Vancouver Sausage Fest all ears on recycling

Annual fundraiser for St. Joseph Catholic School targets corn in effort to go green

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter

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If you go

What: Vancouver Sausage Fest, with food, carnival rides, beer garden, arts and crafts, entertainment and bingo.

Where: 6500 Highland Drive, Vancouver.

When: 5 to 11 p.m. Sept. 6; 10:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sept. 7; 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sept. 8.

Cost: $2, or $1 with a donation of nonperishable food for the Vancouver Fire Department Christmas Food Drive.

Information: vancouversausagefest.com.

By the numbers

1: Type of sausage sold at the festival.

42: Number of years the festival has only sold one type of sausage.

5,000: Pounds of sausage sold each year.

1,000: Pounds of chicken sold each year.

1,400: Pounds of pork ribs sold each year.

4,800: Number of potatoes sold each year.

7,000: Number of ears of corn sold each year.

800-900: Number of volunteers needed to run the festival.

1,790: Number of volunteer shifts over the three-day weekend.

500: Number of students who will benefit from the annual fundraiser this year.

The Vancouver Sausage Fest is turning green.

But don't unpack your shillelagh. The September celebration isn't changing dates to honor St. Patrick's Day.

The greening is part of an effort to recycle more of the food waste — specifically the 7,000 ears of corn sold at the event — into compost for Clark County community gardens, said Judy McMorine, development director for the St. Joseph Catholic School.

"It's a collaborative effort," McMorine said. "Instead of throwing corn cobs away, we'll be turning them into compost."

The festival, a fundraiser for the school, has long recycled its corn husks, but this is the first year that both the husks and cobs will be repurposed for local gardens.

Corn for the festival is also locally produced and provided by growers on Sauvie Island, she said.

The "going green" effort will include recycling experts and volunteers from Clark County Environmental Services, the Master Composter/Recycler Program at Columbia Springs and Waste Connections Inc. who will be available to talk to the public about recycling. There will also be extra bins for and signs about disposal of the corn cobs, McMorine said.

Plastic bottles and cans also will be recycled at separate collection stations.

Lesley Harrison, the school's principal, said she's looking forward to getting students and the community more interested in recycling through the festival's new green effort.

"We are excited to be working with our community partners — the county, Waste Connections and Columbia Springs — with a program that parallels what we teach our students: to be good stewards of our environment," she said.

The festival draws between 25,000 and 30,000 people each year. It's even more important this year, though, because St. Joseph just opened a new preschool, which the proceeds will also support.

"The preschool just opened and it's already close to capacity," McMorine said. "In celebration of that, we're not only going to have our Sir Links-a-Lot mascot but also the school's Cardinal mascot out to take pictures with the kids."

Right now there are about 77 kids in the new preschool and 350 at the Catholic school, although other school-age students in the parish benefit from educational programs funded by the festival, McMorine said.

The sausage fest started in 1972 when, due to diminishing funds, the school's pastor grew concerned that he would have to get rid of seventh- and eighth-grade classes.

"A group of us got together when we heard that and said, 'What can we do?'" said Gene Munson, one of the festival's founders. "So we decided to have a festival."

About 8,000 to 9,000 people showed up in the first year, but it was enough for the school to save the two grades. The event still supports about 500 students, but it's also grown to be one of the biggest events in Clark County.

And while sausages, corn, baked potatoes, ribs, hamburgers, elephant ears and other food items are always prominently featured at the event, there's a lot more to explore over the three days, including carnival rides, arts and crafts, a wide variety of other food, dancing, music and a beer garden.

For the sixth year in a row, the fest will include a 5K fun run, starting at 8 a.m. on Saturday. Cost is $20 for adults, $10 for students. Children can join the 1K kids dash for free starting at 8:30 a.m.

Headline bands include Stone in Love, a Journey cover band, from 8:30 to 10 p.m. Friday and Hit Machine from 7:30 to 10 p.m. Saturday. And Sunday's visitors will get to check out the finale of Southwest Washington's Got Talent, starting at 6 p.m.

"We've got some pretty rocking groups this year," McMorine said. "It should be a great time."

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