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Renewable energy and sustainable living were topics at 12th annual event

Jack Kaskel, owner of the Red Buffalo Nursery in Hebron, came to the 12th annual Illinois Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair last weekend to get the word out about the benefits of native plant gardens.

The Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) held the event Aug. 17 and 18 at the Ogle County Fairgrounds.

“It can be a lot of work in the beginning, but as the perennial native plants develop, their fibrous root systems don't leave room for the annual weeds,” said Kaskel. “That means less work in future years.”

For Kaskel's wife Maurine, it's all a matter of balance. “Nature will balance itself out if you just give it the right place to start,” she said.

Also on hand were representatives of the Oregon School District. Their booth provided information about the 2012 energy grant that allowed for the installation of 6 solar panels on the high school's roof.

Several solar and wind energy projects were completed by students in conjunction with the grant.

Among those displayed at the fair were energy efficient home designs by high school students in Erin McMaster's Advanced Placement Environmental Science (APES) class.

Pam Steele's fifth grade Science Club experimented with solar energy and developed working models with solar panel powered lights and fans. The students learned just how vital solar energy is to life.

“The sun is a part of our daily life but we don't always give it much thought...all of our food energy comes from it, all of our renewable and non-renewable energy sources,” said Steele.

The fair's focus on renewable energy and sustainable living didn't stop with booths and presentations.

On-site recycling is also a key factor, with this year's services provided by Secure Recycling Services (SRS), a division of Dixon based Kreider Services.

SRS began as an electronics recycling program in 2009 and includes a multipurpose training center where honorably discharged veterans can secure employment disassembling electronic components.

After relocating in 2012, SRS now occupies a 70,000 square foot facility designed for the additional collection of cardboard, paper, plastic and metal.

This month SRS will expand its collection services to include commercial food scraps. The new unit, an in-vessel food scrap composter, is expected to turn 95 tons of food scraps and brown materials such as pizza boxes into usable compost in the coming fiscal year.

In addition to hosting collection events in collaboration with groups such as Ogle County Solid Waste Management, SRS also works with festival organizers to facilitate “green” events.

At a green event, food vendors are required to use recyclable materials and are provided with special collection bins for food scraps.

“Our goal is simple — nothing goes in a landfill,” said Becky Reilly of Kreider Services.

While the fair offered attendees a variety of presentations to choose from, the highlight of the weekend was keynote speaker Andrew Nikiforuk.

Nikiforuk has spent the past 20 years writing about the oil and gas industry. On Saturday he spoke about the risks associated with rapidly developing the Canadian tar sands.

Sunday's speech focused on his most recent work, “The Energy of Slaves.”

In his book Nikiforuk draws parallels between ancient society's dependence on human slaves and today's reliance on oil-powered machinery.

Citing that 37 percent of the energy used today comes from oil, Nikiforuk warned of the danger of waiting too long to break the world's reliance on this non-renewable “master resource.”

“It took 150 years to build an infrastructure that runs on coal, oil and gas. That is why hydrocarbons have such a powerful hold on our society,” he said to Sunday's crowd. “We can't ease into alternatives.”

For more information about the fair or the IREA,  visit or call 815-732-7332.

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