Jim O’Dowd has been faithful to his community and to the Earth we all inhabit. Twenty years ago, O’Dowd — now a retired clinical social worker from Ulster County Mental Health and several local public school districts — helped found the annual Earth Day Fair on Huguenot Street.
“It started with being on the Reformed Church Caring for Creation Committee and has really evolved into a communitywide environmental effort,” says O’Dowd, noting that the Fair has grown to include New Paltz’s Interfaith Earth Action and the New Paltz Climate Change Committee.
Like all community staples, the annual Earth Day festival took a hit during the pandemic, but is now in the process of building back, packing an even bigger, greener punch this year with its “Ten Commitments” theme and a visit from Moses himself — or “Big Moe,” as he’s referred to in this particular setting. “We put ten actionable steps that people can take towards a pathway of sustainability,” says O’Dowd. “Even if they end up doing one or two of those things, that’s a start.”
Some of the Ten Commitments include a pledge (with access at the Fair) of selecting renewable energy sources like solar and wind. “That’s a big one and an easy one,” says O’Dowd. “You just fill out an application and get virtual solar energy and end up paying less for sustainable energy.”
He explains that there are all kinds of choices for sustainable energy that do not require having to foot the bill for solar panels yourself. There will be companies and representatives from the New York State Energy Resource Development Agency (NYSERDA) on hand to talk about Community Solar, Community Choice Aggregation (CCAs), air-source heat pumps and geothermal heat pumps, as well as solar panels that empower the consumer to purchase their energy with sustainability in mind.
There are Commitments toward composting, reducing food waste, choosing to buy produce at a local Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) and ways to eat lower on the food chain (organic foods, fruits and vegetables harvested from local, regenerative agriculture). There’s also ethical investing: choosing how you invest your money, avoiding corporations that extract fossil fuels that have led to a drastic increase in global warming and related devastating floods, storms and hurricanes.
“We have one on transportation, where you can commit to using public transportation more often: walking or riding a bike instead of getting in a car, or learning more about electric vehicles,” Dowd adds. To that end, the Earth Day Fair will have an electric UCAT bus on hand, as well as Samrat Pathania, a man who is passionate about electric vehicles and will bring his own to the site to talk electric and hybrid with anyone who wants to learn more.
Showing up at the polls and voting for leaders who want to protect the Earth is another key pledge toward a sustainable pathway on this list.
Interestingly enough, one of the Commitments is “self-care.” The organizers encourage community members to “do the right thing by staying sane, laughing, movement and focusing on doing good.”
O’Dowd understands that climate change is “depressing and scary,” but argues that the best way to combat that is to take action, even the smallest steps, and connect with others to help alleviate the fear and move in a positive direction. “Action is key. I’m doing this because I have grandchildren. Human activities have wreaked havoc on our planet and on ourselves.” Now that he is retired, O’Dowd says, he wants to do whatever he can to try to turn this tide around.
The event itself is free and open to the public. Although it begins at 11 a.m. and runs until 4 p.m., there will be a nature walk at 10 a.m. for those who want to start off the day with some outdoor movement, as well as a second nature walk in the afternoon if you didn’t get your fill in the morning.
Shabazz Jackson (a/k/a Big Moe) will be on hand in full biblical regalia to proselytize the importance of taking action that protects our planet, or else we’re all going to end up on Noah’s Ark. Jackson and his wife are the owners of Greenway Environmental Services, which is a composting company that is also improving the Reformed Church’s composting system. County executive Jen Metzger will be at the Fair, as well as other local officials who support green initiatives for the communities they’re elected to represent.
There is word that New York State governor Kathy Hochul might make an appearance. “When the Reformed Church’s oil-based heating system was going bad, we worked with NYSERDA to install an all-air heat pump system that the State is pointing to as a real demonstration project on how we can move in the right direction,” explains O’Dowd. He is quick to note that Earth Day is all about community and protecting our resources and natural world and is “nonpartisan and always has been. Everyone is invited to come.” In fact, for those who are interested in how the system was converted, Matt LeFevre of Hot Water Solutions (HWS) in Kingston will be providing a tour of the installation of air-source heat pumps at the Church.
There will be food (without disposable cutlery and dishes) on hand, as well as a full day of music with the Rosendale Improvement Association Brass Band & Social Club and Betty and the Baby Boomers. Information will be available on everything from zero-waste composting to moving beyond plastics, insulation, community solar and more. Brightening up Historic Huguenot Street near the Reformed Church will be flags from every country in the United Nations.
The 20th anniversary of the Earth Day Fair is going to take place on April 22 at the New Paltz Reformed Church at 92 Huguenot Street, rain or shine.