Together, We Made an Impact at the Eden Festival of Action 2019!

26

JULY, 2019

By Alice Goodridge

We have been hosting the Festival of Action for eight years now, inviting people to join the TREEvolution: to consciously engage with the issues that threaten our planet and to actively become part of the solution. 

As is typical of our work, this action is mainly focused on the planting of trees – a seemingly simple but often neglected practice that has been proven to be one of the most effective ways to combat climate change. 

This year’s festival was based in The Garden Route, in response to the 2017 Knysna fires that burned vast areas of forest. Therefore, much of this year’s restoration work was focused on clearing the alien vegetation that has invaded the recently burned land, and re-greening these areas with indigenous trees that will eventually restore the land’s natural ecosystems.

The festival was held over three weeks – it commenced on the 22nd of June and we said an emotional goodbye to the last of our participants last Sunday: the 14th of July. During that time, with the help of the participants and outside volunteers, we successfully cleared 3000 metres squared of alien vegetation and planted a monumental 5000 indigenous trees! 

The trees were planted in various sites in the Garden Route, the largest of which were Heartland School of Self Sufficiency, Garden Route Botanical Garden and Wild Spirit Backpackers Lodge. I think it’s also worth mentioning that we wouldn’t have been able to complete this work without all the hard work that was undertaken, in preparation for our arrival, by the various custodians of these sites. I know that the team at Wild Spirit put in a lot of work to clear alien vegetation prior to our arrival, so we could commit more time to plant trees and we are extremely grateful that they gave so much time and energy to our mission.

The planting days at Heartland School of Self Sufficiency were particularly emotive for a number of team members and participants who had previously planted at the site last year. They were able to witness the fruits of their labours as the saplings they rooted in the ground in 2018 are still thriving and the land, which was previously barren, now resembles a miniature forest. This year we planted 1500 more trees and it’s exciting to imagine how they will have grown in a few years from now. One of our main goals at Greenpop is to show people that they really can make an impact through their actions, and we hope that the example of the forest now growing at Heartland’s stands as a tangible example of that.  

We also had great fun planting 1000 trees at Garden Route Botanical Garden, where we were joined by 29 Open Day volunteers and representatives from Cape Nature, which created a whole new dynamic in our team. Simultaneously, a smaller team painted a mural at the garden’s eco-education hub, inspired by the flora and fauna of the area.

As well as planting, we also cleared 3000 metres squared of alien vegetation at various locations in the Garden Route, saved 70 bags of resources from landfill and made 420 eco-bricks throughout our time there. The eco-bricks were used to make two game board sets and an eco-bricks and earth bench for the students to enjoy at the Crags primary school.

However, whilst environmental action is the focus of the festival, I would argue that the real magic of the Festival of Action is the bringing together of people from around the world, who become united in that focus. We live in a time when eco-anxiety is prevalent, and people who have the desire to make a change in the world can often feel isolated and lose hope. I know I’ve been one of those people. But in every week, with every new group, I’ve seen people connecting on a level and at a speed beyond any that I’ve witnessed in my everyday life. I believe this is owing to the fact that everyone is fulfilling their soul purpose together – to care for our earth. This collective ownership of responsibility and the recognition of the power we have together is what I believe is needed to instigate the world-wide action we need to save our earth. 

During the final week at the Eden Festival of Action, we hosted ecologist, filmmaker and educator John D. Liu. He is working to instigate a worldwide movement around the creation of Ecosystem Restoration Camps and was interested in joining us in the Garden Route as he feels that the model we are using could be key in the development of his vision for these camps. We were also extremely excited to host him and learn from him as an expert in the field.

We celebrated the opportunity to learn from John during Eden when we held a talk and panel with him and 4 other experts: Matthew Koehorst of Six Kingdoms, permaculture expert Timothy Wigley, Siyabulela Sokomani of Shoots and Roots and Anna Breytenbach of AnimalSpirit with our Head of Programmes Zoë Gauld-Angelucci moderating the discussion. We harvested questions from our audience of keen environmentalists, and the discussions that arose around the themes of mass reforestation, sustainable farming and the importance of cultural inclusivity in environmental action were highly inspiring. John stated “What I love about Greenpop is that it looks like an ecological restoration camp” – an exciting statement as Greenpop looks towards ongoing restoration projects. As the UN Environment has declared the “Decade on Ecosystem Restoration” John D. Liu’s words of “We either restore the earth or we face the consequences.” ring true to new data that has recently emerged showing that planting trees is one of the simplest and best ways to mitigate the effects of climate breakdown. 

We hope that the people who attended the panel discussion – our team, our participants, our hosts at Wild Spirit Backpackers Lodge and everyone who came to visit for the day – will walk away and feel empowered to continue these conversations and action in their own lives, and within their own communities.

Much of the festival has been focused on enabling this feeling of empowerment amongst our participants, and on providing them with the tools they need to move forward in our collective mission to develop a greener world. We had many knowledgable and inspiring individuals and organisations join us to facilitate workshops in their respective fields of expertise. 

Candice Mostert and Matt Baker from Waste-ED have been working with us for these three weeks, teaching our attendees about the potential for non-recyclable materials to be repurposed into eco-bricks, and showing them how these eco-bricks can be used to build various structures. Together with participants, they built a bench at The Crags Primary School using eco-bricks and natural cob-building methods. Plastic pollution is one of the most pressing environmental issues of our time and therefore it was extremely important for us to address this at the festival. We also arranged a beach clean up each week with Nature’s Valley Trust, highlighting the world-wide threat of plastic pollution and enabling our participants to get active and contribute to the trust’s research. 

Sustainable living and farming were also subjects that we felt were really important to make accessible to our participants. As mentioned, we were joined by one of the father’s of permaculture, Timothy Wigley, during our panel discussion, but there were also a number of other experts in the field that joined us during the three weeks. Environmental activist, writer, speaker and ecopreneur Rhian Berning from Eco Atlas and Renew Able Plett invited our attendees to visit her homestead to learn about off-grid living (a lifestyle she developed after rebuilding her home after the 2017 Knysna fires). Philippa Mallac also joined us there to share her knowledge of permaculture systems and food gardens.

A couple of specialised naturalists joined us to discuss their specific areas of interest. Francois Bekker, otherwise known as Scone, shared his expertise as a mycologist and taught us all about the world of fungi whilst Layla Staegemann gave a number of inspiring talks about the lives of bees and the essential role they play in our ecosystems. Layla is highly skilled in engaging an audience and I know many of our participants, in week two, in particular, left Layla’s talk with a newfound love and respect for our winged friends. Linda Wilson hosted an eco-enterprise workshop informing and educating the youth week attendees on future choices and the impact they have on the world.

Interspecies communicator Anna Breytenbach also encouraged us to connect with our animal spirit and offered an alternative insight into environmental issues. She shared her concerns over the impact we’re having on non-human lives and how important it is for us to reconnect with the plants and animals we share our home with. She offered a number of workshops on inter-species communication during her time with us as well as insight and facilitation on nature connection.

We also had an interactive workshop on social enterprise from Activate Change Drivers, equipping people to be innovative active citizens, influencing and provoking positive change. Blake Dyason hosted The Mind-Blowing  Benefits of being a Nature Steward. As the founder of Love our Trails and co-founder of Brownie Points, he inspired attendees to put our planet first. We loved seeing the attendees engaging with solutions and showing us the way forward.

Within the Art for Awareness programme we painted three collaborative and eco-educational murals within the Garden Route, under the banner of “To We, From Me” and facilitated and run by artist Chris Auret with assistance from Elsabe Vosloo and Yanna Romano. The murals were then co-created with over 120 people placing their mark and upliftment on the artworks. The mural project started in the first week with an incredible workshop in partnership with Nature’s Valley Trust – including a walk to the beach to find ocean objects and inspiration for the mural content. The kids then drew marine life that focused on the kelp biome and these drawings were incorporated into the mural design at the first mural site at the Crags Primary School. The school was thrilled with this beautiful artwork inspiring marine conservation. The second mural at the Garden Route Municipality was an incredible design depicting an afro-montane forest scene featuring fauna and flora indigenous to the area with the collaborative muralists all filling in various sections divided by a mandala. The end result is magical! The attendees also all had a great time painting a mural with a message in Buffelsbaai with support from the municipality. The seaside mural encourages viewers to protect our marine ecosystems by not littering and reconsidering plastic.

Thank you so much to B-Earth Eco Paint & Build-It, for supplying us with the resources to create these bright and inspiring artworks. And thank you to Cape Nature & Animal Spirit, for supporting our waste-education and Art for Awareness project.

Animal agriculture is one of the leading causes of deforestation and climate change, and so it was important for us to introduce our attendees to plant-based food. Risha Naidoo and her team from ProVeg hosted a workshop per week on the benefits of plant-based eating and made some delicious food – demonstrating how little one really needs to sacrifice in order to make the transition to a lifestyle fuelled by plants. In addition to the workshops with ProVeg, we also served plant-based meals for the duration of the festival, in the hopes of showing people how easy it is to incorporate a more environment-friendly diet into your lifestyle. Our chef, Jemma Kruger, and her team did an incredible job of feeding such a large number of people with healthy and delicious food every day and we’re incredibly grateful. We also want to say a huge thank you to our partners who provided the ingredients for Jemma to work with: ButtaNut, Urban Vegan, AGT Foods, Eureka Mills, Good Hope Soya Milk, B-well, Thyme and Again, Quarry Lake Foods, Royston Farms, Mlimi Farm, Grain Mill,Bread and Brew, Outcast Foods, ProVeg SA and Arise Coffee. Soaring Free Superfoods also provided us with a number of delicious snacks to fuel us in our work, including ethically sourced chocolate that comes in biodegradable packaging. They’ve kindly offered to give our readers a 30% discount. Use the code GREENPOP30 when shopping on their site here.

We hosted many fireside jams as well as a final celebration night featuring music from Paulo Costa, Matthew Baker, Jeremy Loops, Devin Harmer, Yasmine Ezzideen, Chris Auret, The Steezies and of course DJ Crashlove. Thank you to all those who brought their energy and music into the space. We loved dancing under the stars and singing along after the hard work at the planting sites! 

We would like to say a special thank you to the Western Cape Government for their generous sponsorship of this event. With your help, we were able to make an impact on the landscape as well as the attendees! You are TREEmendous. Greenpop also appreciated Better Earth helping keep us fresh and sparkling the earth-friendly way. Thank you for your ongoing support. We want to give a special thank you to our sponsor, Essential Green. We appreciate your wonderful donation of biodegradable toilet paper. By using biodegradable toilet paper we have the comfort of knowing we are making a positive impact on our environment. We also had Bread and Brew support us with fresh bakes throughout the event. Thank you!

A huge appreciation for Nomad Adventure Tours for providing us with an overland truck and a legendary driver Takudzwa who got stuck in planting trees with us. Thank you for making our work possible. Avis Van Rental also helped us get around Nature’s Valley and insured the festival logistics ran smoothly. Thank you to RSAM for the insurance support. We also greatly appreciate SANParks for the use of their vehicle throughout the programme. We want to thank Specialized Solar Systems for keeping our attendees on charge the off-grid way! Thank you for your mobile solar solutions. A special mention goes to ongoing partners Cape Union Mart, we cannot thank you enough for what you do for us. Our team t-shirts were really appreciated.

During the Eden Festival of Action 2019, we’ve…

  • Planted 5000 indigenous trees were planted of over 30 species including Yellowwood, Keurboom, Cape Beech, Ironwood, False Ash, Cape Olive and many more.
  • Eaten Over 9000 plant-based meals were served by the conscious kitchen team.
  • Cleared 3000m² of alien vegetation was cleared at the Wild Spirit Backpackers Lodge & the surrounding area.
  • Painted 3 collaborative environmental murals with a total surface area of 104m², by volunteers and led by artist, Chris Auret.
  • Hosted 12 open days were held with over 80 volunteers from the local community.
  • Saved 70 bags of resources from landfill
  • 420 eco-bricks were filled with non-recyclable waste, used to make x2 giant game board sets and x1 ecobrick and earth bench
  • 2 beach plastics surveys took place with Nature’s Valley Trust at Natures Valley Beach, as part of their ongoing research to understand the nature of the plastics problem on a local level. A total of 715 nurdles, 2365 microplastics, 100 cigarette butts were found!
  • 41 scholarship students from the local community joined and participated in the event

All with over 200 participants.

Photography by Schalk Hanekom, Aidan Tobias, Mike Faraday and Alex Hennings.

Photograph by Aidan Tobias

“As the UN Environment has declared the “Decade on Ecosystem Restoration” John D. Liu’s words of “We either restore the earth or we face the consequences.” ring true to new data that has recently emerged showing that planting trees is one of the simplest and best ways to mitigate the effects of climate breakdown. 

People with their hands in the air.
Poem hanging from a tree.
Hands planting a tree.
Singer.

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