.

Additionally, fair-goers could learn about organic urban gardening, and how to mix edible plants in with their exisiting landscaping, and get water-efficiency tips from professional garden planners.

Urban Gardening Display

In Sweet Lil’s, kids had the opportunity to plant seeds in cups to take home using compost donated by Sonoma Compost. In fact, there was plenty of compost samples on hand for the adults to take home as well, to encourage them to compost on their own, or to purchase locally-sourced compost to use in their gardens rather than many costly and decidedly not-organic commercial fertilizers.

Planting seeds.

In the barns, you may have seen large metal containers filled with used hay, straw and shavings. These were collection bins used by Poncia Fertilizer and Spreading, a local company who has been a supporter of the Sonoma County Fair for many years. I spoke with owner Andy Poncia, who explained that in the past the contents of these bins had been hauled out of the county for disposal. Three years ago, they took over the handling of the barn wastes, which is roughly 10,000 cubic yards each year, and has contracted with Earthbound Compost Company, who composts the waste, turning it into valuable fertilizer used by local vineyards and farms.

Cleaning her stall.

As for composting used human food, this year the fair made new strides in improving its scorecard. Mary’s Pizza Shack has long been a leader of the food composting trend among Somona County restaurants — all of their location have been composting food scraps for years. We are pleased to announce, starting this year, their staff instituted a new composting procedure at the fair. By working with the folks at Sustainable Sonoma and Sonoma County Waste Management, each of the booths around the Fairgrounds, as well as at their kitchen and dining area in the Showcase Cafe, collected food scraps and compostable containers in separate bins, keeping a large amount of food and paper out of the trash stream. Bravo Mary’s! Thank you for setting an excellent example for all food vendors in the future!

Helms and Sons Carnival

Finally, the biggest advances in environmentally-friendly fair efforts comes from the Helms and Sons Carnival folks. Over the last 10 years, they have worked tirelessly to reduce the amount of energy they consume in the carnival areas around the fairgrounds. In 2002, they used 9 generators to produce enough power to run the carnival during fairtime. In 2011, they had reduced that number to 5 generators, effectively removing 1 generator every 2 years, through efficiency measures. Simple steps such as turning off the running lights during daytime and installing solar panels to power the nighttime walkway lights were a good start. But the biggest gains came from switching out over 70% of the colorful ride lights for LEDs, and by converting their existing generators to Tier 3 generators. In fact, because of these efficiency improvements, according to Davey Helms, the Big Wheel runs on only 4 amps, which is lower than your household toaster!

We know there is still a long way to go, and welcome your suggestions on how to continue to improve our environmental impact.

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