Homestead Eco Fair connects residents and visitors with South Florida nature groups

Elizabeth Lara, 9, and her mother, Jessica Julevich, at the third annual Homestead Eco-Fair. The free event took place on Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017 from noon to 4 p.m. at Losner Park, 104 N. Krome Ave., Homestead.
Elizabeth Lara, 9, and her mother, Jessica Julevich, at the third annual Homestead Eco-Fair. The free event took place on Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017 from noon to 4 p.m. at Losner Park, 104 N. Krome Ave., Homestead. rkoltun@miamiherald.com

The sky was clear and sunny above Losner Park in the heart of downtown Homestead for the third annual Homestead Eco Fair on Saturday.

“The Eco Fair is a chance for residents and visitors to Homestead to connect with nature and various different eco groups that we have here in South Florida,” Homestead Public Information Officer Zachary Good said. “By bringing families and children to an event like this, we’re supporting the next generation of conservationists and nature lovers and reinforcing to parents that conservation and ecology is something to think about for their children.”

By 2 p.m., about 600 residents and visitors had converged on the small square of grassland, upon which approximately two dozen vendors, organizations and schools had set up tents. Jazz melodies by Empress Addi & Friends emitted from the stage, from which 90 minutes earlier Good, Homestead Mayor Jeff Porter and Councilmen Stephen Shelley and Larry Roth welcomed attendees.

Opposite the main stage, actors from the Front Yard Theatre Collective performed interactive eco-themed plays for kids featuring quirky characters like Roxy the Recycling Pirate, Astrowoman and Orange Sanders. Other attractions included a free outdoor demo by Om-Stead Yoga, a free photo booth, a free lightbulb exchange program courtesy of the Miami-Dade County Extension Office and educational displays from groups including the Florida Forest Service, South Florida National Parks, South Florida Camera Club, Veteran Connection and Farmworkers Association of Florida.

Were the Eco Fair to occur a month earlier, it could double as the birthday for its centerpiece: The Homestead National Parks Trolley. Founded in January 2014 and running between November and April, the trolley provides free ranger-guided tours and admission to Biscayne and Everglades National Parks every weekend.

“Prior to this trolley, there was no means of public transportation to get to these national parks,” Shelley said. “We heard stories of people from Europe expecting to have a way to get to the parks, getting to Homestead at the end of the busway and being told they had to pay for a 10-mile taxi ride to and from [each park]. That led to Homestead filling that void.”

The trolley program, which has grown to include a weekday trolley that transports riders throughout Homestead and a paid water trolley that takes patrons to Boca Chita Key, began 10 months after the city passed a resolution renaming itself “The Gateway to the Everglades and Biscayne National Parks.”

“We’re one of the few cities in the country that is surrounded by two national parks,” Shelley said. “If you want to come to Miami-Dade County and see everything, you stay in Homestead and go from the Keys all the way to South Beach within a 45-minute trip.”

The Homestead Eco Fair is organized by the city of Homestead and Homestead Main Street, a locally funded-and-operated nonprofit that works closely with the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency and other groups to economically and culturally expand the city’s Historic Downtown District. It is one of thousands of Main Streets across the country that are part of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which is under the authority of the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Major annual events also organized by Homestead Main Street include the Carnival Parade and Crawfish Boil in March, Military Appreciation Day in May and Holiday in Losner Park in December.

“When we get people to come down here, I hear it over and over again: ‘I had no idea this was such a charming downtown,’” Homestead Main Street Executive Director Yvonne Knowles said. “With the Eco Fair, you have the charm of a small town and not only informational booths talking about the benefits and importance of ecology but a farmers’ market, local growers and the national park people talking about tours. We bring all of that into this little compact park in this nicely designed event.”