Last week in lieu of our regular work day in the garden at 4th Street, we were at Comfest and in addition to members volunteering in Clean Up & Recycling, Wine, Food Fairy, Archives, and Safety, we also were at the Solar Stage sharing with a larger community our work at 4th Street. For those not familiar, ComFest (officially The Community Festival) is a large, free, non-corporate, music and arts annual festival currently held each June at Goodale Park in the Victorian Village area of Columbus, Ohio.
The festival bills itself as “The Party with a Purpose”. To accomplish this goal, the festival relies on community members to work together in the planning and operation of the festival serving on committees and work teams including clean-up and recycling, safety and first aid, entertainment, street fair, and the “World Peace Rocks Forever Committee”. The festival was first held in 1972 in the University District just off-campus as a showcase of community organizations including the Columbus Free Press, Free Health Clinic, Food Co-op, Tenants Union, Crisis Hotline, and Recycling Center. The festival continues to provide a forum for alternative lifestyles, collective activity, and the history of Comfest. Here is a display of Comfest t-shirts in the Shelter House. These t-shirt are only ever earned by volunteering at Comfest and have never ever been for sale. Many people may be familiar with the beer from local The Columbus Brewing Company and other companies is sold in large, colorful mugs at Comfest, but most aren’t aware that the money is used to fund the cost of the festival itself and to raise money for community projects and grants … like providing a freezer for NNEMAP or programming support for Huck House, both of whom serve Weinland Park … or many other amazing community-oriented organizations.
All tips from the beer booths go to homeless shelters and the festival actively supports local artists, musicians, and food vendors in selecting entertainment, education, and eating together. Last year, the mural at 4th Street Farms was painted at the Solar Stage: The Solar Stage in particular gives voice to explorations of social justice, environmental and health issues. This year, 4th Street Farms was asked to participate in a panel talk on experiments in urban agriculture, particularly back yard, front yard, container gardening, and other forms of experimental growing. The panel entitled Grow Your Own: Food Not Lawns was moderated by Trish Denboestel from Local Matters and featured Christine Annarino from Green Thumb Revolution, Hank Koehler from Four Seasons City Farms, Derek Lorey, from Helping Hands Community Garden, Evelyn Van Til of 4th Street Farms, as well as Elena Harvey Collins, an artist working themes of local food access and social justice. The presentation included screening a video by Elena about urban growers and the impact of the development of a local food system in the Weinland Park neighborhood of Columbus Ohio.
Panelists discussed the power of gardening in bringing people together as well as some of the barriers to urban gardening, such as access to secure land, quality soil, transportation, and reliable water source, as well as complex social issues related to race, class, and gender. While we didn’t resolve all these barriers and issues, it was clear that across the board, panelists and audience alike, everyone felt passionately about the power of growing our own food in bringing people together in collective action.