UMass Earth Day Festival focuses on local community

By Will Soltero

The Earth Day Festival was held outside of the Student Union to celebrate Earth Day in 2016. (Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)

The eighth annual Earth Day Festival held on April 21 brought over 30 groups from the University of Massachusetts community together to promote sustainability on the North Lawn.

UMass Registered Student Organizations, such as the UMass GardenShare and UMass Climateers, offered stickers, buttons, t-shirts and more in an effort to fundraise and help their message resonate beyond the Earth Day festivities.

“We’re really community-oriented. It’s all about the student community and being together,” said UMass GardenShare member Jack Stambaugh, a sophomore sustainable food and farming major.

UMass GardenShare is a student facilitated fall class that does more expansive work as an RSO, according to Shayna Leibowitz, a freshman environmental science major and one of its members. The group sponsored Garden Fest on Sunday April 23, an event where students enjoyed live local music and food from four student businesses.

Another group at the event advocated for the conservation and protection of bees. Christine Miller, a senior nutrition major, collected signatures for a petition to support recent state legislation to limit pesticide use that is harming bees across Massachusetts.

Bi-Sek Hsiao, a nutrition Ph.D. candidate, was also there to support legislation to protect bees. Hsiao said several western Massachusetts towns, such as Plainfield and Great Barrington, have similar votes taking place in the coming weeks on limiting the use of certain harmful pesticides. She hopes to see UMass become a bee-friendly campus sometime in the near future.

Members of the UMass Climateers, an RSO dedicated to educating the community on climate change, were also at the event.

“As an RSO, we’ve been focusing on DIY projects recently, showing people how to repurpose [their] own items,” said Kate Froburg, a senior biology major.

The group was selling handbags made out of recycled t-shirts and an assortment of handmade buttons during the event.

Arianna Moscone, the sustainability coordinator for UMass, was largely responsible for bringing together the groups for the festival. While she was heavily involved in the University’s sustainability campaign as a UMass student, Friday marked the second time Moscone led the planning of the Earth Day Festival as a professional member of its team.

“We really wanted to promote things happening on campus right now,” Moscone said. “We partnered with the Student Farmers Market to bring more of a crowd all to one place.”

Students enjoyed smoothies provided by UMass Dining Services at the event blended by a human-powered bike blender. Ezra Small, the Sustainability Manager for UMass, took turns with students and kids pedaling the bike to make smoothies for the festival’s attendees.

Small spoke about the first annual Green Commute Day that took place that morning, advocating for students to use green transportation alternatives for their commute to school or work.

“We want to encourage people to take the bus, carpool, bike, walk, skateboard or anything else [for their commute],” Small said.

Carpooling apps such as NuRide can play a critical role in the future of green transportation said Small, especially in communities such as Amherst where many students live near one another.

Small spoke earlier in the day with an Amherst-Pelham Regional High School student who is developing an app that partners with local businesses to give rewards to commuters who share rides to work.

The next major event for Sustainable UMass is their New2U Move-Out Collection campaign. To promote waste reduction, staff volunteers collect unwanted items and furniture as students move out to sell at the beginning of fall semester.

Will Soltero can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter at @WillSoltero.