What really killed the BBQ Festival

Published 7:22 pm Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Andy Didnt Kill the BBQ…. success did.

Youve heard about the demise of the Blue Ridge BBQ Festival, as well as the reasons why the Chamber of Commerce decided to discontinue a festival that everyone viewed as a huge success.

Because Andy Millard is the President of the Chamber, hes the one being blamed. But growth is what killed the BBQ, not Andy. It was a huge success, no doubt about it. Its the hugeness that caused problems. Since I have been part of the recycling and trash crew serving the festival, I saw, up close and personal, the downside of such a successful festival.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Its not entirely true that growth by itself caused the downfall of the BBQ. The premise that we could put on a large food festival in a small community, using disposables and volunteers, without significant human expense, is a flawed premise.

Festivals have thrived in the era of cheap fuel, cheap disposable goods, and excellent marketing. The Blue Ridge BBQ was one of the most successful, thanks to a great steering committee dedicated to the event who learned each year how to make the next years festival better.

But there are systemic problems that have never been sufficiently solved: how to deal with the huge amounts of waste (food, plastic, paper, fuel) and the human costs to the community in the form of volunteers. Volunteer BBQ judges enjoy their job every year. It is not the same for the recycling volunteers whose job it is to tell festival goers where to put their refuge, then dig into the trash can when the festival goer ignores the directive. Because it is a festival and our commitment is that everyone have fun, the volunteers smile and say thanks for trying while dipping their own hand into a nasty trash can. Our volunteers have been doing this for 4 years now, and they are tired. The Blue Ridge BBQ has won national recognition for its recycling efforts, but that is of little consequence to the poor local volunteer who has had to work two or three shifts because there are not enough volunteers to go around.

Have you ever watched some people who seem to get a whole lot done in a very short time? Often those people get so much done because they are always looking ahead, focused on the forward task, with little or no awareness of what is being left in their wake. Its like a small child learning and discovering; mothers and caregivers know up close and personally how to pick up behind them. One of the lessons that we must learn as adults is to look both forward at where were going, and behind to see what a mess weve made that needs to be cleaned up afterwards.

The BBQ got bigger and better each year. The vendors profited and the festival goers had a great time. They all pulled out Saturday night or Sunday morning, happy that theyd come. The local community was left with the profits, if there were any, and the clean up. Most of us had a good time, though, and were able to look forward to another year ahead…after a few days rest.

There is a way of measuring things and activities in terms of minimal, optimal, and maximum. Minimal would mean that we dont have enough; optimum would mean that we have the right amount for the most favorable outcome, and maximum would mean that we have the most possible. It is my opinion that the BBQ had grown past the optimum.

There are about 20,000 residents living in Polk County. Think about what it would be like if population was doubled for one weekend, and all those people ate on disposable plates, cups and bowls while they were here. Imagine that they drove 5,000 cars through our small towns to come and leave. And they had such a good time that they promised to come back next year.

If you were the host and hostess of the event, youd breathe a sigh of relief when all the guests had gone home, and youd look forward to next years event, because you had a great time too. But, if the same amount or more people come every year, the human costs of hosting the event begin to mount up. When a problem arises, like when the distributor brings 40,000 styrofoam plates instead of the pre-ordered compostable plates, it is a major problem with major consequences that are the responsibility of the host community to deal with. That one small error puts even more work on the shoulders of the volunteers. In a small community, the volunteer pool is only so big! The BBQ stretched ours to the limit.

Events, as well as businesses, need to fit the community they serve in order to be sustainable. If they get too big, they may produce a profit, but they fail to serve the host community. Are they optimum, or going for maximum? And how long will it be before they actually detract from our quality of life? It is my opinion the Blue Ridge BBQ had grown past its optimum size. Hopefully weve learned and can do better next time.~ Conservation Corner written by Betsy Burdette