photo: courtesy of Green Fest
This weekend, Green Festival
comes to Chicago for the second year, this time dropping anchor at Navy Pier
. With over 350 exhibitors, 150 speakers and an all-day non-stop yoga room, Green Fest promises to address the immense gamut of topics encompassed by its tagline "sustainable economy, ecological balance, social justice," and then some. More than 31,000 Chicagoans attended last year's fest and, judging from the explosion of environmental consciousness in the past 12 months, we're likely to give San Francisco's GF body count of 100,000 a run for its greenbacks.
What can you expect in this panoply of progressives? An endless floor of booths offering environmentally conscious products, services and opportunities; talks on socially responsible investing and starting a green business; the chance to rally with your neighbors at the Community Action Pavilion; rousing speeches from activists, journalists and local visionaries; how-to workshops, a film festival, continuous live music by local artists and plenty of tasty organic food and booze. Oh, and a place to drop off the kids (sponsored by farm co-op Organic Valley) while you hunt for the biodegradable diapers booth or the Great Lakes Brewing Co. table.
There's more to do and see at Green Festival than we can possibly list here (the brochure is 87 whopping pages long), but below are a few handy tips on getting the most out of the fest—be you pale chartreuse or deep jade—along with some not-to-be-missed highlights.
Bike, don't drive
Park your wheels at the complimentary bike valet, hosted by Armitage Bike Shop, and get $5 off the registration fee. If your vintage Bianchi is still encased in winter rust, or if you don't yet (gasp) have a bike, you can still save five bucks by flashing your CTA card or donating three or more books to the Better World book drive. Proceeds from the book sale help fund scholarships for girls in developing Asian countries. Just be sure to stop by the Working Bikes Co-op booth before hopping the L back home.
Spend for good, not evil
Green Festival is hosted by human rights org Global Exchange and Co-op America, an economic action non-profit that compiles the best green business directory available—so there's lots of stuff for sale. Three-hundred-plus booths filling the main floor tout products and services from every sector—some you may have been seeking for years (rooftop garden landscapers, worker-owned chocolate ) and some you wouldn't imagine existed (office supplies and adorable notebooks made almost entirely from elephant dung). It takes a full weekend just to get a thorough look around.
Goods, services and organizations are grouped loosely by categories like renewable energy, green building, organic body and health, and green travel, but we recommend getting lost a little; you never know what green remodeler or eco-friendly pet toy supplier you might stumble across. To learn how to keep your dollars in the hands of ethical businesses post-fest, check out the Responsible Shopper talk conducted by Co-op America and Local First Chicago on Sunday afternoon.
Learn something new
Whatever you're into, be it politics, travel, GMOs or subprime real estate, Green Festival has a notable activist lecturing on it or teaching you how to do it better. Big names like MacArthur Fellow Majora Carter and bestselling author Daniel Pinchbeck can be heard in the Grand Ballroom, while three other rooms house simultaneous lectures all day. Learn the ins and outs of tea, chocolate and student organizing at talks in the Fair Trade Pavilion. Engage in panel discussions after screenings of new documentaries. Or find out just what Dharma Mittra Yoga is from the teachers from green studio Yoga Now.
Eat, drink and be merry
Alisa Gravitz, Executive Director of Co-op America, calls Green Festival a party with a purpose. So take a break from the lectures and jam to the sounds of Chicago musicians, conveniently playing adjacent to the organic beer and wine garden and the natural-food dining area. Vegetarian treats will be served courtesy Soul Vegetarian East, Bleeding Heart Bakery, Cousin's, Chicago Diner and more. Wash it all down with fair trade wine from Etica or a delicious local pint from Great Lakes Brewing Co.
Green Festival isn't just a marketplace or lecture series. It is, most importantly, a call to action. Opportunities to carve out your own part of that broad tagline are what Green Fest is all about. It could be as personal as learning how to grow food on your back porch; community-minded, like volunteering with the Chicago Conservation Corps; or on the global scale, like joining a scientific expedition through Earthwatch. Come ready to be entertained and inspired, leave a little greener.
Green Festival takes place Saturday, May 17 from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sunday, May 18, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; $15 all-access both days or $10 for students, seniors, bike riders, public transit riders or with book donation. Free to kids 12 and under.