Going Green at Farm Fest

SUNY New Paltz students sitting on Old Main Quad during Farm Fest. This event works closely with the New Paltz farmer’s market, offering many of the same local vendors the campus community sees every Thursday in the Lecture Center or on the academic concourse. Photo by Jeannette LaPointe.

To kick off New Paltz’s annual Farm Fest this past Friday, the week’s stormy weather broke into a full day of spring sunshine, warm air and good vibes that students were ready to take advantage of.

On Friday, April 28, students and locals piled onto blankets on Old Main Quad to enjoy the day’s festivities at Students for Sustainable Agriculture’s (Sus-Ag) annual spring event, Farm Fest, which ran from noon to 7 p.m.

First put on five years ago, Farm Fest is now a tradition at SUNY New Paltz, along with its sister event Fall Fest. For this spring-based event, participants celebrated the end of Earth week and were treated to live music by student performers, fresh produce from local farms, collections of student art and information from a variety of campus organizations and activists.

“[Having Farm Fest] during Earth week allows us to highlight the importance of supporting local businesses, green initiatives and the benefits of sustainable agriculture,” said Sus-Ag president Billie Golan. “We have always tried to revolve the event around Earth day — very Earth, tree and agriculture based.”

As Sus-Ag describes it, Farm Fest is an event that not only celebrates our unique college town, but bonds the SUNY New Paltz campus with the larger local community.

The setup of foods and artists drew out the campus’s quintessentially groovy folks to enjoy their overlapping interests, with young bohemians taking part in yoga, slack roping, henna tattoos and frisbee between picnics on the college green.

“We’ve been doing yoga all day,” second-year Bennett Sippel remarked, stepping away from his group’s mats. “We started with beginners’ [classes] at 4, and ever since then we’ve been getting more advanced. It’s been amazing: people have been coming after their sets, from different booths, and hopped in.”

Admittedly, the festival atmosphere had its drawbacks.

“When the rock bands came on,” he laughed, “it definitely added a component to it that wasn’t usually there. But we enjoyed it, we embraced it, we knew it was coming. It’s been very cool.”

At the center of the event, in front of the Old Library, tables of activists and local businesses organized into a square that surrounded a makeshift musical stage. Lightly amplified, individual artists like Ami Madeleine, Sam Johnson, and Julia Olson played, in tandem with bands like Schmave, The Dancing Bones and Furnace Creek.

Marissa Carroll, a third-year graphic design major, and her band Tiny Blue Ghost closed out the festival. Though they had never played an outdoor set before, having earned their stripes through house shows, they enjoyed the experience. “It’s cool to have the whole field to interact with,” Carroll said. “You can touch many more people with your music.”

Meanwhile, attendees were tempted into the square of tables to look at handmade crafts from local artists like Val Walis’s Orion Jewelry Design, which offered simple pendant designs that avoid breaking the bank, or to try free samples of food from different tables.

“I usually see people I know, and I’ll go over to their table and I bribe them with food,” grinned third-year Erin Colligan. “And with food comes education.”

Erin is a part of SUNY New Paltz’s Animal Rights Association. She was tabling along with several friends who were offering vegan foods and information about their cause.

“We’re trying to earn some money to donate to Woodstock Farm Sanctuary, which is a farm sanctuary that houses animals from slaughterhouses or any other rescue missions,” third-year Briöna Saas explained. “Our club is about spreading the word of veganism, and cruelty-free living, and other animal activist type activities.”

To attendees, the wide intersectionality of Farm Fest presented New Paltz in a flattering light as an institution for continued learning.

“You can always be a better activist,” Colligan noted. “I think that all of the tables that met today, are not just focusing on arts and crafts and little things — they’re incorporating that, but they’re also focused on political issues.”

Fittingly, professors from the geology, political science and sociology departments took the stage to address the politics of climate change, emphasizing that change needs to occur not just on an individual level.

“People need to engage politically,” said associate professor of sociology and director of the environmental studies program Brian Orbach. “We need to elect leaders who will foster the rapid transition to renewable energy and to challenge the power of corporations that profit from ecological destruction. “

Students were also able to buy tickets to join the New Paltz Climate Action Coalition for the People’s Climate March in Washington, D.C. the following day, Saturday, April 29.

“This event is important because it allows interaction between students and the greater Hudson Valley community,” Golan said. “Farmers, crafters and advocacy groups table all day on campus so it’s easy for students to come by and learn more about each initiative.”

Some of these initiatives not mentioned were New Paltz’s Print Club, Outing Club, Oxfam America, New Paltz Action Network, NY Zines and the Modern Art Collective. The event came to an end with the setting sun, and organizations packed up their tables — for now. If you are interested in hearing more about each initiative, you don’t have to wait too long: Fall Fest is just around the corner.