Image by Louis Reed/Unsplash
“I grew up in the San Joaquin Valley . . . close to the Sierras, says Peggy Rebol, founder of the Whole Earth and Watershed Festival. “My dad was an active backpacker. From an early age we went up into the mountains, always, every year. I feel the most like me, the most connected, when I’m outside in nature.”
Rebol, who majored in biology, worked first in hospitals and research institutions, then as a credentialed teacher, before becoming the Director of Ministry at Redding’s First United Methodist Church. In the church, she said, she found a community that "believed absolutely in our responsibility to care for our environment in all aspects.” Quietly, she began working with others in her faith community towards a local Earth Day celebration.
Rebol describes how that shared sense of environmental responsibility grew into Redding’s Whole Earth Festival in 2006, an event held in the parking lot of the Methodist church that drew drew fifteen exhibitors and three hundred attendees. Connections were so strong that day, Rebol says, that they knew they needed to take the Festival community-wide. She says the second Whole Earth Festival was held at City Hall in 2007 in collaboration with partners like Redding Electric Utility, Shasta College, Women's Health Specialists, Halcyon Solar, the North State Parent and the Sierra Club.
The group committed to making the annual event free to all participants from the very beginning, Rebol says, and grass-roots organizers worked hard to make that happen on a tiny budget. They priced festival booths at $25 for non-profit and government groups and $50 for businesses, a price, Rebol says, that has not changed in the last fifteen years. “We wanted to provide a place for lots of these non-profits to be able to network, because really there’s all these little tiny organizations all over this area doing really great work.”
Rebol says event organizers developed three central goals: promote healthy living, promote healthy communities and restore a healthy planet. Booth participants needed to reflect one or more of those tenets. And new partnerships have continued to develop around those goals.
The Whole Earth and Watershed Festival was cancelled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year it resumes virtually with a number of prerecorded events, learning links, and a film festival.
Leading up to Earth Day, three virtual global summit events oriented to youth, climate justice, and educators will be accessible to Whole Earth and Watershed Festival participants via the Earth Day Network, throughout Tuesday and Wednesday, April 20-21. The Earth Day Network organized the first Earth Day fifty-one years ago. This year, The Whole Earth and Watershed Festival is an official event of the Network.
On Thursday, April 22nd, Earth Day, Redding’s Whole Earth and Watershed Festival local events will begin, with a prerecorded Native American welcoming ceremony and Earth Day messages from partners and sponsors of the event. Links to learning opportunities featuring local environmental issues and activities will be provided and participants in the festival can sign up to get Earth Day prizes. Local attendees will also be able to watch a free virtual eco-fashion showcase featuring 6 local designers.
Friday night, April 23rd, the local festival will culminate in their only paid event - the Redding tour of the Wild and Scenic Film Festival, offered in collaboration with Shasta Living Streets. Ticket purchases, which start at $15 and offer access to a whole household, support the Shasta Bike Depot and include a raffle ticket for an E-Cargo bike.
Rebol says climate change is now affecting all aspects of our lives and it should push us to look at changes in policies including planning, development and transportation. As a local community, climate affects our region through drought and wildfire, she said, “so anything we can do to mitigate or adapt to these realities will benefit us.”
“We are super excited about the increased walkability and bikeability of our local area," she says, "and all the work that’s being done downtown to address transportation, emissions, and new affordable housing. It really ticks all the boxes for healthy living, healthy community, and a healthy earth.”
The Whole Earth and Watershed Festival is also facilitating the public’s access to the City of Redding’s Groundwater Sustainability Workshop on Tuesday April 27th because, Rebol says, water, and the local watershed, are “our lifeblood here.”
“It’s really important for people to understand that they are part of a large watershed,” Rebol said. “We kind of pass by the river and see it from I-5. You don’t realize how much that water, all the little tributaries from the mountains, the little creeks, you don’t really realize how much all that water impacts all the fish and salmon runs.”
“This watershed is vital,” she continued, “for us to live. Especially in an area that has a lot of drought, the watershed is vital partly because it feeds the aquifers. We really are in a good situation in terms of our groundwater, as people can learn from the workshop, and that’s because of the strength of the watershed.”
“You turn on your tap,” she said, “ and water comes out of it and you don’t even think about it. But we have to, for all the species that rely on the watershed. It’s up to us to be responsible with our water usage and to be aware of how all this water affects all of our lives. Literally water is life, we couldn’t exist here in the ways that we do without such a strong watershed as we have.”
She said we can reconnect with water and the earth by getting out into nature, which will benefit us spiritually, emotionally and physically and remind us of how interconnected we are with the natural world. Remembering that interconnection is what we need to care enough to change the systems needed to protect the Earth for future generations, Rebol said.
You can learn more about the Whole Earth and Watershed Festival here. Local event links go live on Earth Day, Thursday, April 22nd, 2021.