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Creating Change: Eco Fest Founder Addie Farris' Vision for a Greener Community

Meet Addie Farris, the visionary creator behind Eco Fest, an annual event in Fort Wayne that celebrates and promotes eco-friendly businesses dedicated to positively impacting our planet. Addie's passion for sustainability and environmental conservation drives her mission to provide a platform for eco-friendly companies to showcase their initiatives and connect with the community. Through Eco Fest, Addie empowers these businesses to share their stories, products, and the significant impact they make in protecting our planet. By supporting eco-friendly companies, we contribute to a greener economy, reduce environmental degradation, and pave the way for a more sustainable future for generations to come. Join us as we delve into the world of Addie Farris and Eco Fest, where eco-friendly businesses thrive and inspire change for a better tomorrow.

Addie Farris is a proud native of Fort Wayne, Indiana, and when looking back on her childhood, she expressed that she has many great memories growing up on the west central side of the city and graduating from South Side High School in 2007. A few years after graduation, she got married, and in 2016, she and her husband moved to Toledo, Ohio. Her husband's ambition to expand his local tattoo shop into a second location influenced their decision to move. In 2017, they welcomed a baby boy to their family, and during that transition into parenthood, Addie started looking at the world through a new lens. While navigating the journey of parenthood, she thought about her son's future and recognized the need for positive change in the world. This realization sparked something within her, and she started digging deeper into how to make a meaningful impact. As Addie talked about this time in her life, she said,

"I felt like I was doing a lot on an individual level as far as recycling in my own home. I felt like I was on this sustainability journey, but I had never been a part of a nonprofit or any organization, so I started to get motivated to find a place where I could donate my time and make a difference. The thing I was running into was when you're trying to pick a nonprofit, you're usually committing to just one cause, and I didn't want to spend all my time on just one thing. That's when I started spinning the wheels in my mind about the best way to spend my time. I ended up joining an organization called the Toledo Lucas County Sustainability Commission. It is a government-funded organization in Toledo, and I pitched the idea of Eco Fest to them. They didn't have an event like that in Toledo, and I felt it was a great way to connect with the community. I felt like if you bring all these organizations and businesses to one location on the same day, it could be a fun way to connect and share passion about sustainability and the environment, and that's really where Eco Fest started for me." 
The journey of EcoFest began with a vision to create a place where people could come together to learn, engage, and  celebrate the business that are helping Fort Wayne become a green city.

In 2019, Addie and the Toledo Lucas County Sustainability Commission hosted the first Eco Fest, and over one thousand people attended the event. We asked Addie if she had encountered any challenges throughout the planning process or during the event, and she told us it had gone surprisingly well. She informed us that she had never planned an event before, but with the help of her husband, who has much experience in event planning, she had a great sounding board to bounce ideas off of. She continued by saying that, outside of planning the event, the community was also very receptive to Eco Fest, and it was a testament that if you create the space, people from all walks of life really do have an investment in our world. 

Two weeks after Eco Fest, the Farris family relocated to Fort Wayne to be closer to their families. Despite Addie's return home, her commitment to organizing Eco Fest remained strong, but this time in Fort Wayne. She began preparations for the event in Fall 2019, with the scheduled date set for Spring 2020. When we inquired about the planning process compared to Toledo, Addie shared her pleasant surprise at the enthusiastic response from vendors. She started her search by reaching out to businesses and organizations she knew of that focused on sustainability and gradually connected with other like-minded companies. Although all was set for the spring event in 2020, the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic brought everything to a standstill. Addie had to reschedule the event to August 2020. Through meticulous planning, safety measures, and adherence to guidelines, Eco Fest successfully took place on August 9, 2020, with over 40 vendors and welcoming 700 attendees.

Eco Fest is a vibrant event that brings together individual and families, communities, and organizations committed to promoting environmental conservation and fostering a greener world.

Since launching Eco Fest in 2020, we asked Addie how the event has grown over the years. She said,

"We started on the west side of Headwaters Park, which is the smaller side, and this will be our third year on the east side at the big pavilion, so that was a big jump from the small pavilion to the big one. Our first year, we had 700 attendees; the second year was about 1200; the third was about 2000; and last year, we had 3000 and hit over 100 vendors. So between growth in attendance and vendor involvement, we continue to get bigger every year."

Although attendance is hard to predict for a free event, Addie is hopeful they will have more attendees this year than last, and they already have over 100 vendors lined up for the event on May 19th. 

Several companies have been a part of Eco Fest since the beginning, including Sassy Vegan and Dirt Wain Composting. Still, some new businesses and organizations are expected to join the event this year, including Vessel Refillery and Bottle Green Refillery, which are zero-waste stores carrying bulk items like laundry detergent and hygiene products where customers bring their own containers to refill rather than purchasing single-use containers. Sustaining Fort Wayne Initiative will also be at Eco Fest this spring, a government organization started by former Mayor Henry, whose mission is to protect and improve the lives of all citizens in the face of climate change. Addie is excited to finally have an organization connected to local government at the event because she believes that is a huge step in the right direction for sustainability and our environment. 

When we talked with Addie about what she was most excited about for this year's event, she said,

"To see people come and enjoy it. We have expanded our kid's activities because we get a lot of families that come through, and that's always a big request. Maumee Watershed Alliance is doing pontoon boat tours again this year, which was very popular last year, and I'm excited to have them back. We will have a lot of great food and drink vendors, and we will have the Dumpster Drummers this year, too, which is a music group that plays on trash cans. We will also have our waste station again this year. We started doing a waste station at the event two years ago, so this will be our third year. We started that because we've noticed a lot of contamination at traditional events where you have the trash cans out, and people are in charge of getting things into the right bin. We used to have a composting bin, a recycling bin, and a trash bin, and there would be a lot of wrong items in the recycling and composting bins, so we decided to take that responsibility away from the attendees. People are there to have a good time, not to try to dive deep into their brains about what goes in which bin. With the waste station, we have removed all the trash cans from the venue, we have the recycling, trash, and composting bins at the waste stations, and then we sort everything through our volunteers into the right receptacle to make sure we are hitting 100% compost, recycling, and trash. Since we've done that each year at our event, we have only produced one 32-gallon bag of trash, so we have really eliminated most of our waste at our festival."

She continued by sharing that she hopes to one day be able to help other festivals and event centers adopt the waste station method to help them reduce their waste footprint as well. 

Addie Farris and her team, Jodi Leamon, Megan Zwick, and Neil Miller have helped create the event Eco Fest. This event planning is ran by the Eco Fest team. Working together has made this possible for the Fort Wayne Community,

As we discussed the preparations for Eco Fest each year, we asked Addie about her event management. She shared with us that in the initial two to three years, she handled most of the tasks independently, but as the event expanded, she recognized the importance of delegating responsibilities. Over the last couple of years, she has brought like-minded individuals to her team, such as Jodi Leamon, Megan Zwick, and Neil Miller, to help with the event. 

Although Eco Fest is only one day a year, Addie and her team plan workshops to continue providing resources for the community to learn more about ways they can live a more sustainable lifestyle throughout the year. In fact, the week before the event this year, six workshops are available for people to attend. These workshops include a native plant walk through Promenade Park, a mending workshop focusing on helping individuals fix up their worn or torn denim clothing, along with several others that can be found on the home page of their website:

As our conversation was coming to an end, we asked Addie what her overall goal was with Eco Fest, and she said,

"The first part of the mission is to create a sense of community and create a platform for businesses and organizations, shining a light on them. Beyond creating that platform is bringing people to the platform to see what the businesses are doing. Getting more and more people to attend the event and participate is a big marker for me. Every year, people say they didn't know Eco Fest was a thing, so we try really hard to do more advertising to bring awareness. I think there's a large group of people in Fort Wayne that would be interested in Eco Fest, but they just don't know about it yet." 
The owner and founder of Eco Fest in Fort Wayne, IN, has help built this Fort Wayne annual event happening in Downtown Fort Wayne. This event will have eco-friendly vendors showcasing sustainable products to workshops on recycling and composting. Sustaining Fort Wayne is something she is going to be working on for a green Fort Wayne.

Addie Farris has not only established a platform for businesses dedicated to sustainability and environmental consciousness but has also fostered a vibrant community space for individuals to engage with and support these eco-friendly enterprises. Through her initiative, Addie has empowered the community to explore and embrace sustainable practices, encouraging them to positively impact our planet. By showcasing and promoting businesses focused on sustainability, Eco Fest serves as a catalyst for individuals to discover how they can contribute to a greener and healthier future for our planet. Addie's dedication to environmental oversight and community engagement exemplifies the power of collective action to create a more sustainable world. Addie's advice to entrepreneurs wanting to start their own eco-friendly companies is

"Start small and make good connections. I think many people dream of having a brick-and-mortar location, but that's not always the right path to success. There are many ways to have a successful business that's not necessarily a storefront. You can make connections online, through the community, or the farmers market. I think that would be my number one thing: make good connections, but don't worry about growing too big too fast."

Fort Wayne Business Journal is proud to share this Fort Wayne story of the entrepreneur who created Eco Fest. Sustain Fort Wayne is a must when it comes to a greener city. Bring awareness of these business will bring tons of value you if your looking for change.

We want to thank Addie Farris for sharing her story with us and for bringing Eco Fest to our community.  We also want to thank Nike with Creative Roots Media for capturing the photos you see throughout the article. If you like reading the stories about the entrepreneurs helping shape Fort Wayne, one business at a time, subscribe to our free newsletter so you're always in the loop about what's happening here at the Fort Wayne Business Journal.


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