South by South Milledge: South by Southwest in the Key of Sustainability

UGArden, Athens, Georgia on April 18, 2017

South by Southwest (SXSW) is an event centered on “the convergence of the interactive, film, and music industries,” according to their website. Held in Austin, Texas, the festival-conference hybrid is massive. Last year’s installment, the 30th anniversary, reached a $325.3 million economic impact to the city, according to this press release. David Barbe, the musician/producer behind the Athens, Georgia studio Chase Park Transduction and the Music Business Certificate Program at the University of Georgia, can attest to the size of SXSW.

“It’s just this massive, sprawling thing. I mean, it’s still incredible. There’s so much music to be seen and experienced. There’s so many people to engage with, and a lot of the panels are really great. But what I think about is having to fight through the tens of thousands of wasted people late at night on the streets,” he says.

South by South Milledge (SXSM), however, is a different experience. While the name pays homage to its predecessor, this event is centered on sustainability and expects 200–300 attendees.

“So, UGArden does a lot to spread the message of sustainability and the benefits of organic farming practices. South by South Milledge helps spread our message to an even larger audience,” says Amrish Nair, Director of Outreach for UGArden Club.

The Theme

While SXSW has a sustainability statement claiming it works to “integrate principles of environmental sustainability,” an event of its size can only do so much.

“Austin’s such a great town, so forward thinking,” says Barbe. “There probably are things they do to make it as planet-friendly as possible, but no, I don’t think of it being any more sustainable than a Georgia home game, which doesn’t usually invoke thoughts of sustainability.”

Like Nair said, SXSM’s message is sustainability. It’s hosted by UGArden, whose mission is to be “a teaching garden with a focus on community outreach,” as stated on their website. UGArden partners with Campus Kitchen to share their produce at local schools through cooking demonstrations and food samplings.

“While we are a UGA organization, SXSM brings together families, students and any Athenite that wants to celebrate Earth Day with us! We work very hard to foster an environment that allows all members of the Athens community to engage with one another while also promoting sustainability and celebrating Earth,” says Nair.

Between the on-site greenhouse and attendees settling in on the lush grounds or a tree stump, the Earth-centric atmosphere can’t be missed. The graphic tee trend even adapts to the environment featuring words like “Grow where you are planted” and “UGArden.”

The Price

A pass for SXSW ranges from $825-$1650, not including the copious amounts of food available for purchase in between shows and panels. In comparison, the $3 admission price at SXSM is a friendly number especially since it includes a meal.

The Food

Barbe describes the SXSW eats as “street food.”

“That’s what I think about, like tacos and bratwurst on the street,” he says.

The food at SXSM tastes a bit different. This year, they received donations from Heirloom Café & Fresh Market, Insomnia Cookies, Ben & Jerry’s, Seabear Oyster Bar, Big City Bread, Last Resort Grill and South Kitchen + Bar.

“Additionally, UGArden members bring food that they make themselves, sometimes using produce grown on UGArden itself,” Nair adds.

To incorporate the theme and reduce waste, the event is “BYOB” (Bring Your Own Bowls). The buffet line features eclectic kitchenware held by attendees waiting to fill them to the brim.

The Booths

In March, SXSW displayed exhibitions on gaming, gig posters and fast-paced product pitches, but the booths at SXSM on Tuesday, April 18, 2017 encouraged a slower evening. Some attendees pulled up a chair at the henna table while others interacted with a hissing cockroach and tarantula.

“We invite a number of tabling organizations, such as Bag the Bag and Real Food, that share our goals and message. This year we had the Entomology Club come by and show off some cool bugs,” says Nair.

The People

As the multi-million dollar economic impact statement suggests, SXSW brings in quite a few tourists.

“It’s kind of regarded as Spring Break for the music industry so I think it has the biggest pull of industry people there,” Barbe explains.

Plane tickets are not necessary for SXSM attendees since it caters to the locals. It trades networking for casual chats and business cards for reusable bags.

“The first and foremost mission of SXSM is to promote sustainability while also fostering an environment that brings together Athens community members and UGA students alike,” says Nair.

The Pictures

Stages, artists and parties dominate the SXSW Instagram hashtag throughout the week, but UGArden encourages Earth Day pictures with a photo booth featuring props like cardboard vegetables and an “I love veggies” sign.

The Music

One similarity between the two events is the opportunity for an intimate music experience. As Barbe describes, SXSW “ranges from tiny clubs to huge auditorium, amphitheater and pop-up venues.”

The SXSM musicians perform on a stage in the barn that captures the same personal experience a tiny club offers. Nair says UGArden draws on the “illustrious music scene” in Athens to compile the lineup. This year, 200 East, Haber Process, Janie Waddell and Swim Team made the list.


Similar to its namesake, SXSM is a festival, and that title comes with expectations.

“Our event truly is a festival; there is music, food, games, and organizations showcasing what they do. Basically, we try to create a diverse set of activities that anyone can participate in,” says Nair.

So, maybe SXSW and SXSM are not siblings, but they share some DNA. After all, they are just one letter apart.

What Does Sustainability Mean To You?

Marsha Baxter, 72, Master Volunteer with the Culinary Herb Garden at UGArden
“Sustainability means to me that you can do it and pay for it. That you are not going in the hole that you can make it work, and we do grow organically and the garden is sustainable with it’s student help.”
On Tuesday, April 18, 2017, UGArden put on an event called South by South Milledge and had various booths set up selling different items. This booth was selling organic teas that are produced in UGArden in Athens, Georgia.

Micah Nixon, 24, works at Ben & Jerry’s.
“Sustainability, especially for Ben & Jerry’s, means we recycle as much as possible. Ben & Jerry’s as an actual company puts sustainability at the forefront, so all of our products that we get from our farms we make sure they are from farms that use as much sustainability practices as possible. Down to the dairy farms to where we get our coffee from for our coffee ice cream, and also we work with things like Bag the Bag all the time, like local organizations that focus on recycling and making sure the environment is as clean as possible.”
On Tuesday, April 18, 2017, Ben & Jerry’s donated ice cream to the South by South Milledge event at UGArden in Athens, Georgia.

Destiny Bandy, 21, sits on a log at South by South Milledge in Athens, Georgia eating dinner with a friend.
“Sustainability means to me just using what we already have to make something new. Like this right here, using land that we already have and having an event here instead of building something else to have the same type of event.”
Attendees of South by South Milledge at UGArden in Athens, Georgia enjoy their dinner while sitting in a field on Tuesday, April 18, 2017.

Michael Arvin, 25, graduate student at the University of Georgia in the entomology department.
“Sustainability means to me being able to leave my grandchildren something that they can actually survive off of and do well with in life.”
On Tuesday, April 18, 2017, Michael Arvin holds a hissing cockroach at the South by South Milledge event at UGArden in Athens, Georgia.

Abraham Park, 26, graduate student in journalism.
“What does sustainability mean to me? It means to be able to take from the Earth, but at the same time do it in a fashion and a manner that doesn’t harm the Earth or the ecosystem and insures that there is a future for other generations that are to come.”
The tiny house club built a house at UGArden in Athens, Georgia. On Tuesday, April 18, 2017, people attending the South by South Milledge event were welcome to go in and look around.

Greg Drav, 27, teaches gardening at Coil Middle School in Athens, Georgia.
“Sustainability means to be able to continue a culture while not infringing on someone else’s culture and continuing to reliably support your community.”

How can you be sustainable?

Jane Diener, coordinator of sustainability, talks about initiatives to create a more sustainable campus and ways any student can learn more about sustainability.

The “Low Down” on Sustainability