Local bakery hosts 15th Annual Bread Festival

A puppet parade in downtown Northampton

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Chris McLaughlin / Collegian Photo

By Kathrine Esten, Assistant News Editor

On Sunday, Sept. 22, environmental activists and lovers of bread took to the streets in Northampton as part of the 15th Annual Bread Festival.

The festival is hosted by Hungry Ghost Bread, a local bakery owned by Jonathan Stevens and Cheryl Maffei. Maffei said the festival represents the time of year when the harvest happens and the planting of what is known as “winter wheat.”

“It’s both renewal and putting things to bed,” Maffei said. “The whole bakery is really based in the community. We have lots of regulars who have been coming since the beginning and some who are just discovering us.”

Over the course of the six-hour event, several hundred people filtered through the bakery, nearby stands and participated in the parade through Northampton. In the parade, attendees were invited to carry signs advocating for clean energy, water and other environmental issues, as well as several large puppet faces.

“The puppet parade is everybody’s favorite. It doesn’t last for very long, but it’s very exciting to go through town and cause that kind of a spectacle,” Maffei added.

The parade, which lasted from 12 to 12:30 p.m., was led by a bakery employee holding a wooden baking peel calling out “half-baked fascism.” Close behind, the Expandable Brass Band, a local street band, encouraged passerby to dance and celebrate along with festival guests. A man on stilts, representing “Mr. Wonder Bread,” argued with members of the crowd about the merit of local agriculture, eventually “converting” to Hungry Ghost Bread.

Carl B. Freeman of Greenfield, Mass., said after the parade that he was friends with the stilt walker. He attended with the intention of arguing with the walker to encourage attendees to think more deeply about the food they were buying and consider environmental consequences.

In addition to his performance with “Mr. Wonder Bread,” Freeman danced alongside the Expandable Brass Band and helped the parade walkers stay out of traffic alongside a Northampton police officer.

“It’s kind of ironic we have to make way for fossil-fueled vehicles,” Freeman said, referencing the environmental advocacy of the puppet parade.

At a table for the Pioneer Valley Workers Center, volunteer Christina Ruggiero-Corliss spoke with attendees about a campaign for allowing undocumented Massachusetts residents to gain access to driver’s licenses.

“[At the festival] we’re thinking a lot about food and where all this food comes from,” Ruggiero-Corliss said. “It’s especially important for us to be here and talk about this.”

In addition to volunteering with PVWC, Ruggiero-Corliss works at Hungry Ghost Bread and said it was a “business that is really supportive of undocumented people.”

Another volunteer, Sakiya Nea, helped attendees find their legislator to send a postcard advocating for the transportation bill. People “just recognize this is an important issue,” Nea said.

After 15 years, Maffei said people are still finding the festival for the first time.

“When people sort of just stumble upon it, it’s this moment of ‘Oh really? That’s great!’”

Kathrine Esten can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter at @KathrineEsten.