Tonawanda News — GRAND ISLAND — When people gather Saturday for the first Earth Bowl Festival, they’ll find a celebration of all things local, from music to art to even building construction.
And mostly importantly of all ... food.
“It’s really special when you bring a group of people together to share a meal,” said Jordana Halpern Geist, a committee member for World on Your Plate. “That’s the center of this event. And, especially, a group of like-minded people.”
The festival, set to take place from 4 to 7 p.m. Saturday at the Riverside Salem United Church of Christ, 3449 W. River Road, is a fundraiser for World on Your Plate, a community food forum that focuses on promoting local food resources and sustainability in the area. The ninth annual forum will take place Oct. 12 and 13 at Daemen College in Amherst.
“Part of our mission statement is that no one will be turned away,” Geist said. “We also keep the price very low. And the only way we can do that is to start to do some fundraising, to raise some funds so we can continue this. We really want to encourage more young people to be involved, so obviously price is going to be an issue.
“We really need the support of our community. Even though we’re in tough economic times, we’ve always had such support ... but it continues to be a struggle.”
Adult tickets for the festival include an individually designed, hand-thrown pottery bowl, created by potter George Schaeffer and other local potters. Participants will keep their bowls after the festival has ended.
Schaeffer, co-owner of Buffalo Clayart Center, said the community-based pottery studio has been doing these types of projects for years.
Studio camaraderie is built by involving a volunteer group of potters to commit themselves to a cause and offer their own bowl design creations, Schaeffer said. Five potters were involved with Earth Bowl Festival bowls: Susan Blumenthal, Jim Kalinowski, Bruce McCausland, Davis Udin and Schaeffer.
“The 100 Earth Bowl Festival bowls are all one of a kind, made from natural stoneware clay, completely hand-made on a potters wheel, glazed and fired in a kiln to over 2,000 degrees,” he said in an email. “The entire process takes several weeks of work by each participant.
“... It can be said that Buffalo Clayart is not all about any one piece of pottery, it is about the journey of making a piece of pottery and the Earth Bowl Festival is a part of that journey.”
The event will also feature a plant sale, games, family activities and music by local musicians Nan Hoffman, Joe Tumino and Bloodthirsty Vegans. The centerpiece, however, is the homemade vegetarian meal, which also includes wheat-free and dairy-free options.
“I think it’s a really wonderful example of the rich resources we have where we live, in this area,” Geist said of the meal, which will include (among other dishes) homemade hummus, wheat-free crackers, dolmas (stuffed grape leaves), gazpacho soup, whole-wheat and flax seed bread, a tempah and vegetable medley, hazelnut loaf, a variety of salads and “incredible” gluten-free and wheat-free desserts.
“People can come and taste recipes they’ve never had before,” she said. “People are intrigued, interested, but daunted by the idea of eating healthy. When people get together at these events, we sit down and talk about food. It’s really great.”
In addition, the event will include a variety of food demonstrations, including cooking greens and making gluten- and dairy-free desserts.
Geist, who will be presenting some of the demonstrations, said that it’s all geared to interest people in their health and the origins of their food.
“People are becoming more and more aware that they have to be active as far as knowing where their food comes from. I think people are becoming more aware of how important it is to support local farmers ... rather than buying their strawberries from China when we have really great strawberries in Western New York,” she said.
“We want our children to be healthier. Food is still the most powerful tool we have to get healthy, to reverse illness ... and build community. Coming together at the table ... it’s another sort of lost art form.”
Some of the activities planned for Saturday focus on the site of the event. The land on which the Riverside Salem United Church of Christ Environmental Cottage rests includes outdoor trails and an outdoor labyrinth marked by stones and items from around the world, said June Licence, church program coordinator.
“It’s kind of a meditation tool,” she said. “It’s not meant to be a maze or something you have to think a lot about ... just a way to walk in ways that you might not usually and think about things.”
In addition to the labyrinth, the site features the only straw bale building on Grand Island, a work in progress created by church members after Dave Lanfear of Bale on Bale Construction spoke to the group about environmentally sensitive building. The project aims to turn the framework of an old picnic shelter on the church property into a shed with a Japanese-inspired design, constructed of local clay, straw, sand and other “green” materials.
It’s all part of the mission of the church, which was started in 1892 in the Black Rock/Riverside section of Buffalo by 13 German families, Licence said.
While the congregation has changed and moved over the years, it has maintained a focus on peace, social justice and environment issues ... such as more sustainable ways of living, including food issues, she said.
“They’re a way of looking at broader issues in the world, in a way in which you feel you can do something. You can go to a farmer’s market ... you can understand where your food is coming from,” Licence said. “Some of the issues we work on ... are really quite a bit of a downer. They seem so large it seems like you’ll never have an effect.
“All of the various issues connected with food are graspable, and ways for people to connect.”Jill Keppeler is a writer for the Tonawanda News. She can be reached at email@example.com.