Brooklyn Center resident Jill Dalton felt a tinge of regret when she returned to her old Minneapolis neighborhood to attend a May Day celebration. Dalton missed the deeply rooted sense of community and environmental activism that flourished in Minneapolis but seemed thin and scattered in her suburban surroundings.
At first, she vowed to move back to her old neighborhood. Then she vowed to change her new one.
“I had a revelation. I was in Brooklyn Center for a reason,” Dalton said.
She connected with fellow Brooklyn Center community advocate Diane Sannes. Together, they founded EarthFest, a one-day celebration that they believe is nurturing a grass-roots environmental movement and a stronger community identity in the Minneapolis suburb.
“You don’t have to import it — you make it,” explained Sannes, who has lived in Brooklyn Township and then Brooklyn Center for 60 years, her entire life.
The festival started as a rather modest affair in 2010 — the 40th anniversary of Earth Day.
This year’s EarthFest, from noon to 4 p.m. on April 20 at Brooklyn Center High School, will feature more than 60 booths, food, how-to demonstrations and crafts, including kite making.
Performance artist and rapper Allison Warden, an Inupiaq Eskimo from Alaska, will perform her one-woman show, “Calling All Polar Bears.” That will take place at noon.
The idea is to show people how they can incorporate Earth-friendly activities into their everyday lives.
“We welcome liked-minded people, but don’t just want to be preaching to the choir. We want to attract people who would not otherwise come,” Dalton said.
They hope to top 800 visitors. The event is free and open to the public.
“It’s been pretty successful each year, with a lot of displays and a lot of showcases,” said Steve Lillehaug, city engineer and public works director. This year, EarthFest will coincide with the 12th annual Shingle Creek Watershed Cleanup. Dalton said they hope volunteers will make a day of it, attending the cleanup in the morning and then EarthFest in the afternoon.
Dalton, who owns a Curves fitness center in Brooklyn Center, said her roots in the environmental movement run deep. She said she feels most connected to the movement when she spends time in the garden surrounding her century-old farmhouse.
“The closer you get to the Earth, the more you want to take care of it,” said Dalton, who is also a Brooklyn Center parks and rec commissioner.
Sannes recalls her entree into the then fledgling environmental movement. As a high school senior, she took part in a bottle drive and walked to school on the first Earth Day in 1970. She and other students collected and sorted glass bottles by color.
“We drove down to Shakopee. That was the only place you could recycle,” said Sannes, who is retired from Medtronic.
She and her husband now live in a home on the banks of the Mississippi River. The majestic views and the wildlife, including swans, deer and foxes, are a daily reminder of what’s at stake.
Dalton and Sannes say they feel they’re part of a bigger grass-roots environmental movement now afoot in Brooklyn Center.
• The city has started hosting a community garden in Centennial Park.
• The city has installed nearly 50 bicycle racks.
• Several farmer’s markets have popped up around the city, including one in the parking lot of Brooklyn United Methodist Church, offering residents locally grown produce.
• Brooklyn Center has hired a consultant to create a new citywide bike and pedestrian plan, looking at gaps in the system and ways to improve them. The city also is working on making it easier and safer for children to walk and bike to local schools, Lillehaug said.
• Volunteers from Brooklyn Center and eight other cities will gather at 9 a.m. on April 20 for the city’s 12th Annual Great Shingle Creek Watershed Clean Up. Last year, 185 volunteers collected 124 garbage bags full of debris.
EarthFest is as much about creating a sense of community as environmental activism, organizers say.
“The thing we love to do is connect people in the community,” Dalton said. “People coming together is a very important part of this mission.”