Under a nearly cloudless sky, the portion of Elm Street between Sixth and Ninth streets was bustling Sunday as members of the Columbia com-munity gathered to celebrate the 36th Earth Day.
The sounds of drums, homemade wind chimes and live music mingled with the sounds of laughter, popping kettle corn and the occasional bark-ing dog. With more than 200 booths operated by local businesses, organizations and independent artisans, the Columbia Earth Day Festival had something to offer each member of the diverse crowd of residents that attended it.
Nearly 30 bands and performance groups took to the Eighth Street and Peace Park stages. Despite the recent drop in temperature, the event was well attended by members of the community and their pets.
“As long as you keep dancing, you stay warm,” said Rebecca Graves, a member of the Deva Dancers, a local belly-dancing troupe. The 11 dancers performed on the Peace Park stage and in their tent during the festival. Their colorful costumes swayed with their hips in time to the music.
Graves, who dances under the name “Asfourah,” has been a member of the troupe for eight years and enjoys “the fun of dancing and the fun of dancing with friends.”
“Earth Day means a chance to think about how we can maintain the environment,” she said. “It’s an occasion that’s open to dancing.”
She explained that belly dancing is an ancient dance about “birth and life.”
Environmentally Sound Products of Missouri, a business that encourages consumers to buy environmentally sound products, operated one of the festival booths that addressed environmental issues.
The company is owned and operated by husband-and-wife team Irvin and Kathleen Huser of Warrenton, who sold products including warm or cold packs filled with corn kernels that could be used to soothe aching muscles, woven reusable shopping bags made from the recycled material of 2-liter soda bottles, and worm castings: worm feces intended to be used as fertilizer.
Everything they sell “is either recycled or something we can put into the Earth again,” Irvin Huser said.
Other groups promoted social justice causes.
Dave Collins, a member of PFLAG, Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, said his organization’s message relates to the larger mes-sage of Earth Day.
The goal of Earth Day, he said, is “to make a better world for everyone. That means everyone should have the same kind of equality.” His part-ner, David Huddlestonsmith, added that homosexual relationships are “very much a part of the earth and always have been.”
Another booth promoting social awareness was the “Star Trek’s Social Issues” booth, manned in part by Paul Herring, president of the USS Phoe-nix, a local chapter of the worldwide “Star Trek” fan club organization.
“The reason why we’re out here for Earth Day particularly is to show how ‘Star Trek,’ through its different incarnations over the years, has tried to approach different social issues of the time,” he said, patting his robotic dog, K-9, on the head.
Herring, who has animal allergies, brought K-9 to the Earth Day festival because he had seen people bring their pets in the past. This was his fifth year participating.
“People still get fascinated by how ‘Star Trek’ and Earth Day can coexist with one another,” he said.
The Raptor Rehabilitation Project, a group affiliated with the MU College of Veterinary Medicine, had another popular booth. The group rehabili-tates injured birds of prey and releases them into their natural environments.
The group brought Lucifer, an eastern screech owl, Sir P., a turkey vulture and Owliver, a great horned owl, as part of its efforts to educate the public about raptors.
“The fact that people can come out and see these birds may make them more likely to care about them in general,” said Robin Kramer, a second-year veterinary student. She explained that some dangers to raptors include being hit by cars or losing their habitats.
Summerfield Landscaping, a store that sells locally grown produce, herbs and flowers, set up shop on an entire street corner. Shoppers chatted and picked out tomatoes and plants.
“It gets folks into our store to let them know that we have local products,” owner Jeni Schierbecker said. “I just think that it’s about the environ-ment. I think people should be made more aware of how we can take care of our Earth.”
Local artist Gladys Swan set up a booth to sell her ceramics and oil and watercolor paintings. She also sold necklaces, brooches and whistles made by potters from Nicaragua. She said she plans to donate the proceeds to help them in their work.
“I’m doing this so that people can see that there is a way to contribute to their community through art and the benefit of finding a form of ex-pression,” she said.
Mark Haim, who has been involved in local Earth Day festivities for nearly 16 years, said he was just thankful for the beautiful weather. Haim directs Mid-Missouri Peaceworks, one of the 12 organizations that make up the Earth Day 2005 Coalition.
“The Earth is in crisis, and people need to get in touch with both the urgency of dealing with our environmental crises and the fact that each and every one of us has the power to make a difference,” Haim said.
He said the event’s purpose was “to simultaneously educate people as to what the problems are and what can be done about them through their personal choices and through their political activism.”
As the day’s events began to wind down, Liz Rettke and three of her four children headed for home.
“The kids really enjoyed the Department of Conservation activities,” she said. “We just enjoy (the festival) because it’s a great community event, and you see so many people you know who are out and about. It reminds me what a great community Columbia is.”