First Berks Sustainbilty Festival blends nature with lifestyle

Photos by Emily Thiel Left to right Ali Bowman, Bella Shannon, 9, Green Valley; Lily Caldwell, 7, Wyomissing; Pearl Caldwell, 7, Wyomissing; Mya Bagenstose, 7, Wyomissing, and Cheyanne King represent Kooky Bird designs which reinvents fashion from second hand clothing. The girls presented a fashion show at the Berks Sustainability Festival.
Albright sophomore Ellen Underwood explains the enviornmental efforts of the students of the college during the Berks Sustainability Festival.

As a way to promote the importance of an eco-friendly lifestyle, the paved parking lot at the VF Outlets was transformed into a festival dedicated to sustainability on Saturday, July 19 with approximately 1,000 people in attendance. Organizer Mark Ratcliff stated that he was “happy with the participation” from both local vendors and the public to represent interest in natural ways of living.

Lucine Sihelnik, founder of Gayatri Wellness, promoted their Farm to Table efforts, which began in May as a community organization with the initiative to introduce fresh grown produce, vegetables and food from local farms into neighborhood restaurants.

For chef Heather deTurck the initiative of supplying seasonal food grown locally to patrons through dietary creations is important.

“In the culinary world we give the food to the customer. Here the food is delivered to the restaurant for the chefs and cooks to use local fresh foods in their preparations,” deTurck said.


There are six restaurants currently in service with Farm to Table throughout Berks County, as the program proves more popular in surrounding counties, but the minds behind the project expect Food to Table to “explode next year throughout the county.”

“It’s starting to emerge in Berks,” she said. “The chefs are super excited to bring delicious, seasonal food to [the restaurant patrons].” West Reading restaurants Good Eatz Green Cafe and Say Cheese! Restaurant and Cheese are among the first to begin working with Farm to Table. The food is all grown less than 20 miles away from the restaurants, truly a production of living in a sustainable way.

“When you put it back in the rotating budget within the season, we work with the same realm with the farmers who grow the produce,” deTurck explained.

Gayatri Wellness was founded “as a community organization and model of sustainablity” and continue to act on those principals. Sihelnik focused on forming partnerships with nearby dairy farmers, bread makers, and beekeepers to “focus on food access and bring community food from farms to the people who don’t have it.” Gayatri Wellness also provides filled boxes of produce for purchase through their Community Shared Agriculture program to supply families or individuals with a week’s supply of fresh, local food of the season. Meat, vegetable, and fruit provisions are available.

CSA “serves their needs” and provides customers with a collection of fresh produce for the week that revolves around the individuals’ monetary budgets. Operating on a month-to-month payment, the purchaser can “come in when you feel it’s best for you” while providing a cost effective way of accessing fresh, local and healthy eats.

Gayatri Wellness participates with three local markets and farm stands to sell their produce in addition to their CSA and Farm to Table work.

“Our job is to feed people,” Sihelnik said. She often asks people to compare their prices to the designer prices found in the grocery store, you may be surprised what you will see. “Our [produce] is more nutritious, it’s fun, there is education behind it. We can live a healthy and happy lifestyle... it’s really for everybody.”

In addition to promoting sustainable agriculture, Gayatri Wellness offers yoga classes and promotes nature therapy to “live that lifestyle” of wellness. They look at any aspect of stewardship, and community engagement to focus on environmental efforts to support our local economy.

Kooky Bird creations by Christin Bagenstose, Wyomissing, hosted a fashion show to provide a visual of how refurbished dresses from second hand stores are quite the sustainable fashion. Repurposing the clothing gives it a new meaning and new life. Cheyanne King, Ali Bowman, Bella Shannon, 9, Green Valley, Lily and Pearl Caldwell, 7, Wyomissing, Mya Bagenstose, 7, Wyomissing, served as models for Kooky Bird designs during the festival.

Shillington artist Jane Runyeon of All Together Art showed the necessity to take recycling seriously with a giant piece of artwork. A massive block of condensed plastic waste showcased the fact, according to Ocean Conservancy, that there are 46,000 separate pieces of plastic in every square mile of the ocean. Reusing what we already have and refilling reusable water bottles, is one answer to chipping away at the damage to our eco-system.

Ellen Underwood, an upcoming sophomore at Albright College, is the manager of the permaculture garden at the school where students promote a sustainable garden lifestyle while minimizing space. Using rain barrels on site to collect water for their garden is one way they are being eco-friendly. After finding a design for an herb spiral, students built a garden specifically set for growing herbs in a replica of the climate in which they thrive.

“We grow all different things while catering to the herbs’ specific growing needs,” Underwood said. The garden is built with a brick foundation, spiraling upwards. Herbs that need a wet, cool climate are planted at the bottom, while herbs who flourish in a dry climate with direct sunlight are planted at the top.

A new process of organic composting was presented at the festival through Permacultivate with Bokashi bran. Permacultivate is a non-profit organization that specializes in regenerative urban permaculture for the Schuylkill Valley bioregion of Pennsylvania.

Permacultivate occupies the greenhouse in the city of Reading. The greenhouse was vacant for two decades, but now is getting some use thanks to the efforts of those interested with permiculture. Brian Twyman and Phil Wert are both active with the lifestyle and serve on the board of directors.

Bokashi is the opposite of traditional outdoor composting as the end result is fermented food waste. The process provides an organic and simplistic way to compost indoors while creating a rich nutrient to deliver back to the earth.The process is composting without air and serves “great during the winter or for apartment life” because food waste (scraps, cheese, meats, bones, teabags, coffee) are able to be broken down throughout all four seasons.

In a large sealed tub you add a layer of waste and sprinkle the Bokashi bran over it, seal the lid, and continue the process.

When the bucket is full you bury the pickled compost in the yard in a hole six to eight inches deep. You throw in the slop and cover it up with dirt. In about two weeks the nutrients are absorbed into the soil to improve a bed for the next year.

Fermenting materials reactivates the soil. The idea behind the process is to mimic the closed loop systems and inherent relationships in nature, as nature can sustain itself.

“We believe a garden can do everything to teach,” Twyman said.

Educationally, Permicultivate promotes site work with public school systems to promote the eco-lifestyle.

With just one day, the first Berks Sustainability Festival brought a variety of tools and ideas to the public through local organizations who are already focusing on living a sustainable lifestyle.

About the Author

Emily Thiel

Emily Thiel is the editor of The Southern Berks News and is the Community Engagement Editor for Berks-Mont Newspapers. Emily joined Berks-Mont in March 2013. She graduated from Kutztown University in 2011 with a degree in English with a concentration in Cultural and Media Studies. Emily is a native of Allentown, Pa. Reach the author at or follow Emily on Twitter: @sthrnberksnews.