MANCHESTER — SolarFest will spend its 25th anniversary online, which organizers say has its pros and cons.
“We didn’t want to have anyone put in danger, so that’s the reason we went online, but we didn’t want to stop doing this, this is our 25th anniversary,” said Steve Berry, who sits on the SolarFest board of directors. “We wanted to make sure there were workshops, that there were programs, that we had a great keynote, and so that’s what we did.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to the cancellation of many events across the country. Some organizers have adapted their program in various ways with many choosing to gather virtually online.
Berry credits fellow board member Michael Bailey with taking the lead on planning the virtual SolarFest. Berry himself worked to secure the keynote speaker, Storm Cunningham.
“So far this year, I’ve done only online and everything I’ve got planned for the future is online,” Cunningham said Monday. “I don’t have a single physical speaking event booked.”
Cunningham is an author, speaker and executive director of the RECONOMICS Institute, which certifies people in regenerative agricultural and economic practices.
He said an upside to speaking so much online now is that his talks are being recorded and saved. His talks are heavy on visuals, and it’s rare someone is set up to record them properly.
“With these online presentations they’re all recorded and they all capture both the speaker and the slides perfectly so people can watch them forever, so that’s a major plus,” he said. “On the negative side, I really miss the interaction with the audience. I try to put a lot of humor in my talks, and with it online I can’t tell if they’re laughing, I can’t tell what’s falling flat, it’s really strange.
“It feels like everything is falling flat. Normally, you’d hear laughter so it’s a little off-putting just to hear dead silence after you’ve said something you think was funny.”
Cunningham’s talk is titled “The Transition to a Regenerative Economy.” Many people use the term “regenerative” differently and there isn’t much consensus, but for Cunningham it’s about agricultural practices that let the land restore itself rather than extract resources that don’t replenish.
“I didn’t invent it by any means, it was mostly pioneered at Rodale Institute in Pennsylvania, and the way I defined it in 2002 was that it was agriculture that increases the quantity and quality of top soil from year to year which helps restore the watershed, which helps boost local biodiversity, especially in native pollinators, which helps revitalize the rural economy,” he said.
SolarFest will be held July 25 and 26 at solarfest.org/. For the past few years, it has been held at Earth Sky Time farm in Manchester.
It draws between 800 and 1,000 people, and has in the past drawn upwards of 5,000.
Bailey said Monday the decision to hold it online was made several months ago. He sees a great deal of overlap between the climate crisis and the pandemic.
“I would say the climate crisis and the COVID crisis are both related in that we need to adapt, and as a society, we need to understand how we need to adapt, in order to succeed going forward,” he said. “The policy decisions around regenerative practices, whether that’s in energy or in agriculture or in pollution or in urban planning, the same things that will help us with pandemics will also help us with climate.”
In addition to Cunningham and other speakers, there will be musical acts and workshops.
“We selected the workshops that are most relevant; renewable power, living off grid, regenerative agriculture, electric carbon-free transportation, they’re timely, and in a time of pandemic, even more so,” Bailey said.