Green for a day at Wick

By Sean Barron

The spirit of the event was in keeping with a portion of the Youngstown 2010 plan.

YOUNGSTOWN — For several hours, Wick Park on the city’s North Side was perhaps one of the greenest places in the city — the natural flora and fauna notwithstanding.

That’s because it was the site of Saturday’s Grey to Green festival.

A portion of the park resembled a tent city of sorts, as many of the estimated 60 vendors and exhibitors set up shop to sell environmentally friendly merchandise.

The free event also featured plenty of entertainment as well as speakers and panelists whose topics included wind power, strategic farming techniques, obesity and physical activity and soil development.

One of the festival’s main purposes was to promote green technology and jobs with environmentally friendly applications while highlighting the revitalization of Wick Park, explained Elsa Higby, executive director and founder of Grow Youngstown.

One of that organization’s goals is to advance local, sustainable food systems, she added.

The keynote presenter was Will Allen, founder and chief executive officer of the Milwaukee-based nonprofit Growing Power Inc., which supports people by helping to provide equal access to healthy and affordable food.

Allen, considered by many to be one of the world’s foremost experts on urban agriculture, talked about developing soil for the growth of healthy foods as well as having it be more accessible to those in need.

For many people who are less fortunate, such food is difficult to come by, noted Timothy D. Smith of Cleveland, executive director of the Cleveland Greenhouse Project.

Too often, Smith said, many poor people eat the cheapest foods, in part because they live far from businesses that sell healthier products. To get more nutritious foods, many have to incur added transportation and other costs, he continued.

The Greenhouse Project is building a greenhouse and composting system to sell locally grown, low-cost organic vegetables to city families and offer jobs to local residents, its mission statement says.

The Youngstown 2010 land-use plan has a gray-to-green component, which is in line with Youngstown’s being a shrinking city with plenty of green space that can be used, among other things, for healthy food production, noted Deb Weaver and Suzie Beiersdorfer, the festival’s chairwoman and co-organizer, respectively.

“I looked at the [2010] plan and said, ‘Let’s have a festival,’” Weaver said. “The festival is to create awareness of environmental initiatives, get people involved and bring the community together.”

In keeping with that idea, the Fairgreen Garden was planted last year near Fairgreen and Ohio avenues on the North Side, Beiersdorfer pointed out.

Weaver said the event also included the planting of a tree in the park in accordance with Youngstown’s being recognized as a Tree City USA community.

The designation means the city is more livable and has a better quality of life, Weaver explained.

Four requirements must be met for a city to earn such a status. They include having a tree ordinance stating stipulations regarding planting trees on devil strips — the grassy strip between the street and the sidewalk — and maintaining a tree budget, noted Frank Bishop, vice president of the local Treez Please organization.

The Grey to Green festival also had poets along with entertainment that included a dance, rap and violin jam session, performances by the Youngstown State University gospel choir, an acoustic and folk duo and Sam Goodwill, a local alternative rock band.

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