Close to two decades ago, Queensweep was pretty much just a day to pull tires out of Queensborough ditches and fill garbage bags with the usual mounds of discarded coffee cups and lunch bags.
But this weekend the event is surely a reflection of the times, as it aims to set a new standard for sustainability for community events in New Westminster.
The 19th annual Queensweep is being held on Earth Day - Sunday, April 22. The event, which is being held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Queensborough Middle School, will provide environmental education and entertainment for the whole family.
The day begins with a nature walk along South Dyke Road, which takes place from 8 to 10 a.m. A professional naturalist from Nature Vancouver will guide community members on the walk in Queensborough and point out what Mother Nature has to offer.
"They will take participants to look for birds, native plants, trees," said event coordinator Ivonne Penit. "That is how we are starting our event."
A variety of activities will take place at the Queensweep, including a community cleanup, a garage sale, booths and venders and a seed exchange. While the community cleanup has been a focus in past years, this year's event is focusing on education and food sustainability.
"We are going to have a seed exchange," Penit said. "I have tons of seed packages. We are giving them away to gardeners. Also, the main purpose is to encourage gardeners-to-be - we want them to get started."
A number of organizations will be setting up educational and environmental displays, including New Westminster Environmental Partners, Harvest Power (creates soil, mulch and organic fertilizer products from organic materials), Call2Recycle (a free rechargeable battery and cell phone collection program), Barefoot Books, Bernardin (home canning products) and more.
"We wanted to focus on the community education," Penit said. "We really wanted to focus on food sustainability."
Penit said Queensweep tackles the issue of food sustainability on several fronts, including the seed exchange and sale, information about growing and preserving foods and recycling food scraps, and the provision of on-site food by Extreme Pita.
"For 18 years we have been providing hot dogs. This year we have changed that. We have invited Extreme Pita," she said.
"The reason we have chosen them was they have a healthy living menu. They have a lot of vegetarian choices, a lot of vegetables. We would really like to set an example for city events, especially family events, for children to learn and get to know healthy choices for food."
A big thing being emphasized at this year's event is educational displays that are related to some aspect of the environment or food sustainability, including growing, cooking and preserving food, and recycling food waste.
"We want people to realize how good it is to recycle their food scraps," Penit said.
"The city is providing recycling stations for everything."
In addition to the seed exchange, Fraserside Community Services Society will have a display of its vegetable container program, which aims to allow residents of apartments or townhouses to have access to homegrown, fresh vegetables.
"New Westminster has a very high population of people who live in multi-family apartments," Penit said. "The Biggest Little Garden in Town from Fraserside supplies people who live in apartments, who have no access to soil in their residences, how to grow veggies and food in containers."
Queensweep, which is organized by the Queensborough Special Programs Committee, features a musical performance by Pamela Sunshine at 11 a.m. She'll perform songs from her CD, Growing Up Green.
"It's a perfect fit," Penit said. "I have been listening to this CD. All of the songs talk about reducing and recycling, turning off the water, riding your bike. It is very engaging. She brings instruments for the children to play."
Kids will also be able to makes some eco-friendly arts and crafts at Queensweep.
"It's a whole garden theme with flowers, lady bugs, caterpillars, plants - made with beautiful junk," Penit said. "The kids will be making that with the supplies."
Community members attending the free event will be able to get raffle tickets in a variety of ways, including dressing in Earth Day colours (green and brown), taking part in guessing contest in which they will have to identify herbs, flowers and vegetable plants, making a craft with recyclables, purchasing something from the garage sale tables, eating something healthy, learning something new at the environmental and educational displays and bringing a recyclable item to the event. Small eco-friendly prizes are up for grabs.
"People can get raffle tickets by bringing a small recyclable - it could be an empty aluminum can or a plastic bottle or batteries," Penit said. "A lot of people don't know it is very harmful when they are thrown in the landfill. If they bring a battery, that counts as a raffle ticket."
Penit hopes the event will set the standard for other events held in New Westminster in its bid to achieve zero waste. The city will be providing recycling facilities on site for recyclables and food waste.
"It doesn't really take much," she said. "It doesn't have to be an environmental event. If you educate people how to separate their waste efficiently, they end up with zero waste."
Queensweep has engaged local school children to participate in the event.
"A whole class from the elementary school took this as a project. The class is doing artwork with recyclables. We are displaying that at the event," Penit said. "The middle school, they have an environment club. They are having a display. They produced compost."
The city is also using the event to unveil a youth art initiative that's been underway in Queensborough. The unveiling takes place at 11 a.m.
"The kids for this Youth Art initiative have been working on panels. They are pairing with this event for the unveiling," Penit said. "This is a legacy for Queensborough." www.twitter.com/TheresaMcManus