With a diverse selection of entertainment, record attendance and a zero waste initiative, this year’s Pawpaw Festival was a huge success for the community and the environment.
Chris Chmiel, Athens County commissioner and founder of the Pawpaw Festival, said he started the festival 16 years ago to educate people about pawpaws and do something that wasn’t being done already.
The pawpaw is a native fruit grown in northeastern America. It has a sweet, mango-like taste and a creamy texture similar to that of an avocado. It is typically harvested from mid-August to early October and has a very short shelf life of about a week, which is why it is not typically found in the produce section of your local grocer. However, Athens County residents find a lot to do with these pawpaws while they are still ripe.
Jackie O’s Brewery has been making their Paw Paw Wheat for about six years, said owner Art Oestrike. In the past, the demand for the beer was so high they often ran out before the festival ended. But this year, thanks to their new production facility, they were able to provide more beer than ever, and the Jackie O’s tent sold 45 kegs worth of the Paw Paw Wheat over the course of the weekend.
“For the Pawpaw Fest, that’s a pretty awesome feat,” Oestrike said.
Another success was the “Plight of the Pollinator” exhibit that educated fest goers on the effects of habitat loss and climate change on several pollinating species like butterflies and honeybees. Loraine McCosker, a research associate for the Voinovich School and host of The Monarch Butterfly workshop, said she estimated over 1,500 people come through the tent.
“People love to get engaged, and the butterflies are a really great way of engaging people and having them learn about not only the butterflies or the pollinators, but the habitats they need, the importance of specific environments and the stresses they’re experiencing right now,” McCosker said.
Rural Action’s “Zero Waste Initiative” installed several of its “resource recovery stations” throughout the park, which helped people divide their waste properly. The initiative held higher standards for this year’s festival then it did last year when participants kept over 1,500 pounds of resources out of the landfill — a 70.8 percent diversion rate — through recycling and composting. This year, the team saved approximately 2,140 pounds of compost, 800 pounds of recycling and had a diversion rate of nearly 94 percent. According to Tyler Bonner, a Rural Action AmeriCorps member, “anything over 90 percent is officially considered ‘Zero Waste.'”
Overall, Chmiel was pleased with the turnout of this year’s festival, aside from some complications with the solar powered stage, and he hopes next year the festival will last for four days instead of three.
“Somebody said to me, ‘We don’t have a bunch of crap at this festival,’ and I think that’s very true. We have a good, authentic, high quality experience for people,” Chmiel said.
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