The Green Scene

For Debi Athos, the path to promoting healthy foods began with a rude awakening. A red flag went up more than seven years ago, when she first learned about genetically engineered foods lurking on the shelves of conventional grocery stores. “I was quite concerned that there was no notice to the public,” says Athos, an organic-products retailer. And because GE foods weren’t (and still aren’t) labeled, she adds, “Nobody knew about it.” Athos converted her initial shock into a proactive effort to get the word out, and Pure Food Partners was born.

Wingin’ it: Debi Athos’ daughter, Ilia, dressed for the event her mom organizes each year. photo by Leslie Simon

Soon after, the nonprofit group hosted a rally and joined a nationwide push for mandatory labeling of GE foods. Despite the widespread effort, however, the campaign has not yet achieved its goal. And over time, Athos grew increasingly discouraged about her role as the bearer of bad news. “It’s an important issue,” she maintains, “but very negative.”

So while driving home from a sparsely attended workshop she’d led one evening, Athos vowed to bring some levity to her work by creating an event that would “spotlight, highlight and promote the good foods that we do have.” GE foods might not be labeled, but certified-organic foods are, she points out. “I thought, why not approach it with a positive? These are the pure foods we have to choose from. Let’s promote them!”

That flash of inspiration, coupled with an underlying philosophy of “if you feed people, they will come,” eventually blossomed into Organicfest—a downtown Asheville celebration that’s now in its sixth year.

You’ll know you’ve stumbled upon Organicfest when you encounter a parade of folks young and old, dressed as bees and butterflies, marching down Battery Park Avenue on the morning of Saturday, Sept. 8. The next clue will be the abundant supply of free food: from locally grown produce to the kind of organic products peddled at natural-food stores (including the locally based Crispy Cat candy bars), festivalgoers will be hovering over the free-sample dishes. Vendors of nonedible, low-impact products will set up booths around the corner on Otis Street, which will temporarily be renamed “Green Street.”

New this year is a special exhibit by The Honeybee Project, a nonprofit environmental-education initiative that seeks to teach children about honeybees. Local documentary filmmaker Debra Roberts launched the effort—which produces books, DVDs, CDs and teachers’ resource guides—after completing a course on beekeeping, which inspired her to develop classroom materials for elementary-school youth. The project, says Roberts, grew partly out of enthusiasm for her newfound hobby and partly from a sense of urgency about colony collapse disorder—a widespread, as-yet-unexplained disappearance of bees (see gardening column, “When Bees Sneeze,” April 25 Xpress). “Few people are aware of the vast importance of the honeybee in our everyday lives,” she says, noting that some 90 fruits and vegetables depend on honeybees for pollination. Organicfest, says Roberts, is a fun way to get the word out. “I think the prospect of seeing enthusiastic grown women wearing wings and antennae headpieces and talking passionately about the honeybee will be a sight to behold.” The costumed volunteers will also be handing out information and soliciting donations.

But what’s a sight without the sound? Accordingly, live musicians will grace the Organicfest stage all day. At press time, the lineup was as follows: Cliff Rubin, Dawn Humphrey, Kristin Mills, GreenWay, Jeff Michaels, Donna Randolph-Riddle, Ginny Waite, High Light, Chris Rosser, Lalley & Ebel, Sherri Lynn and the Mountain Friends Band, the Salsa Band, Every Mother’s Dream, Doug Elliot, Jen Worthen and Charlie Van Buskirk.

This year’s Organicfest happens Saturday, Sept. 8, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Battery Park Avenue in downtown Asheville. For more information, visit


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