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MANCHESTER — SolarFest returns for 2019 with a full lineup of musical acts, food, art and fun while staying true to the festival's original environmental mission.

This year's SolarFest will be held Sunday, July 21, at Earth Sky Time Community Farm beginning at 10 a.m.

Tickets for the family friendly event are $15 in advance, $20 at the door and free for children under 12.

Musical acts to be featured at this year's SolarFest include artists from Vermont and around the world. The Gaslight Tinkers, Freddi Shehadi and friends, and Mowgli's Bluegrass Trio, all from Vermont, will be joined by the Chicago Afro Beat Project and Rio Mira, featuring the African-influenced music of coastal Ecuador and Colombia.

Most annual music and art festivals are moving toward being more environmentally conscious. WinterWonderGrass, a bluegrass festival that made its debut at Stratton Mountain in December 2018, has a sustainability director and a partnership with Kleen Kanteen to give attendees reusable cups. SolarFest is on a similar plane and used to run solely on solar energy while at Forget Me Not.

"We started in a field with no electric. The mission was the prove that solar works. How do you provide amplifiers, a stage and lights in a farm field?" said Michael Bailey, SolarFest trustee and treasurer. "They said `Can we hook these panels up and play guitar?'"

SolarFest, in a sense, is back to square one in terms of functioning on alternative energy sources for the event, however, Earth Sky Time is on track to install a 21-kilowatt solar array on behalf of a grant and support from Grassroots Solar. Some vendors participating in the festival will run off alternative energy sources, Oliver Levis said.

Bailey explained that when some think about renewable and sustainable energy, battery power, electric cars, and wind turbines come to mind. While those topics are still pertinent, he thinks the intersection of communities sits at the core of the festival.

"It's a return home to a community farm," he said. "It's the National Organic Farmers Association, extinction revolution, farmers, craftsmen, tradesmen . All those communities come together because at our origin there was no source of reliable information about sustainable energy, so the credibility of neighbor-to-neighbor and sharing experiences that's really what I think is the uniqueness of what we do."

Keynote speaker Edward Cameron has years of experience educating groups on climate change and its transformation from an environmental issue to a human rights issue. He'll talk about the political capital investments that'll happen in the next two decades and how private and public government sectors are "beginning to act," following the 2015 Paris Agreement.

"We need to use this as an opportunity to build a better world," Cameron said in an interview.

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Consumer brands, who are considered large polluters, are taking steps to be more environmentally conscious. Ben & Jerry's and Dove, for example, plan to use agricultural materials from sustainable sources by 2020 and work with farmers to reduce environmental harm, according to the New York Times.

"We need to be advocates for minority groups, immigrants and low-income neighborhoods and not just for polar bears," Cameron said. "We need to stop thinking about it as an environmental problem and get serious about climate change."

As for human rights, addressing issues around poverty, immigrants, low-income areas and women's reproductive rights acts as a second leg of climate justice, Cameron explained. When women have control over their reproductive rights it contributes to climate change and the percentage of high consuming people in the world. "Someone growing up in Kenya does not have the same carbon footprint as someone in Texas," he said.

Your diet, energy sources, transportation habits, and consumption behaviors can be revised to help fight climate change, Cameron said. Buying local, for instance, helps keep local businesses open and able to pay staff at a liveable wage, which in turn helps the community stay vibrant. He questioned what would be left of Manchester if the Northshire Bookstore disappeared and how the rise in Amazon and online orders counteract local support.

"We must take seriously our role as educators by having conversations with neighbors and the community on climate change," he said. "We must be active as consumers and citizens and lead by example by doing things in our own lives with consumption of energy, eating, purchases, transportation, etc. You must take your role as a citizen very seriously and use your money to buy goods from companies who are committed to this and above all show up to vote. If there isn't anyone you want to vote for, stand up for yourself next time around. It has to start with us. Act. Enable. Influence."

Cameron believes SolarFest serves a great purpose in that it can welcome people who don't quite understand climate justice yet and can reach out to those who don't agree without pointing fingers, rather conversing and making it more inclusive.

"I think Vermont is a place that is environmentally and socially conscious in its DNA, so it makes sense to tap into that," Cameron said. "There's great thinking here for sustainable food systems and sustainable energy. There's a lot of pioneers here and the state is receptive to the things we need to do."

Listen, create and learn at SolarFest 2019 on July 21st starting at 10 a.m. with activities for the entire family. Tickets are $15 in advance, $20 at the door and free for children under 12.

"This year we put the fest back in SolarFest. We're bringing back the mission. It's always been renewable energy education through the arts," Bailey said. "There are festivals and there are energy days but we're creating a community where Solar Power Consultant John Blittersdorf can talk to a young business owner trying to figure out how to make their bakery more sustainable. It's breaking the bubble and breaking down the silos so everyone has a great time."


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