BEACON - "You see, this is what it’s all about," exclaimed Vince Farina, as he admired the nearby Hudson River. "Do you feel the energy?"
That vitality referred to by Sloop Club member Farina, resonated not just from the River Sunday afternoon, but the close to 10,000 people who filled the Park down by the Waterfront. Visitors had the extra treat of near perfect weather, mid 70’s and crystal blue, clear skies, as they enjoyed Beacon’s Annual Strawberry Festival, one of several held by the Sloop Club, a local organization focused on raising awareness of the environment. Tracing its roots back about 35 years, the Festival began when its present site was nothing more than a city dump. At that time, a bunch of environmentally concerned folks envisioned a brighter future for the blessed spot, whose backdrop was the majestical Hudson River. Before long, they drafted petitions to that end, pressing for a park to take the dump’s place. After securing many signatures and other priceless support from the community, their efforts (on the now date of the Strawberry Festival) were rewarded in the form of a new Waterfront Park. The Strawberry Festival also evolved. Its purposes quickly surfaced.
"We want to get the community out to see the resource we have right here in our backyard, gleaned Farina, as he took a break from baking biscuits.
That education was evident in many forms Sunday. At times it was through song, as such musicians as the Rivertown Kids, as well as the legendary Pete Seeger took the stage. Other "teachers," such as the DEC Clearwater, came to the Park with exhibits. Some provided motivating messages via the spoken word. Still others spread the word of the Hudson through a sailing venue.
"We take people out on the Rivert for free sails aboard the Woody Guthrie all day today," said Tom LaBarr, head of the Woody Sailors. "We teach people about the River, getting them interested in it and helping to keep it clean."
And then, there’s the strawberry shortcake. Sloop Club members, along with about 100 volunteers, help create the much saught after masterpieces, whose formation is a spectacle unto itself: 1200 pounds of strawberries, 2500 biscuits, and 90 quarts of whipped cream come together to create the 2500 strawberry shortcakes whose appeal creates an ongoing, massive line, extending around the Park. Not only is the dessert pleasing to the palette, but its specially crafted recipe is healthy.
"We use all local, organic ingredients, from the strawberries, to the cream, to the whole wheat in the biscuits, explained Dave Eberle, Sloop Club President. "It’s a way of showing off the bounty of the Hudson Valley."
Eberle went on to divulge exactly what makes those shortcakes even more irresistible. Freezing one-third of the strawberries the night before the Festival when they gather at LaBarr’s home to do hours of preparation, Sloop Club members proceed to mix them in with the rest of the batch the next day. That meshing makes for just the right recipe. The biscuits, made with whole wheat grain and cake flour, have no gritty taste, while the homemade whipped cream has just the right sweetness with touches of honey and vanilla.
Not only do much of the culinary fare at the Festival come from the earth, but so too do some other things. Sloop Club members ensure all of the plates, straws and utensils used in consuming their strawberry shortcakes as well as strawberry smoothies are compustable. The action is yet another way of reminding people how integral it is to be kind to our surroundings. The ultimate goal, according to LaBarr, is to make the event a zero waste festival.
"This was my first year at the Festival, and it’s just amazing," said Dianna Hunt of Wappingers Falls, as she fed her son Andrew a big spoonfull of the strawberry shortcake. "It’s just so important for kids to have an awareness of the Hudson River and learn about the environment; it can make all the difference."
For LaBarr, Sloop Club members and the over 100 volunteers who make the day possible, positive reactions like Hunts’ are what the event is all about.
"It’s just a lot of fun," smiled LaBarr. It’s a lot of work, but well worth it for those who love the environment and Beacon."