The first stop on my three day, eco-friendly tour of Santa Barbara started on April 17 and led straight up State Street, by bike of course, to attend the inaugural Santa Barbara Earth Day Festival at Alameda Park. The holiday has special significance in town, since Earth Day didn’t even exist before a massive oil spill hit Santa Barbara beaches in 1969. That catastrophe had a disastrous impact on the local environment, but it did foment change and drew the attention of Senator Gaylord Nelson, who spearheaded the bill that established Earth Day. 42 years later, Santa Barbara’s Community Environmental Council presented a day of programming that spanned three city blocks and even managed to instill the event with culinary energy.
My memorable three-hour visit started with a stop at the complimentary bike valet station, which parked hundreds of bikes throughout the course of the day. After that, it was a free form exploration of booths devoted to eco-friendly design and building materials, green practices and best of all, local, organic and sustainable food, with copious curiosities in between.
The park held more than enough green space to allow for creative expression, including jugglers, hula hoopers and musicians.
Capoeira practitioners demonstrated the distinctly Brazilian blend of martial arts and dance.
West Ranch sold skeins of yarn from alpacas, which are highly sustainable (and a prized protein in their native Peru, which is disturbing for somebody who took a llama care class at Camp Hidden Valley in Freedom, Maine, where I tended to their cousins). Alpacas bite grass cleanly instead of pulling from the root thanks to lower teeth and upper “bite pad.” Pads and toenails cause less impact on ground than hooves. The animals also have three stomachs. Lucky them.
2011 was the first year for SOL Food Kitchen, which showcased sustainable, organic and local ingredients. Chef Crystal Harris, better known as Pink, runs Lick Your Plate Events and previously worked at Square One in town. She appeared behind the grill – yes, sporting pink hair – to help fund October’s inaugural SOL Food Festival.
A sign advertised October’s event and also referred to the day’s food, saying, “The festival was born out of a desire to show how SOL food can be used as a tool to create happier, healthier and more sustainable communities. We celebrate the local farmers, chefs, organizations and individuals who are working to better our food system and encourage the general public to participate in this growing movement.”
SOL featured a map of participating farmers near the ordering window, pinpointing the location of producers like Spring Hill Cheese (Jersey cow’s milk cheese), Life’s a Choke (artichokes) and Shepherd Farms (greens, strawberries and root vegetables).
Chef Harris cooked her Grilled Artichoke ($5) in garlic, white wine and water and let it cool before grilling and plating with tangy blood orange aioli.
Avocado-Cucumber Gazpacho ($4) was refreshing on a warm spring day and also involved red onion, sherry vinegar, lemon juice, salt and pepper.
My favorite element of the SOL booth was probably the “bicycle blender,” where customers had the option to churn their own smoothie through pedal power.
The resulting Strawberry Smoothie ($4) consisted of only organic Lane Farms strawberries from Goleta and ice. The basic “recipe” was all the smoothie needed, well, that and bicycle blending.
If the Santa Barbara Earth Day Festival turns out to be a small representation of what SOL offers in October, great. If not, the event was still a success due to its diversity of experiences, setting and true flavor.