Utility’s annual idea fair adds vendors from local farmers markets

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter


photoThe Clark Public Utilities Home & Garden Idea Fair often features elaborate indoor displays suggesting possibilities for homeowners.


If you go

Clark Public Utilities Home & Garden Idea Fair

• What: Home and garden show with energy-saving ideas, more than 60 plant vendors, a farmers market, presentations and children’s activities.

• When: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. April 27-28; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 29.

• Where: Clark County Event Center at the Fairgrounds, 17402 N.E. Delfel Road, Ridgefield.

• Cost: Free with suggested donation of canned goods to Operation Warm Heart. Parking is $6.

• Information: Clark Public Utilities

Strolling through rows of potted garden vegetables, flowers and displays of energy-saving home improvement ideas is a good way to work up an appetite.

So this year, the organizers of the 21st annual Clark Public Utilities Home & Garden Idea Fair decided to let visitors to do a little farmers market grocery shopping so they can bring home dinner from the event.

They’ve added a rotating selection of vendors from the Salmon Creek, Ridgefield, Camas and Vancouver farmers markets to the already bustling plant and home improvement sale at the Clark County Event Center at the Fairgrounds.

“Along with our 60 plant vendors and home show, we’ll have about a dozen vendors a day from the farmers markets,” said Erica Erland, corporate communications manager for the utility. “It’s really a great way to continue our collaboration with local vendors and small local businesses.”

The farmers market area will include a selection of artisan breads, fresh cut flowers, roasted nuts, vegetables, honey, wild mushrooms and smoked fish, among other things. The markets hope it will be a great way to spread the word about their members and the locally made products and foods they sell, said Ann Foster, who runs the Salmon Creek Farmers Market.

“It’s a tremendous opportunity, not just for the markets but for our vendors to interact with new customers,” Foster said. “We want to keep growing support for locally produced products.”

Each year, the fair draws about 20,000 people during its three-day run.

The publicly owned utility launched the event in 1991 as a way to share energy-saving tips and provide details about rebates and other information with its customers.

The garden and decorative yard plant sale seemed like a natural fit with the focus on home improvement and efficiency, so the Specialty Nursery Association of Clark County joined up and has been part of the show since the beginning, said Heather Allmain, who’s been organizing it for the utility for the past 15 years.

“From its inception, this was designed as a community event,” Allmain said. “We really want to use it to support local businesses, share programs and services and help people learn how to use energy services better.”

The Washington Association of Landscape Professionals joined about a dozen years ago, and the group builds elaborate displays inside buildings at the event center to give homeowners some ideas of what they can do with their lawns and gardens.

“They educate consumers about what to look for when hiring a landscape professional,” Allmain said. “We also have master gardeners and other educators come in to talk to people.”

Some topics covered by guest educators this year include how to keep and care for chickens, goats and bees, tips for first-time homebuyers, growing food in small spaces and suggestions to improve home energy efficiency.

This year the utility has also launched a PowerZone activity area where kids can learn about electricity through hands-on experiments.

“It’s important to teach our kids about electrical safety, so we added that,” Allmain said. “I expect that will be a great addition to our event.”

There will also be a play area for kids with a variety of activities, including a chance to build their own terrarium for a plastic dinosaur.

“It’s just really a great family event,” Allmain said. “It’s easy to spend an entire day without even knowing it.”

Sue Vorenberg: 360-735-4457; sue.vorenberg@columbian.com;http://www.twitter.com/col_suevo.