Mother Nature rains down on Earth Day

Mother Nature brought relief to a parched Baltimore on Sunday, but the persistent rain didn't dampen the spirits at the Earth Day festivities in Hampden.

"We had a few hundred people come through today," said Don Barton, 29, an organizer of Sunday's Localize It! 2012, one of a series of events during the week to celebrate Earth Day in the Baltimore area. "People are braving the rain and seem to be having a good time."

Localize It!, sponsored by the Baltimore Free Farm, promotes local food, music and vendors. The event was scheduled for the outdoors, but organizers moved most of it into the Baltimore Free Farm warehouse because of the showers.

"It's not the best weather for a block party, but my brassicas are loving it," said Barton, who works at the Baltimore Free Farm, a nonprofit urban farming collective.

Dozens of damp visitors in all colors of raincoats huddled into the warehouse listening to bands. Besides music, attendees could try natural raw honey, get their faces painted, and munch on miniature cupcakes including vegan and chocolate mint.

Bearings Bike Project, a bicycle collective, set up stationary bikes that allowed people to race the equivalent of two football fields. Top speed by mid-afternoon: 10:33 seconds.

Visitors had to brave the outdoors, though, if they wanted to judge the chili and beer competition. Contestants representing about 30 chilies and 20 beers dished out their creations under a row of tents.

Though Sunday was the 42nd anniversary of Earth Day, some of those attending the Hampden event were unaware of it.

LeRoy Graefe said the event was most likely his first Earth Day celebration, but it wasn't the planet that got him out on a wet Sunday.

"Chili and beer is always a good way to celebrate rainy Sundays," the 27-year-old said. "Everything is pretty good from the vegan chili to the barbecue-pork and the brisket chili."

Graefe added this tip on how to spot the best chilies: "The ones that are little more stingier in their pouring of it seem to be the better ones."

Contestants competed for minor prizes, but big bragging rights.

Dan Lagasse, 32, a graduate student at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, made a vegetarian chili recipe he found online.

"It's pretty hardy and doesn't need any meat or anything for flavor or body," said Lagasse, whose pot was empty by mid-afternoon.

Writer Lori Yanke, 33, went whole hog on meat, creating her own pulled-pork chili. She was not deterred by the rain.

"It's good chili weather," she says.

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