Note: This article was also published in elephant journal and can be found here. I did not, however, write the very first line ("Nothing like...") in the elephant's edited version. I am nevertheless grateful for their publication.
"Is this also made of poo?" I asked Dr. Karl Wald of his business card after he handed it to me.
I don't normally inquire if people's business cards are composed of excrement, but Wald had just told me about his business, Mr. Ellie Pooh, a green paper company in which all of the products are composed of 75% elephant dung and 25% post consumer paper.
The products include stationary, cards, scrapbooks and journals, which also showcase artisan packaging.
"This way, we can give more value to the poo," Wald said.
And yes, his business card is made of poo.
I encountered interesting, innovative and ecologically sound companies and ideas such as this all over the Denver Green Festival, which took place the weekend of May 2-3 at the Colorado Convention Center. The festival is organized in five cities around the country and strives to open people's minds to the various ways they can "go green" in their local community.
The Denver festival featured hundreds of speakers, educators, panels and exhibitors. All companies present were screened to ensure their business exemplified social justice and economic sustainability, said National Program Director Karri Winn.
Over 1,200 volunteers helped keep the convention running smoothly. There were even middle-school age volunteers at trash stations, pointing out what could be composted and recycled. 95-96% of discarded materials at the event will be recycled or composted, according to Winn.
Which is a figure I think is awesome. Just being at the festival was inspiring in and of itself, seeing how many companies are aware of their environmental impact and doing their part to lessen it.
I talked to an adorable woman named Kate Adams who owns the Denver-based Sweet Pea Pockets. Adams takes vintage coffee bean sacks and antique grain sacks, some with 100-year old seams, from France and Hungary and creates beautiful bags out of them. She sews handkerchiefs on the insides for artsy pockets, and layers fragments from her drawings, photos and old French letters to print on cotton twill fabric for the outsides, making each bag unique. They are truly impressive.
Better World Books was also present, which supports book drives, collects used books and ships all their books out carbon neutral. And my absolute favorite California-based cracker company, Mary's Gone Crackers, Inc., was there giving out a generous amount of free samples. Their crackers organic and made in a gluten-free, wheat-free and nut-free facility, which makes this peanut-allergic writer very happy. Bryant Terry, exuberant author of Vegan Soul Kitchen, did two presentations, got me excited for vegan food and gave me some delicious cooked collards with raisins.
Festival attendees were just what you might expect they would be, and people-watching proved to be quite enjoyable. The Onion held a scavenger hunt in the exhibition hall, and the sights listed were easy to find: a granola bar, Obama campaign items, an aging hippy, someone texting while walking, an advocate for the vegan lifestyle. At the Stop Global Beer Warming booth, the "global" part of the company's name was purposely crossed out on the banner to signify the purpose of the product, spurring one man sporting a bandanna and beaded necklace to ask, "Does this suggest that you don't want to stop global warming?" to which the company's representative quickly responded that this was definitely not the case. And at a panel featuring investigative journalist Greg Palast, a video was shown in which George Bush appeared, a sight which caused the gray-haired woman in front of me wearing earrings resembling gigantic dangling peaches to shiver uncontrollably.
The discussions and panels boasted an impressive line-up, including Democracy Now! host and journalist Amy Goodman, sustainability educator and biodegradable-factory-builder Gunter Pauli, and actor/activist/writer Mike Farrell. Some speakers more than held my attention; some were predictable and I found myself guiltily wandering back to the exhibition hall halfway through their talks. But the discussions that I found to be the most interesting were the ones that explored the issue of race within the green movement.
It's an idea that might make you furrow your brow at first, but the panels "Thinkin' Green, Living Bling" and "Verde, Verdad: Keeping It Green, Keeping It Real," got into the subject in a no-holds-barred way. There were a lot of young people in these panels, and the energy in the rooms — particularly in the former panel — was enough to fire me up even as the festival was coming to a close.
Panelist and writer/artist/vegan Afya Ibomu helped to bring home the somewhat controversial idea that the "green movement" is too often thought of as a "white people movement."
"There's a problem with the government not teaching green to people living in the hood," she said. "And it's hard when you have McDonald's and Coke in schools in these areas, because how can you talk about green in a realistic way in that environment?"
Zakiya Harris, creator of the Bay-area Grind for the Green, emphasized that the green movement needs to be community-centric and culturally-relevant, and audience members brought up important points such as reframing the green movement to fit each community, whether it is rich or poor. Think about it: poverty-stricken people used to bring bottles and cans to recycling centers for 5 cents a pop. That is still "green," even though we may not think of it as such.
The panels made me realize that rethinking green is an important part of eliminating class distinction within the green movement in order to further its expansion.
"'Organic' means rich white folks who go to Whole Foods," said panelist and founder of the Pan African Arts Society Ashara Ekundayo. "I might not be able to go to Whole Foods but I can go to King Soopers and buy the organic seeds and grow my own vegetables. It's just a matter of teaching people how to do it."
Denver Regional Programming Director Sarah Moss, who spent bonding time with the panelists in "Verde, Verdad," said that the best part of the festival to her was building relationships.
"It's — this is who I am, who are you? And let's figure out how we can work together," she said.
The bonding-for-change spirit evident in these two panels — even though organic cotton T-shirts and recycled grocery bags are grand — was the part of the festival that inspired me and represented the most energy, spirit and vision for change.
If you missed the festival — shame on you. But, you'll be able to catch discussions and panels live online at the Green Festival TV and radio portions of the website.
The green festival is affecting my eating behavior already. I followed my Saturday attendance with a trip to City O' City, a vegan-friendly cafe in Denver offering gluten-free pizzas. I started my Sunday with a vegan tofu scramble Sunflower brunch in Boulder and ended the weekend with a vegan dinner of brown-butter sage Andalusian pasta and coconut cream pie at Watercourse in the city.
I just won't be making my own poo business cards anytime soon.