Eugene Weekly : Coverstory : 7.9.2009

Oregon Country Fair 1969-2009

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Beatlemania Hits the Fair 40th anniversary celebration includes full-length White Album

Upgrade Status: Green The Fair’s enviromental focus stays true

Living in Community New executive takes the reins

A Playground for All Family friendly opportunities at the OCF


Upgrade Status: Green
The Fair’s enviromental focus stays true
by Sheena Lahren

For the past three years, the Oregon Country Fair has offered an “upgraded” ticket. However, it’s not the kind of upgrade where you empty your wallet to get backstage access and a sweaty shred of Alice Cooper’s T-shirt. It’s the kind that leaves you with the satisfaction of knowing you contributed to sustainability efforts. And it only costs an extra dollar.

Artwork by Alison Barlow

“Originally formed by a bunch of hippies, the Fair has always had a back-to-the-earth philosophy and has really remained true to its roots,” says Marcus Hinz, executive director of the OCF. “Today, in addition to how we as a fair can do better as far as sustainability, we are also working on how we can help others do better based on what we’ve learned from our successes.”

Thus, the Green Ticket — which means ticket-buyers donate an extra dollar to the price of the ticket — is an option that helps fairgoers practice sustainability. Green Ticket buyers contribute those extra 100 pennies to their choice of one of three funds: “Peach Power,” philanthropy or mass transportation. The Peach Power Fund works to generate renewable energy for the Fair, such as the solar array in the parking lot.

The philanthropy option is one of the many avenues through which the OCF raises money to give away to nonprofit organizations, according to Hinz. One of these is the Bill Wooten Memorial Endowment fund, dedicated to arts and environmental education programs for youth in Fern Ridge.

“When people think in terms of sustainability, they often think in terms of ecology,” says Charlie Ruff, OCF operations manager. “But there is also the social equity piece that is a huge part of sustainability.”

The mass transportation fund returns as an option this year after a year off, replacing last year’s funding for the now self-sufficient durables program, which supplies food vendors with silverware instead of plastic utensils. The mass transportation option helps provide those wonderful free LTD bus and shuttle rides from Eugene to the OCF for anyone with a Fair ticket. “We will still have durable utensils, but we brought back the mass transportation fund this year because the increased cost of providing free transportation has been significant to the Fair,” Ruff says. “We want to continue to encourage people to reduce their carbon footprint by not driving.”

These “deep and broad” efforts, as Hinz describes them, helped the Fair win Eugene’s Bold Steps Toward Sustainability Award this year.

While the OCF has seen rock star success with the Green Ticket, which Ruff say has increased by at least 10 percent in sales each year, it’s not the Fair’s only step toward sustainability. According to Hinz, the Fair employs a stringent land-use management plan for its 400 acres of land. The OCF board of directors is exploring ways to build waste treatment facilities for grey water waste, like that smelly stuff that builds up in porta-potties. Additionally, the OCF is expanding its solar energy program with a variety of solar generating resources to power the stages, Hinz says. And, in an effort to educate fairgoers on sustainability, areas such as Energy Park, a venue for speakers and information booths on alternative energy and the environment, will continue to be featured during the Fair, as in previous years.

So what’s new? This year, the OCF is making a new effort to remove all genetically modified organisms from food offerings. Hinz says that all food vendors should be using completely GMO-free foods. 

“If there were to be a 100 percent GMO-free fair, it would be us,” Hinz says. “Most of our vendors are environmentally conscious already and have responded well to our efforts.”

The list of sustainable projects goes on to include philanthropic donations to programs from the Jill Heiman Vision Fund, which works to preserve the Cascade Wildlands, to Meals on Wheels. But the Fair doesn’t only focus on environmental and philanthropic efforts towards sustainability.  The third part of the OCF’s “triple bottom line” is economic sustainability. 

“In addition to giving money away every year to environmental efforts, we also pull six to eight million dollars of wealth into this area, which is a major contribution to the local economy,” Hinz says.

 This flow of greenbacks is a result of the cyclical nature of the OCF. Many of the vendors who make money during the Fair are local, and they also tend to purchase supplies from local farmers and other distributors. Thus, “the money stays in the area,” Hinz says.

Sustainable transportation, solar-powered stages, real silverware at Fair meals and money staying in circulation in the local economy? It’s all part of the ethos of the Fair.