“It all started over a beer,” says Kaleigh Sims, a commissioner with the Anderson County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) in South Carolina. For three years, the conservation district has partnered with local businesses and organizations to host an annual Barrels & Beer event. “At a rain barrel event, typically someone purchases a rain barrel and picks it up. I wanted to get people more engaged, bring people together to learn about the environment and hear about protecting water,” explains Sims. So, during a conversation over a beer with the Carolina Bauernhaus and the Anderson Regional Joint Water System, the idea for Barrels & Beer was born.
Each year, Barrels & Beer offers Anderson County residents the opportunity to learn about water resources and paint their own rain barrel to install at home. At the events, participants enjoy local beer and hear from community businesses and partners about water conservation and the importance of protecting water quality. Feedback from participants has been very positive. “We have received a lot of good feedback and I continue to get calls from people asking where they can get another barrel and when will we do it again,” says Racquel Slaton, Anderson County SWCD’s education coordinator.
“The second year we held the event was a beautiful day,” says Commissioner Alex Kostik. “We had people driving by and asking to buy a barrel. We had to turn people down.”
To date, the Anderson County SWCD has organized three Barrels & Beer events. The first two years, the events were held at the Carolina Bauernhaus, a local brewer with agricultural roots that uses locally-grown hops and fruit in their beers. In 2021, Barrels & Beer was held at the Golden Grove Farm & Brew. A locally-sourced peach and honey Hefeweizen was brewed special for the event, and named “Fuzzy Buzzy” following a community contest to name the brew.
Partnerships are key to keeping event costs down. The rain barrels are former 55-gallon syrup drums donated by Coca-Cola that are cleaned and repurposed into rain barrels with conversion kits provided by the Anderson Regional Joint Water System. The breweries provide free use of their facilities and beer to participants, with one brew included in the cost of an event ticket, and more available for purchase. Along with partners like the Anderson Regional Joint Water System and Upstate Forever, the breweries also share with participants how clean, readily available water is crucial to their operations and what conservation means to them. This year, Glen Raven Custom Fabrics, a local textile manufacturer and conservation leader whose facility includes nature trails, native pollinator gardens, and a solar farm that powers their interior lighting, was a Barrels & Beer sponsor.
Most of the proceeds from Barrels & Beer ticket sales “go back into the community in the form of mini-grants,” says Sims. These mini-grants are “for Anderson County residents for outreach projects. One year, a mini-grant supported work with the Anderson County Library System’s sensory garden for children. This year, a mini-grant went to the Bart Garrison Agricultural Museum of South Carolina for a nature trail.”
The Anderson County SWCD looks forward to “keeping Barrels & Beer going on an annual basis, maybe changing locations each year to expand partnerships,” explains Sims.
For districts interested in organizing similar events, the Anderson County SWCD offers some tips. If charging a fee to participate in the event, Sims recommends “taking into consideration the ticket price, cost of supplies and grants to make it equitable,” and meet fundraising goals.
“One of our commissioners suggested a barrels and barbecue event to reach out to a different audience,” remarks Slaton.
“Good coordination and finding sponsors willing to support you is key,” adds Kostik. They suggest that businesses handling food can be good sources for 55-gallon drums that can be cleaned, reused and converted into rain barrels with the help of conversion kits.