UGArden hosts its annual spring festival, South by South Milledge, in Athens, Georgia on Thursday, April 25, 2019. The event highlighted the importance of a sustainable lifestyle and included food, live entertainment and a vegetable eating contest. (Photo/Daniela Rico)

People of all ages enjoyed upbeat guitar music and delicious food between rows of sprouting vegetables at the UGArden South by South Milledge Spring Festival on Thursday, April 25.

It was hosted at UGArden’s lower barn on Milledge Avenue. Students and locals came carrying reusable utensils — the event was Bring Your Own Bowl. This idea was a bid to help promote the organization’s goal of sustainability.

UGArden is a student community farm supported by the organization’s members, various students and faculty. Its mission is to promote sustainable food systems. It strives to achieve this goal by teaching about growing food organically, sharing healthy food with others and building a stronger community within the University of Georgia and Athens overall.

The night featured entertainment from sack races to music by WUOG 90.5 FM, UGA’s student-run radio station. McGinnis explained one of his favorite parts of the night is the veggie eating contest, which he said is always really fun to watch people do.

Local flavor

A highlight of the night was the variety of food options from different local restaurants. Food donations ranged from Big City Bread Cafe to South Kitchen + Bar, with platters of finger food lining the tables as hungry patrons stacked their plates.

“We always run out of food because people can’t control themselves,” said John McGinnis, the president of UGArden Club.

A restaurant known for its healthy choices that contributed to UGArden was vegetarian eatery The Grit. General manager Toby Cole emphasized the organization’s message of promoting fresh, locally-sourced produce.

“There is a cost for not eating organic or not eating healthy,” Cole said.

While healthy eating is key, Cinnaholic’s marketing assistant Melissa Tran knows balance is necessary. She said the best way to maintain wellbeing is to focus on having a healthy balance that makes you feel good, but also being able to enjoy your favorite foods.

Cinnaholic serves gourmet cinnamon rolls and sweet treats from its downtown location. At the festival, attendees enjoyed brownies, cookies and signature cinnamon rolls.

Marti’s at Midday donated plenty of chicken salad and pimento cheese dip for the attendees to enjoy. UGArden’s mission of sustainability resonates with Marti Schimmel, the restaurant’s owner, who describes herself as an “avid gardener.”

Uniting the Athens community

Some think sustainability and community actually go hand in hand. For Justin Stevenson, a junior environmental economics and management major from Savannah, Georgia, Thursday was his third time attending a UGArden festival.

“You can’t really have sustainability with inequality in the community and UGArden works really well with providing people who don’t have access to fresh produce,” Stevenson said. “Sustainability is bringing everyone up at the same time.”

Many of the people in attendance were eager to learn more about the topic of wellbeing and sustainability. Some, like Stevenson, came with plenty of prior knowledge while others were just beginning to explore UGArden’s message.

Tables were set up to the side of the band where attendees could hear about different environmental topics, such as the Palm Oil Project. Manya Kothapalli, a sophomore from Alpharetta, said the spring festival is successful in bringing together like-minded people who “care about the environment or want to reduce waste, take care of their bodies and watch out for our resources.”

Sandra Begani works as the greenhouse assistant for UGA. She said UGArden has been important to her, and she wants others to be able to enjoy it as well. One way they can do so is through coming to events like the spring festival.

“We are always actively trying to get more people involved because it’s growing your own food,” Begani said. “We all really believe in what we’re doing.”