- Author: Debi Durham, UC Master Gardener of Butte County
For 47 years the Butte Environmental Council (BEC) has been instrumental in initiating, supporting, and teaching sound environmental practices in our area. Clearly it is worth knowing a little more about this important local organization and its programs, which align well with a number of the goals of the Master Gardeners, perhaps especially the Master Gardener Living Labs school science program.
The BEC initiated a multi-use recycling program in 1977: community members could drop off glass, tin, aluminum, cardboard, and newspaper, or have these recyclables picked up curbside for a monthly fee of $1. This service was eventually sold to North Valley Disposal in 1988, allowing BEC to shift its focus to education, advocacy, and action.
Fast forwarding to today, we can see how much BEC has grown. It has become a multi-faceted grassroots non-profit organization with the mission of protecting and defending the land, air and water of Butte County and the surrounding region through action, advocacy, and education.
This past April, the BEC held an Endangered Earth Parade and Rally to honor 43 years of its Endangered Species Faire. The Faire brought young and old together for environmental education through various activities including puppet shows, music, educational booths, and interactive exhibits. Reimagined and repurposed, the Endangered Earth Parade and Rally sought to bring attention to the impact humans have on the planet and all of its inhabitants, not just endangered species.
A September ritual is the annual cleanup of Bidwell Park and Chico Creeks hosted by the BEC. This year marked the 35th anniversary of the Cleanup. Teaming with the City of Chico, Butte County, and the Great Sierra River Cleanup, more than 500 community volunteers removed not only trash but recyclables and harmful materials from the park and creeks at nearly 100 cleanup sites. Items were delivered to drop-off locations and then separated into CRV aluminum, CRV plastic, CRV glass, glass, plastic, and hazardous materials. In 2021 the annual cleanup removed 21.48 tons of trash and debris from the park and creeks.
The BEC's RARE program focuses on recycling and rubbish education for grades K-12. Workshops are offered on-site or virtually and geared to clubs, community groups, and after-school programs. Focusing on the four R's (reduce, reuse, recycle, or rot / compost), workshops vary in focus: examples include creating a worm bin or learning an upcycling craft.
Another educational BEC workshop geared for students of any age is the Community Air Protection Education Program (CAPE). Fun, interactive activities educate participants on their personal impact on air quality, empowering students with an understanding of the importance of clean air quality, as well as steps to take to soften their greenhouse gas footprint.
BEC also plants trees in Chico, expanding the “urban forest” through its ReLeaf program. And the organization's allied Planting Literacy in Environmental Action and Stewardship Education (Trees PLEASE) program runs workshops on proper tree planting along with education on the many benefits of trees, including deterring greenhouse gases and improving air quality. 75 trees will be planted on Chico K-12 campuses and in Chico Area Recreation & Park District (CARD) parks by the end of the year through this program.
The Oak Way Community Garden next to the Oak Way Community Park is managed by the BEC. On this well-tended half-acre site, 40 individual plots are maintained by families growing food, flowers, medicinal plants, and fiber.
38 years ago, when my then-young daughter and I hauled our bottles, jars, and cans to BEC on a monthly recycling pilgrimage, we could not have known that the organization would grow into a such vital force in the community. While BEC is not a horticultural hub and offers no demonstration gardens to “ooh and ahh” over, its educational and environmental advocacy and multiple programs have provided our community with decades of inspiration and practical knowledge. By giving us all a gentle nudge to walk softly on our planet, we learn that by nurturing a sustainable garden space we are helping “to protect and defend the land, air and water of Butte County.”
UC Master Gardeners of Butte County are part of the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) system. To learn more about us and our upcoming events, and for help with gardening in our area, visit our website. If you have a gardening question or problem, email the Hotline at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a phone message on our Hotline at (530) 538-7201. To speak to a Master Gardener about a gardening issue, or to drop by the MG office during Hotline hours, see the most current information on our Ask Us Hotline webpage.