Vegetable oil provides power for ‘Sustainival’

Visitors to the 34th annual Riverfest celebration in downtown Little Rock are finding something old with a new twist.

Billed as the world’s first sustainable carnival, Sustainival features nearly a dozen carnival rides powered by generators burning vegetable oil, rather than diesel fuel.

“The reason that we created Sustainival was so people can come play with our green future and come play with the ways we’re going to sustain ourselves in the future,” said Joey Hundert, executive producer of the carnival. “It’s an example of how to make power with our own resources.”Vegetable oil also powers the generators that run the concession stands and game booths at the attractions, which are located at the west end of Riverfront Park. Game prizes are made of recycled materials.

Festival Chairman Lydia Bemberg said Riverfest’s volunteer committee has maintained an interest in having environmentally friendly events, and hosting Sustainival provided that opportunity.

Riverfest, which wraps up tonight, features a variety of family entertainment each Memorial Day weekend and is estimated to have a $33 million economic impact on the city, according to the event website. Along with Sustainival, attractions ranged from the Super Retriever Series Crown Championship, where dogs compete in jumping contests, to ArtZone, where kids are able to create their own artwork, to a variety of musical acts.

Spokesman Jennifer Mc-Conser said about 250,000 people attended last year’s festival. While attendance figures were not available for Friday and Saturday, Mc-Conser said she expects this weekend’s total attendance to top last year’s because of good weather. She said the festival ran without incident Friday.

Riverfest is also holding its first food drive, which will benefit the Arkansas Foodbank Network, Bemberg said. Festivalgoers are encouraged to bring nonperishable food items to the seven collection points on site or donate money at the Arkansas Foodbank tent.

“We’re strong believers in giving back to the community,” Bemberg said.

Riverfest Inc. is the nonprofit organization that runs the festival, and each year donates proceeds to benefit the community. The money raised this year will go to the Little Rock Parks and Recreation Department, in part to continue the La Petite Roche project along the riverfront, Bemberg said.

Bemberg said each year the volunteer committee strives to raise at least $600,000 to pay for the musical acts and supplies. If there is a surplus, the organization keeps enough to run the festival for the next year and donates the rest to the parks department, she said.

Kelly Brown, 33, of Pine Bluff, was a first-timer at Riverfest and said Saturday that the festival offered “wonderful” food and a good time with the family. She heard about the event through her fiance, who annually brings his daughter to Riverfest, she said
“I didn’t have a choice, really” about attending, Brown said. “But other than the walk, it’s been really fun. I didn’t even mind the lines.”

Joyce Wilson, 56, of Maumelle said she has attended the festival for the past 35 years on all three days, from open to close.

“I love the festival atmosphere,” she said. “I like the smaller things more than I do the bigger items because they are more personal. You can see the entertainers up close and interact with them.”

The self-proclaimed Riverfest groupie said the event has grown each year, become more diverse and has more to offer.

“I always tell people, ‘If you don’t like Riverfest, tell me, and I’ll tell you what you’re doing wrong or what to do right,’” Wilson said. “Because there is something here for everyone.”

This article was published on page 13 and 22 of the Sunday, May 29, 2011 edition in the Arkansas section.