Campus was aglow with the light of selfies being taken amongst crunchy orange leaves. UMBC students in cable-knit sweaters clutched their seasonal Starbucks treats as they browsed the information tables lining The Commons and the Quad. This Instagram-worthy sight could only have meant one thing: fall had arrived, and with it, Harvest Fest.
Every year, during Maryland’s sweater season, campus hosts yet another festival. Much like Involvement Fest, Harvest Fest featured seemingly-infinite tables full of passionate students, armed with handouts and ready to educate.
However, this festival differed from the others in its goal. The purpose was simple: educate students on how to be more eco-friendly. Each table was manned by various campus organizations committed to creating a kinder, more wholesome UMBC, from healthier contraception to locally sourced True Grit’s options.
The first stand was manned by the giggling senior Kyndal Gehlbach, an environmental studies major who was happily teaching Harvest Fest attendees about “Plarn,” or plastic yarn. Using recycled plastic bag strips, she managed to braid the underrated material into ridiculously cute yoga bracelets. Trend alert, UMBC: these eco-friendly accessories were not only super fun to make, they also looked store-bought.
Holding one end of a bracelet with her mouth, and using her hands to braid the other end, the multitasking Gehlbach began to explain her cause. “I’m an Eco Ambassador,” she said through her teeth, mid-smile, “and we’re a group of students trying to raise awareness about different sustainable efforts on campus.” Students who stopped by the table had the opportunity to sign a green pledge, promising to try to contribute to the cause’s efforts.
A few steps away sat the UMBC Community Garden group, who started out with the simple idea to help the UMBC community bring sustainable, healthy campus-grown food into the busy lives of students. Just across the room, the Student Events Board made their inevitable appearance, armed with wildly popular orange frosted Halloween cookies.
The Peer Health Education table, one of the most crowded throughout the day, boasted a wheel game, free swag and clever eco-friendly condoms. The PHE group explained how they’re committed to making all aspects of college life more economically sustainable. The condoms, made from recyclable latex, were quite the hit. “Obviously these are still single use,” stated the table’s rep, “I keep having the re-articulate that.”
Another hit of the day was the People United table, manned by senior social work major Emily Frias, the group’s representative. PU is a student organization devoted to direct action relating to anti-oppressive practice. Their poster contained not only the names of its members, but also their preferred gender pronouns. “We’re committed to amplifying community voices,” said Frias.
When asked about her position with the group, Frias smiled. “We don’t have a hierarchal leadership,” she explained, “anyone who wants to take leadership is encouraged to.” The table featured an anti-fracking petition, which was overflowing with names.
David Atlas, a freshman mathematics major and Harvest Fest attendee, said it best. “This festival was such a hit because it combined so much of what we, as a generation, are passionate about: sustainability, kindness and pumpkins.”