'Every day is Earth Day': Growth a theme at KPC event

Kenai Peninsula College student Hannah Heath had a simple explanation of why one would come to the college's Kenai River Campus to celebrate Earth Day.


"What's not cool about our Earth?" she said with a laugh sitting in the McLane Commons Thursday.

The fourth annual Earth Day event at KPC, organized by the college's Sustainability Club, featured a wide variety of booths, music, poetry and presentations about environmental and economic stewardship. The event was co-sponsored by the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation and Kenai Resilience. Earth Day is officially recognized on April 22 around the world.

"Sustainability, earthiness, organic -- everything is so big right now that everybody is just latching on to it and, you know, why not?" Heath said looking around the college's crowd. "It is helping the Earth out and keeping us healthy."

Heath's booth featured small Popsicle models of the composting project she and students Shauna Thornton and Heidi Swan worked on for their People, Places and Ecosystems class.

The compost project -- the ground breaking of which was also Thursday -- is a partnership with the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank and the Boys & Girls Club of the Kenai Peninsula. Specifically, Heath said kids will have lunch at the food bank each Friday during the summer and check up on the progress of their bins. Heath added those interested in helping with the project can email compostingkenai@gmail.com.

"My part is that I am going to build a curriculum and some lesson plans and science projects about composting," she said. "I get to teach it to them each Friday I am available. It is just so cool. We went there and 20 kids were just so excited to learn about it. And, you know, probably the Popsicle sticks had something to do with their excitement also."

Swan said she thought the event was a good way to raise awareness for local environmental issues.

"I'm from Washington and I find it painful there aren't more recycling options on the Kenai Peninsula," she said, adding it felt "very odd" to throw away an aluminum can.

"Earth Day can do things like that, where you go, 'You know that doesn't go there, right? You know you could do something else with that.'"

Not far from Swan and Heath was Willow King's booth filled with books and other information about Earthships.

King said she and others were working to build an Earthship -- a completely sustainable home made from recycled materials -- in Kasilof. They have much of the structure completed already and were getting set to start on the structure's roof.

"Say a regular home is a box that you bring things into, like water and power and food and all of these things," she said. "The concept of an Earthship is to not have to bring all those things in -- you're collecting the water, you are growing the food, you are not sending sewage out of it. You are dealing with all of these things in-house thus making it sustainable."

King said she hoped to spread the word about using Earthship concepts in regular homes at the event.

"They like to say every day is Earth Day," she said. "Living in an Earthship, every day could be Earth Day. But in everyday life, everyone has to work so hard to keep their air warm that they don't have time to have Earth Day every day."

Holly Wiley, who was helping man the booth, agreed.

"It's reusing, recycling and trying to be more sustainable and all of these booths seem to be doing the same kinds of things," she said. "It is just the perfect spot for what we are doing."

The University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service's Janice Chumley gave a presentation about raised bed vegetable gardening. She said local foods and sustainable growth were starting to become peoples' focus.

"More and more people are understanding how much of our food is shipped into the state, like 95 percent," she said. "Food security is really on peoples' minds, particularly ... (if you consider) if there was a disruption of the barges that come up from Seattle, it is estimated in the state we have a three-day food supply."

The idea of sustainability and eco-friendly attitudes fit well with independent-minded Alaskans, most of whom live where they do because they enjoy the outdoors, Chumley said.

"Being able to catch fish and preserve it yourself through safe canning methods and growing your own vegetables, it gives you a feeling of independence and a little peace of mind," she said.

"I think that more and more people, particularly younger people, are aware that they want to make a smaller carbon footprint on the planet. By raising your own food it doesn't have to be shipped here."

Amy R. Williams, a member of the Central Peninsula Gardening Club, agreed. She said she hoped visitors took away the message that growing things isn't as hard as people think.

"Things happen on accident sometimes for a purpose, but I think it is something that is moving toward needing to know about," she said when asked about the event's consistent "growing" theme at the gardening group's booth. "Gardening is something that is kind of a lost art form and it is something that any one can do in any space possible."

Chumley said she imagined many people at the event, including the Sustainability Club who organized it, were there because they cared about the Earth's offerings.

"Earth Day is not just a one day event," she said. "It is thinking about instead of just pitching that can, you could recycle it, or utilizing things in new ways so you can re-purpose them so that it is not just trashing the planet."

Brian Smith can be reached at brian.smith@peninsulaclarion.com.


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