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Years in the making, a Johnson County environmental fair recruits residents to fight climate change

A woman in a green shirt stands behind a table with a green tablecloth. She speaks with a group of four -- two adults and two children. The crowd is in a gym, with wooden floors and a basketball court.
Savannah Hawley
KCUR 89.3
Nearly 50 vendors attended the Go Green! fair, where they educated the public on various ways to reduce emissions in their personal lives.

Hundreds attended the Go Green environmental fair on Saturday, which brought businesses and advocacy groups together from across nine Johnson County cities to educate residents on ways they can reduce their carbon footprint and make a positive impact in their communities.

When Terri Baugh first began planning an environmental fair for Johnson County, Kansas, two years ago, she knew she wanted the first-of-its-kind event to serve as many people as possible.

“Everybody hears about climate action, but most families really don't know what part they can do,” Baugh said. “The main purpose of it is education. Having families come in and hear about all the different organizations (to learn), ‘What can I do to be more green?’”

To do that, she hoped to get all nine northeast Johnson County cities — Merriam, Mission, Mission Hills, Mission Woods, Fairway, Prairie Village, Roeland Park, Westwood and Westwood Hills — on board.

But the coronavirus lockdown in early 2020 stopped all planning.

“We sent out the invitations to all the mayors literally two weeks before the entire city got shut down because of COVID-19,” said Baugh, a member of Mission, Kansas, sustainability commission. “So it's been on the back burner. When things started getting better, I brought it back up to the sustainability group.”

Once COVID-19 risks lowered, Baugh decided it was time to help the community address the climate crisis and reduce their carbon emissions. She wanted the Go Green 2022! Environmental Fair to show people across the region every possible avenue they had for sustainability.

Ultimately, 49 vendors — ranging from compost companies to advocacy groups to the K-State Agricultural Extension — filled the Powell Community Center in Merriam on Saturday to lead hands-on learning on all things environment.

Baugh said the free-to-attend fair was busy almost as soon as it began, with hundreds of people showing up.

A woman wearing a green undershirt and a white button-down with green spots, talks to an adult holding his child, both in blue shirts. Another child, wearing orange, stands next to the adult male.
Savannah Hawley
KCUR 89.3
Terri Baugh (L) spent years planning Johnson County's first environmental fair. She said it's urgent that the community learns about how to take action against climate change.

Sophie Mullinax, who represented Solarize KC, said she had dozens of people who spoke to her in just the first hour.

The Solarize KC campaign is currently supported by the Kansas City, Missouri, government and offers a limited-time purchasing campaign for solar panels and battery stores for residents, businesses and nonprofits.

“Going solar right now, with the new 30% tax credit through the Inflation Reduction Act, I think the time couldn't be better,” Mullinax said.

Karen Ramsey, who represented Food Cycle KC, had similar success getting the word out about the Johnson County composting company.

“I think it's great for everyone to be able to see opportunities that they have to support the environment and sustainability just to create awareness for people,” Ramsey said. “Specifically to Food Cycle, in regards to how the things that they're throwing in the trash are actually a resource that we can turn into something to support our community, rather than having it just go into the landfill and be stuck there.”

Ramsey said the multi-city collaboration for the event helped sustainable businesses like hers gain traction in a community eager to do something for the environment.

“I think food waste and sustainability is a regional issue,” Ramsey said. “So I think that seeing cities work together maybe will help all of us see that we can help support this and work together. I think that's really key for this particular fair, and anytime we can educate people on sustainability it just helps our community that much more.”

The Go Green fair was sponsored by companies like After the Harvest, Sow Wild Natives, Ripple Glass, PCs for People, ProShred and Secure e-Cycle.

Others, like Hillary Parker Thomas, individually helped fund the event. Thomas, who sits on the Mission City Council and is on the Climate Action KC coalition, said events like this one are invaluable to the community.

“I think people really want tangible ways that they can help drive down carbon emissions and help support our earth, but they don't always know how,” said Thomas, who “We have a lot of people saying, ‘I've heard of (Climate Action), but I didn't know what you did,’ and I bet that's the case for a lot of these groups. We're just excited for folks to engage and get educated.”

Promotions coordinator Jennifer Jones-Lacy said the turnout was better than expected and is excited for future years.

Jones-Lacy thinks the timing of the fair is crucial since Johnson County is involved with the Mid-America Regional Council’s Regional Climate Action Plan. The proposal provides a framework for each part of the Kansas City metro area to address climate change and reach zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

“There's several of those organizations here that can connect people to how they can contribute to reducing our carbon footprint,” Jones-Lacy said. “That's the goal because, all of these cities, we're all part of the Climate Action Plan. We are all working to improve sustainability locally as a part of a global community.”

When news breaks, it can be easy to rely on officials and people in power to get information fast. As KCUR’s general assignment and breaking news reporter, I want to bring you the human faces of the day’s biggest stories. Whether it’s a local shop owner or a worker on the picket line, I want to give you the stories of the real people who are driving change in the Kansas City area. Email me at savannahhawley@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @savannahhawley.
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