By: Aisa Villanueva< An estimated six thousand people came out in full force and excitement to support Santa Barbara’s first annual SOL (Sustainable, Organic, Local) Food Festival last Saturday, October 2 at the Plaza Vera Cruz Park in Downtown Santa Barbara. The SOL Food Festival is the brain child of organizers Alison Hensley and Heather Hartley. Hensley met kindred spirit, Hartley, through a previous food-inspired project. The two have since spent the last year and a half planning and coordinating events with various community stakeholders to make their goals come true.
As the festival’s name suggests, the event’s main purpose is to create advocacy and awareness of healthier food alternatives and the recognition of the vital role that food plays in peoples’ lives. In order to give visitors a more complete view of the food system, the organizers and their partners divided the park into different sectors – growing, marketplace, live animals, eating, accessibility, media, and, waste. Likewise, they also placed three different stages in separate locations that catered to further educating the community on where their food comes from and how it is processed. These stages held such activities and talks as the SOL Food Chef Competition, Cooking with Cat Cora, and “Why Co-ops Work” with Melissa Cohen of the Isla Vista Food Co-op.
Understandably, Plaza de Vera Cruz Park came alive with the hustle and bustle of the festival’s participants and visitors. Participants, community members and visitors all shared a giddy enthusiasm that could best be articulated through as the Development Associate from the Santa Barbara County Food Bank, Gina Fischer, offered people free oranges.
“Take an orange! It was going to fall on the ground but through our program and wonderful volunteers, it was rescued from a tree in Santa Barbara!”
Fischer was commenting on the oranges that the Food Bank garnered through their program, “Backyard Bounty”, where produce from fruit trees in Santa Barbara are collected from various donors and are then distributed to 264 beneficiaries of the Food Bank. An eagerness to share healthy, home-grown food worked its way out of the hearts (and stomachs) of the organizers and volunteers and into festival attendees.
Doug Hagensen, manager of the Backyard Bounty Project, states, “[We are] now in the midst of a local food movement because we want to play an active role in rousing people’s awareness and paint the importance of food, healthy food, in people’s lives. There are a lot of different spokes that make up the food system. We are just one of them, and this is why we need to stand together – so that the wheel works and keeps on moving.”
Hensley adds her own closing insights by saying, “I feel truly inspired after having heard from people’s conversations that they were waiting for this. There is a strong sense of community right now that is fostering a lot of connections that I hope will drive to keep things in motion and maintain the positive changes in the system.”