This spring marks 20 years since the Reformed Church of New Paltz began hosting annual Earth Day Fairs, but last Saturday was the first time in three years that the event has happened as a full-blown gathering of neighbors and visitors. “What’s different this year is COVID. The last two years we didn’t really have an Earth Day Fair. Last year we just had the flags and a sign,” said Jim O’Dowd of the Church’s Caring for Creation Committee, who is one of the event’s founders.
Along Huguenot Street in front of the Church, and extending partway up Broadhead Avenue, flags representing every member of the United Nations were planted, each one’s pole bearing a tiny label revealing the country’s annual carbon dioxide emissions per capita. At the center of one cluster of flags stood a placard memorializing longtime Earth Day Fair organizer Dan Guenther, who died in February 2021. The flag collection had been Guenther’s idea.
“When we started planning in January and February, COVID was still alive. Then it started to abate, and we decided to have a mini-Earth Day Fair,” O’Dowd explained. “We’re very happy with the turnout and the participants.”
This year’s event featured many of the usual offerings, but on a more condensed scale. Notably absent were the usual vegetarian dishes for sale from the Church’s kitchen. “It was too late when we started for a food tent,” said O’Dowd.
The crowd was lighter than usual, but still festive, enjoying the sixtyish temperatures as the rain held off under a mostly overcast sky. Live music on the Church’s front porch is always a big draw at this annual community festival, and although there were fewer bands scheduled than in a normal year, the performances were spirited and engaging. The Rosendale Improvement Association Brass Band and Social Club opened the show, followed by a long set by Betty and the Baby Boomers – one of whose members, singer/guitarist Steve Stanne, lives right down the block from the Church.
Along Huguenot Street was parked a string of electric cars – several Teslas, a Chevy Bolt and a Nissan Leaf – their hoods popped up both front and rear to show off how much more cargo space one can get in an automobile that doesn’t require an internal combustion engine. “It enhances the safety of the car, because there’s huge crumple zone up front,” Samrat Pathania of the New Paltz Climate Action Coalition pointed out. “And they have a lower center of gravity.” Pathania, a high school Physics teacher, had brought along cardboard cubes, set one atop each EV, to illustrate the volume of one mole, or 22.4 liters, of CO2. “There would be more than 206 of these produced for every gallon of gasoline burned,” he explained.
The Climate Action Coalition and Interfaith Earth Action, co-sponsors of the annual event, had informational tables set up in the Church’s side yard, along with the Village of New Paltz’s Climate Smart Task Force. With many residents seeing their Central Hudson bills skyrocket this year, getting the word out that it wasn’t too late for New Paltz residents to sign up for Community Choice Aggregation was a big priority, according to O’Dowd.
Attendees could buy a reusable metal tiffin to substitute for disposable takeout containers; “We’ve sold so many that we’re on our third bulk order,” said Task Force member Wendy Rudder. Also popular was a signup sheet for community members interested in starting a local chapter of the environmental group Beyond Plastics. Further along was a petition urging TIAA-CREF, a financial services company that manages the retirement portfolios of many teachers and employees of not-for-profit organizations, to divest its investments entirely from fossil fuel companies.
New to the Earth Day Fair this year – and a big hit, with about 15 participants – was a tree identification walk along Huguenot Street. The New Paltz Garden Club was back, giving out free packets of seeds for marigolds, zinnias, black-eyed Susans and coneflowers. So was the annual bicycle tuneup clinic. For the kids, Roseanne Platoni was on hand with a traveling exhibit from Erik’s Reptile Edventures, including Bobbi the ball python, a winsome rescue animal who loves to be held.
Those in attendance seemed very pleased to see that the Earth Day Fair was back at last, even if on a reduced scale. “Everyone’s walking around without masks and smiling at everybody,” noted Sherrill Silver. “We’re glad for outdoor events!”