Topanga Earth Day Festival Offers Two Days of Eco-Awareness and Environmental Solutions

Topanga’s eighth annual Earth Day Festival, held at the Topanga Community House on Saturday and Sunday, April 21 and 22, attracted more than 50 exhibitors and thousands of attendees, for two days of speakers, workshops, music and other activities, all designed to raise awareness about the challenges facing the planet’s environment today, and perhaps more importantly, the many solutions currently available to those who care enough to make a change. With this year’s theme, “Please Try This at Home,” the festival focused on the power of individual consumers and members of a community to make positive changes both locally and globally.

Not even Sunday’s much needed rain could dampen the crowd’s enthusiasm, according to local realtor Bill Bowling who serves on Topanga’s Watershed Committee. “I think it was a real success,” said Bowling of the festival. “Even with the rain, people really enjoyed themselves and gained a lot of awareness.” Bowling estimated the crowd over the course of the two days at “a few thousand.”

“I think Earth Day should be every day,” said 11-year-old Kansas Bowling, a bass player and back-up singer in the band, The Nutty Nut Nerds, which performed on the main stage Saturday. Ten-year-olds Maya Bon, Emily Goldman, and Max Landau joined Kansas on keyboard, drums, and guitar, respectively, while Kansas’s eight-year old sister Parker served as the well-received group’s official dancer.

Topanga Earth Day’s producer, Stephanie Lallouz, agrees with young Kansas. “Because every day is Earth Day, every day should be a celebration,” she says. That’s why this year’s Earth Day Festival, for the first time in Topanga, was spread over two days,” Lallouz added. “Hopefully next year it will be three days and then the year after that four days, and so on and so on,” she said. “And I’m praying that the next generations will carry this on and inherit this tradition so that one day we can all truly say that every day is Earth Day.”

Exhibitors—from organic food venders and clothing designers, to sustainable housing companies to non-profit organizations raising funds for global causes—helped demonstrate to attendees how they could celebrate and appreciate the Earth every day.

“You just can’t rely on the government to protect our environment,” said two-year Topanga resident Shaun Peterson who spent the day organizing and gathering members for a new Topanga biodiesel co-op. “You have to take it into your own hands. I think the biggest threat to the environment right now is people thinking, ‘Why should I even bother?’… The truth is, one person can make a difference.”

The Festival began on Saturday with a Topanga Creek Clean Up, coordinated by the Topanga Creek Stream team through the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains (RCD). Some 70 volunteers showed up to pitch in on the Clean-up in which Topangans were joined by the Temescal Canyon Association and the Sierra Club Trail Council, according to Rosi Dagit. Dagit said the group hauled away several big-bed trucks with loads of trash collected by day laborers, filling dumpsters paid for by the California Parks Foundation.

The Clean-up has historically yielded some curious “treasures” discarded in the Creek, ranging from old cars abandoned intact to mattresses and box springs. This year was no different. The prize for this year’s most unusual Creek recovery goes to a set of 50-pound lead weights, said Dagit. “Some guy had carried them quite a ways up the hill. And the solar panels and computer monitors that he rigged up were actually fairly impressive, “she laughed.

The Clean-up was followed by a yoga class taught by local yogini Michelle Broussard. Next, a peace flag which read “Walk Across the World,” and included signatures from Tibetan monks and renowned primatologist Jane Goodall, among others, led attendees in a peace walk through sand-drawn hearts on the grass of the baseball field.

As the day progressed, the main stage featured musical acts such as Leon Mobley and Da Lion, as well as speeches from members of the Topanga Peace Alliance and more than 15 other groups.

Proceeds from the festival were donated to two causes—one local, and one global—reflecting the wide range of challenges facing the Earth today. After a vote, the Topanga Earth Day Organizing Committee (TEDOC), decided to donate proceeds to the benefit of the Topanga Watershed Committee, and Jewish World Watch, which, with the Save Darfur Coalition, provides solar cookers to different families that are in refugee camps in and around Darfur.

Ben Allanoff of the Topanga Watershed Committee praised the festival as “outstanding” and promised that his group would use the proceeds for a variety of projects in the Canyon that have “one thing in common: preserving and enhancing the health and well-being of this fabulous eco-system through education and meaningful action.”

Karine Tchakerian, member of Save Darfur Greater Los Angeles and also a member of TEDOC, likewise said her group hopes to “educate people and through education stimulate action.”

“We’re just trying to keep Africa in the front of our minds. When people ask me what they can do, I say just talk about it,” Tchakerian added. “I think that once people know and are educated they act. I don’t think people have cold hearts when they know about something and they’re not going to let it keep on happening.”

There were no small causes at Topanga’s Earth Day Festival. “I would come anyway, so I might as well have a table,” said Topanga resident Lynn Dougherty of Topanga Greens. Her micro-farm/nursery, which was certified organic just this year, specializes in heirloom tomatoes and herbs. She spent the day discussing the value of growing our own food. Dougherty hopes to “reduce our carbon foot-print” by encouraging people to eat food grown locally. “Even if it’s just to have one tomato plant on your balcony, it’s so important,” she said. “I think it makes people feel more connected to where they live, and it’s fun!” Dougherty and others reinforced that theme, and added to the Earth Day festivities, by hosting a “100-mile dinner” at the nursery, a potluck in which the 50-plus participants each contributed a dish grown, raised, or caught within a 100-mile radius of their homes.

Art held a large and important presence at the festival. epOxybOx, a fine art gallery in Venice devoted to the greening of fine art, created a gallery out of the Topanga Community House’s auditorium. epOxybOx’s curator, Deborah Guyer Greene explained that art is an important part of understanding many of today’s challenges. “The difference between regular fine art and the greening of fine art is that it’s a statement about where we’re heading as a culture,” she said. “It’s a reminder of our need to green.”

Their exhibit contained art inspired by or reclaimed from natural, found materials, including the work of Venice artist Carolyn Mendoza. Mendoza’s goal is to “not only express an idea but to visually heal people,” she said. One of her sculptures, entitled, “Transmission,” depicts a car exhaust pipe ejecting reeds instead of exhaust fumes. “With art you can visually stimulate somebody and have them become conscious of what is possible,” she said. “You see a piece in which a muffler is flushing out nature. That represents the idea that the artificial, material world can actually be one with nature. They can coexist. By looking at it everyday you’re conscious of this idea when going out in the world as well.”

Through art, music, food, and entertainment, attendees of the Topanga Earth Day Festival had the opportunity to have fun while learning important lessons about how to be more mindful consumers, how to contribute to their communities and how to address the challenges facing the Earth today. “We are hosted by the earth,” summed up festival producer Lallouz. “We are the occasion of Earth, so we’re guests here and we’ve got to treat our hostess with love and kindness and gratitude.”