Niantic's annual Earthfest celebrates the environment
On Saturday, that patch of Mother Earth in Niantic's McCook Point Park, hard to the bay, had puddles of standing rain and plenty of sparkling shoots of new green grass — freshly emblematic of New England spring.
And with moments when a teasing sun threatened to break through the soft gray cloud cover, it was an evocative atmosphere in which to celebrate the community's annual Earthfest.
Sponsored by Earth Day Every Day CT, and with over a dozen organizations participating, the festival effortlessly infused a sense of carnival-style fun with the very important message of environmental responsibility. Plenty of food vendors, a variety of top-class family music acts, and plenty of kids' activities also were on tap.
Edward Lamoureux, co-chairman of the Alewife Cove Conservancy, a nonprofit working to preserve and protect Alewife Cove through a mulitfaceted agenda and in cooperation with groups like New England Science and Sailing and Save the Sound, said events like Earthfest are vitally important.
"It's not just about what we're doing, though of course we're committed to Alewife Cove, which is a beautiful spot where a lot of us grew up fishing and swimming," Lamoureux said. "But all the folks here today are concerned with the environment." He gestured at the attendees and the volunteers working booths all around. "Whatever our respective focuses are, the environment as a whole is incredibly important."
His Alewife co-chair, Chris Clouet, former superintendent of New London schools who now holds that post in Shelton, emphasized the importance of educating young people about ecology and the environment. "Over the past few years, it's been gratifying to see an increase in awareness from young people in this context. We want kids to understand ecosystems and that we're all part of them. They need to know that their actions have consequences that are vitally important."
Making the rounds of the festival was New London resident Andy Derr, whose speed varied depending on how fast his toddler grandson, Dante, wanted to travel. A former candidate for the New London City Council as a member of the Green Party, Derr said Earthfest is of course the sort of gathering he'd look forward to.
"At the same time," he smiled, "I didn't actually know it was today until I saw it in the paper. And, with my daughter and grandson visiting, I thought it would be a lot of fun. There were a lot of things we could have done, but this is a good choice. I've seen the attendance and interest in these events increase yearly, and it goes to show you that if you start working to educate folks, it grows and more and more people start doing it."
Headed toward the Main Event stage to drop off some equipment, children's music entertainer Steve Elci, who was scheduled to perform with his band later in the afternoon, said, "This event has definitely grown." In 2012, Steve Elci & Friends released a song called "Earth Day" and, naturally, he planned to play it during their set. He said, "The thing is, I want to write songs that kids and their parents can enjoy and like to hear, but it only works for me if we can all address important issues, whether it's the ecology or sexual discrimination or racial equality. It's so cool to get to perform at an event like this because it checks all the boxes."
Another popular local musician, Hugh Birdsall, formerly of The Reducers and still active in a variety of bands, was tending a booth for Reforest the Tropics, an outfit sanctioned by the United Nations that works to mitigate climate change by sustainable forestry and long-term carbon sequestration. Birdsall, an educational consultant for the group, believes that the best education for youth is through hands-on physical activities and mental challenges.
"There's no mandate in Connecticut schools to teach students about climate change," said Birdsall, who has worked with over 1,500 kids over the past few years. He travels from school district to school district, trying to work with teachers on programs that provide indelible education for students.
"You can give them stuff to read or assignments, but we've found if you give them raw data and present it as a challenge — a fun problem to be solved or a song to be written and performed — you get excellent results," he said. "Art and music are invaluable educational assets."
But the event wasn't just about teaching kiddos. Interestingly in that context, over at the Children's Museum of Niantic table, adult Casey Sugarman and a friend were playing a game where participants had to place each of a variety of objects onto a timeline in the correct spot that said how long it would take that object to biodegrade. The time periods ranged from three minutes to never.
After getting almost all of them wrong, Sugarman gasped when Children's Museum representative Katie Walvatne placed a diaper on the 450 years designation. "People are pretty surprised by a lot of this — young and old," Walvatne said. "It gives them perspective and it's something they definitely think about."
As for Sugarman, she said, "This is why I'm here, stuff like this. I wouldn't be anywhere else, celebrating anything else, to tell you the truth." A former marine biologist in Boston, Sugarman now works as a behaviorist who's committed to the idea that the human mind and collective will can bring about change. "I'm in the business of progressive thinking," she said. "And events like this bring awareness. We need to do something drastic to effect change."
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