On April 23rd, Rochester hosted its third annual Earth Fest Expo. Just as in previous years, there were over 40 vendors, there was an electric car show, and an impressive panel of speakers and seminars throughout the day. But this year, attendance jumped from right around 500 people to nearly 600, despite the competition from Mother Nature, who delivered a spectacularly warm, sunny spring day.
Like last year, I was in charge of organizing the speaker series for the day to fit around the theme, “Sustainability: It’s about health, too.” The caliber of the presenters was incredible—from specialists in resiliency, energy and design, to experts on water and air quality, attendees were offered the opportunity to hear from the real architects of community sustainability. My only regret was that I wasn’t able to break away from my own booth to hear them all, myself!
This year, my tabling display asked people to signify with pins on a map and on Post-it-notes, “Where’s the Minnesota you love?” In short, tell me your Minnesota love story. And, the results made for fun conversations, great connections between people and places, and an incredible visual of how special the entire state is to the people who live here. Despite living in and near Rochester, so many of the people I talked to indicated places north like Ely and locations on Lake Superior. The bluffs of the Mississippi had to compete with Lake Itasca in people’s minds and hearts, and it was such a fun exercise to reinforce what we try to do at Conservation Minnesota—Protect the Minnesota you love.
What has occurred to me in my reflections in the days and weeks after is how closely the evolution of this one event parallels the greater movement around conservation, the environment, and sustainability in Rochester. The event began with a concept, dreamed up by a couple of motivated people. The idea was that there were enough people in the community who care about these issues that instead of just observing Earth Day in a small way, we could honor it with a big event. Out of a few volunteers who shared ideas and pulled in their own resources, and who sold an idea and a vision to put on the first event, has become an organized team that worked to improve, expand, and create the polished event I participated in on the 23rd.
This is how so many issues around conservation get addressed. For example, when I started in Rochester, from renewable energy to water concerns, the city was struggling with a vision for its future. But, a few motivated people kept raising the issues and started building a coalition. It was hard at first to coordinate our efforts and get our ideas into the greater conversations happening within the city, but eventually we did. Maybe the policies that have been created or changed aren’t perfect, but awareness has increased and each challenge has become a little easier to face than the previous. We’ve built on that awareness and support and will continue to do so to find solutions.
It has taken three years to produce the kind of event this year’s Expo turned out to be and we still see room for improvement. But, we’re encouraged by how much support seems to be growing behind our efforts and I think it says a lot about the foundation that’s been built not just for this event, but in Rochester itself. And, I’m excited to see what the next three years bring!