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Oakland celebrates Earth Day with focus on sustainability

on April 14, 2011

Oakland kicked off 2011’s Earth Day festivities yesterday with its annual Earth Expo in downtown Frank Ogawa Plaza. For the seventeenth year in a row, exhibitors lined the plaza’s aisles, offering visitors a glimpse of new green technologies and innovative products, and the latest information on local options for sustainable food, energy, and businesses.

“Last year it was the 40th anniversary of Earth Day,” said Earth Expo organizer Bryn Samuel, who works for the City of Oakland as an Environmental Resource Analyst. “This year we’re featuring our walking tour, and we’re also featuring sustainable, local food.”

To mosey along the self-guided walking tours, visitors followed maps that directed them to different booths around the plaza with a shared theme—there was the “Food Loop,” the “Energy Loop” and the “Recycling Loop.” After every stop was visited, walkers received prizes: a packet of lettuce seeds to plant and a 15 percent off coupon for lunch at one of the many food trucks parked on the plaza.

The food trucks were a new addition to the Expo, and a central part of this year’s local food theme. They were a welcome sight to many hungry neighborhood employees who wandered down to the Expo during their lunch hour—each truck sold unique, tasty grub sourced from within 100 miles of downtown Oakland.

FiveTenBurger shelled out artisan burgers, while the Ebbett’s Good to Go truck, known for its Cubans and pulled pork, doled out sandwiches. Liba Falafel offered Mediterranean treats, and Steatery gave food truck fare a gourmet twist—braised oxtail and salad with a preserved lemon cream dressing were both on the menu.

Roughly 1,000-2,000 people visited the Expo, sampling edibles from the food trucks and stopping at the 85 booths. Some of the vendors, like the Sierra Club, and Stop Waste, a consortium of agencies in Alameda County that deal with recycling, have been coming for years, but other brand new organizations were also on hand to talk to Oaklanders about their various missions and hand out pamphlets and other reading material.

Oakland Shines—which was funded through the Federal Recovery Act—has exactly one year to convince Oakland businesses to use green lighting technology. Partnering with PG&E, Oakland Shines aims to educate local business owners on the benefits of using things like light sensors and wireless lighting controls to save energy. “We’re focused on creating a market for LED [light-emitting diode] technologies,” said program manager Kerry Rickets-Ferris, as she handed out pamphlets to passersby. “And we’re offering businesses incentives to incorporate advanced technologies, like reducing their energy cost.”


Kijiji Grows intern Nick Bellizzi demonstrates a closed-loop urban gardening system.

Across the plaza, Kijiji Grows, an educational facility based in West Oakland, offered a peek into the world of closed-loop gardening. Children come to Kijiji to learn about sustainable, energy efficient ways to grow plants in an urban environment. Intern Nick Bellizzi had one set up on site—a large tub filled with goldfish was connected to a platform of plants by a series of tubes. “This system uses the fish waste to grow the plants,” Belizzi said. “And then in turn, the plants help filter out the water so it cleans when it gets back to the fish.”

The artier side of sustainability was also represented by American Steel Studios, an Oakland-based community of 125 artists and innovators. Kitty Gordon, who makes her art out of bottle caps, manned the booth, and chatted with visitors about different ways in which her fellow innovators are sure to stay green. Many American Steel artists use reclaimed and recycled material, she said—one woman even harvests compost worms.

Earth Justice, a nonprofit environmental law firm based in Oakland, handed out free books on the many cases they’ve taken on in defense of Mother Earth. “We go to court to defend clean air laws, clean water laws, and endangered species,” said Earth Justice employee David Lawlor. “Sometimes we take on corporations, like BP with the oil spill, and sometimes we take on the government, to have them enforce something like the Clean Air Act.”

Other exhibitors included People for the Ethnical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Cycles of Change, an organization that promotes bicycle use as a path to community health, City Slicker Farms, and the Oakland Food Policy Council. Volunteers behind each booth explained their causes to Oaklanders, who wandered through with interest.

Oakland resident Carol Molex, who was attending the Expo for the second time, said she benefits from checking out the latest green innovations. “I love coming here. I like to see what new information there is, and I like the goodies,” said Molex, referring to the packets of information and treats the vendors often give away. “It’s basically a refresher on information that I already know, and then builds on that. I get new tips on taking care of the Earth.”

Photo slideshow by Shirley Lau.



  1. Carrie on April 15, 2011 at 12:36 pm

    With Earth Day approaching rapidly, it is definitely a great time be thinking about what each of us can do to help upkeep our Earth best we can. Dr. Alley, of Penn State University, has been studying the effects of pollution and the idea of climate change here on Earth. I thought some of you might be interested in some of these videos and interviews with the renowned scientist. Here’s the link:
    Take care.

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