Education, Faith and Fun Come Together at Earth Day Fair

Fair-goers are encouraged to not only enjoy themselves, but to also take steps to be more environmentally conscious.

Even though Earth Day had come and gone, New Paltz’s Interfaith Earth Action Coalition (IEAC) still celebrated it with an Earth Day Fair on Saturday, April 27 at the Reformed Church of New Paltz on Huguenot Street. The IEAC is a coalition of the various faith communities at New Paltz, dedicated to raising awareness and carrying out social actions for environment. These faith communities consist of various Christian, Jewish, Islamic and non-Abrahamic denominations.

The fair featured over 40 community groups and organizations that promoted green and sustainable living, as well as actions people can take to protect their environment. Live performances, children’s activities and fresh food were at the fair as well.

The IEAC was founded four years ago, with Jim O’Dowd, a member of the Reformed Church of New Paltz’s Caring For Creation committee, spearheading the project. The idea of an interfaith coalition like this was around well before its conception. Emilie Trautman and Mara Kearney, parishioners at the St. Joseph Church in New Paltz, were also interested in starting a interfaith environmental group. The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris and the release of Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment spurred them to action, and the IEAC became reality not long after.

“In our first year, [O’Dowd] talked about the Earth Day Fair, which I had never heard of, and we helped be a participant that year,” Kearny said. “We brought an interfaith perspective to dealing with the environment. We decided that, basically, ‘how do you get people to change?’ Most of the time it’s to the converted, why not try through our houses of worship and get people to look at environmental issues? The Earth Day fair is a great way of getting information for you to use in your daily life to start making changes.”

In addition to faith groups at New Paltz, non-religious environmental organizations have partnered with IEAC, including the New Paltz Climate Action Coalition (NPCAC). Like many other activists present, Jess Mullen, a coordinator with the NPCAC, presented many different ways to positively impact the environment. 

“There’s a lot of different things [people can do]. Household wise, if they own their own home they can get solar panels, or if they rent their own home, they can subscribe to Community Solar,” Mullen said. “[On a personal level, people can use] electric vehicles, composting, eating less red meat and taking an active role in community campaigns that fight an increase in fossil fuel reliance.” 

The participants at the event were catering to any and all environment-related needs. From the fresh food made by the Phillies Bridge Farm Project, to environmental action promoted by New Paltz Climate Smart and the Omega Center for Sustainable Living, to green-energy alternatives provided by groups such as Solstice and Green Mountain Energy Company, everyone was at the fair to stand up for the environment.

“I think that New Paltz as a community, and even the greater community around New Paltz, care about the environment, and all the booths here are a testament to that,” said Andie Vaaler. Vaaler is a member of the Resisterhood and their choir. 

“Not only that but we care about the community itself,” she said. “We’re here as a community to support and empower the community to make some changes that benefit the environment.” 

Resisterhood is a group of women activists dedicated to a many different social causes, including the protection of civil liberties and the environment.

There were a wide variety of performances at the fair, including folk music, prayer, scripture readings and classic pop, all from community members. The main focus of these performances was on the environment and our place on Earth. Entertainment and spiritualism took the main stage at the fair to deliver a message about protecting our environment. 

Also at the fair was the Education Tent. The Education Tent was set up near the edge of the grounds and featured presentations by various participants of the fair. Topics ranged from electric vehicles, recycling in Ulster County, greenhouse gas produced by New Paltz and the extraction of fossil fuels in the Hudson Valley. These presentations were another way for fair-goers to directly learn about environmental issues. 

Keeping our environment clean is one of the most pressing issues of our time, and the main aim of this fair is to not only raise awareness for the issues, but to show that the New Paltz community is united in this effort. 

“[The fair] is on the grounds of this church, but this is really a coordinated effort from all of these members of the different houses of worship, that worked together on this one issue that we’re all super concerned about,” said O’Dowd. “It’s not only a climate crisis, but it’s a climate emergency.”