By Betsy Shaw Mackenzie
We pulled into the SolarFest parking lot, otherwise known as a horse pasture, at Forget-Me-Not Farm with minutes to spare. Theater in the Woods, a traditional highlight of the festival, was due to start in five minutes. And we still had to get to the woods.
I jogged across the meadow as fast as a mother with a child bouncing up and down in a backpack on her back dares. We arrived at the site of the first scene-the play moves around to several different “sets” while the audience follows-threaded our way through the audience and found a mossy stump on which to sit. There, in the middle of the forest, the green, leafy canopy leaking strands of golden sunshine onto our faces, we were richly entertained.
The play, “Humpty’s Dream,” written by local children’s book author, Frank Asch, and performed by area youth, told a tale of change and the natural human tendency to resist it. While Humpty didn’t change the world, he found the courage to change himself and in turn gave courage to all the other fragile eggs out there to move beyond their comfort zone and discover their “inner chickens” as well. Humpty initiated change, and that’s exactly what Solarfest strives to do.
SolarFest: The New England Renewable Energy Festival is a party with a purpose. For an entire weekend, starting on Friday afternoon and ending before sunset on Sunday, Forget-Me-Not Farm, an 80-acre hill farm in Tinmouth, owned by Marshall and Melody Squier, becomes an outdoor campus; a place to be educated and inspired, or just plain entertained.
While the farm setting and the music might conjure up thoughts of a mini Woodstock, there’s much more to SolarFest than “getting back to the garden.” The festival is powered by a complicated array of renewable energy sources, including solar, wind and biodiesel. For $35, the price of a typical restaurant meal or tank of gas (if you drive a compact car), visitors gain access to fifty in-depth, renewable energy and sustainable community workshops, a full lineup of talented musicians and singer songwriters, and close to a hundred conservation-oriented vendors and exhibitors. One of last year’s Main Stage acts, singer/songwriter Ember Swift, summed up SolarFest on her blog like this, “Going there makes me just want to sprawl on the grass, and watch the clouds overhead while simultaneously saving the world.”
The workshops make the concept of saving the world a bit less threatening. With titles like “The World of Bees” or “Weed Walk: Learning to identify edible and medicinal plants,” “Spin your electric meter backwards with PV (photovoltaics)” and “Forming your own town energy committee,” you can decide how small or big an impact you want to make. I came away from the “No Sustainability No Peace” workshop inspired by the essential message that we should be focusing on what we have to gain rather than what we have to give up. SolarFest isn’t all about grownup worries. Along with Theater in the Woods, there are plenty of kid-friendly diversions, including organized crafts, storytellers, clowns and magicians. In Musician Slim Harrison’s “Jug Music” workshop, kids make their own instruments from recycled junk and later take to the Family Stage with spoons and washboards to perform as part of the “Sunnyland Band.”