Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
I was not sure what to expect at the Mother Earth News fair at Seven Springs, PA. this year. Even though it was at a “resort”, my mind wandered back to old articles about living in yurts, and I was curious whether there would be electricity or running water available. Not that it was all that important—I’d lived without those luxuries before and may do so again. That's me with the guitar in the photo, taken at a "Fall Festival" in my home town of Neosho, MO probably some time in the early 1980s.
People exhibiting and attending, I figured, would mostly be aging hippies, much like myself. That was fine, we’d have plenty to talk about. Some had stayed close to their roots, but most, like me, have moved on to a more complicated and conventional lifestyle. I was also impressed by the number of "younger" (under 50 yrs old) attendees. The interest in homesteading and simpler lifestyles is still alive! I still have issue #1 of MEN, probably a collector’s item, by now. I was still in high school when it came out (1970). Not long before receiving that issue, we had gone to a neighbor’s house to watch the first lunar landing on a color television. I was proud of my mastery over the slide rule, and nearly a decade would elapse before I would actually own a calculator. Eight-track tapes were at the height of their brief popularity, and the remains of snarled tapes littered the roadside. I made extra money that summer by working in local hayfields for farmers who managed to pack eighty pounds of hay into square bales that should have weighed sixty. CDs, personal computers, mp3 players, and cell phones were too far-fetched, even for science fiction. The only video game was bouncing a beam of light, known as “pong”. It was an exciting time, and I remember reading about articles written by Amory Lovins, and debating about opportunities to follow a sustainable path for future generations.
In the next 10 years, I would be teaching solar energy at a community college and designing the passive solar home in which I still live. Just last year, a former student proudly informed me that the solar water heater he built in my class nearly forty years ago was still working! When issue #1 came out, I was still a decade away from meeting my wonderful wife. In the ensuing years, I designed and built prototype wind turbine blades, sold computers, taught industrial arts, developed curriculum for Technology Education, and operated a sheet metal press. I now write full time, and operate a sawmill in my spare time for fun and profit. My children are grown, and Becky and I are grandparents.
I exhibited the Norwood portable sawmill at the fair, and was pleased that so many people stopped by to discuss sawmilling, their patch of timber, or projects that they had in mind to build when they get their own mill. Most were from Pennsylvania or Ohio, but I talked with people from all over the U.S., including a few fellow Missourians. Some of them accepted the offer to cut a board or two on the mill, and we finished the show with around 400 board feet of lumber which was donated to a local technical school for their carpentry program. One lady cut a board on the sawmill, and took it home with her to make a shelf. She was very pleased, and certainly had not planned on cutting lumber at the show. A number of people commented on how easy the mill was to run, and how quiet it is (about the same noise level as a lawn tractor). Even the cold rain on Saturday did not diminish interest in the mills, as people watched us cut lumber and discussed the benefits of having a sawmill on a homestead-- though I appreciated the chance to duck under the nearby seminar tent when the rain was falling.
There just was not enough time to visit all of the other exhibitors, though I managed to talk to a number of them. Most had not even been born when MEN Issue #1 hit the press, but the spirit of independence was still there. Solar ovens, wood heat, small livestock, organic gardening, electric vehicles, and dozens of back-to-back seminars on everything from composting to the latest developments in photovoltaics made this old hippie feel like he’d stepped in to a time machine. Far from staying in a yurt, the show was at a full-blown ski resort with all the luxuries of a fine hotel, including fine dining, real beds, a hot shower, and cable television. A little too comfortable—next year I’m bringing a tent!
Within an hour of the closing of the show, fellow Norwood exhibitor Mike Long and I had both of the Norwood sawmills loaded up in a 26' Penske rental truck and were pulling out of the fairgrounds back to Norwood's headquarters in Buffalo, NY. It was great working with Mike, and I learned a lot of sawmill tricks from him. My thanks to the excellent staff of Mother Earth News, and the Seven Springs resort. They went out of their way to make sure we had everything we needed for the demonstrations, and assisted in loading up the mills in the truck.
I’m already looking forward to next year’s Fair. I made a lot of friends that I hope to meet again. Just maybe I’ll see about offering a seminar on sustainable woodlot management. Meanwhile, I’ve got preparations for this winter to take care of, and orders for lumber and firewood to fill.