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Mother Earth News Fair

Our FAIRS bring living wisely to life with hands-on workshops in organic gardening, country skills, renewable energy and more.

Crossing the Spectrum

Every time I leave the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR I come home with a bag full of stuff that I have accumulated along the way. My youngest son typically tears into the bag, once exclaiming that my return from the FAIR is always “like Christmas.”

As a gardener he gets excited about a new packet of seeds. As a keeper of chickens he is delighted to have some “chicken treats.” As a maker of soil he gets jazzed about a packet of mineral additives or a bag of alpaca poop.

My other children are less enthusiastic about my return. Some of them are skeptical of the FAIR in general. The fact that Ed Begley Jr. is a regular attendee makes them think that the FAIR might be a worthwhile endeavor.

For some strange reason, not all of my children think like me.

Coming home from the fair in Lawrence, Kan., I stopped in Chicago to watch my daughter Jessalyn run in the Chicago Marathon. That night in the hotel room I handed her my MOTHER EARTH NEWS bag and explained how it is pretty much like cracking open a Christmas stocking.

She works in advertising in New York City. No garden. No chickens. No compost. But she ripped into the bag with a cautious optimism.

She was not enthusiastic about the grated beet and horseradish concoction I had purchased, so she set that aside. Not everyone loves beets.

She evaluated the stickers about stopping genetic engineering and the promotion of honeybees with the eye of a designer and writer. As someone who takes the train each day, she has no need for bumper stickers.

But there was a fridge magnet that caught her eye. And she set a scented candle aside to go home with her. She was curious about the jar of “honey and hops” spread, and delighted by the granola bar from Iowa.

It’s funny. Albert Bates and Bryan Welch and I have been holding public discussions about societal change and activism at the past few fairs. Something that always comes up in the conversation is the demographic of the MOTHER EARTH NEWS reader—and how the magazine appeals to all sides of the political spectrum.

We spend a lot of time with the audience discussing how to effectively reach people of opposite persuasions with our varying points of view.

And while I might do that in real life, I don’t really practice it with my children. I am required to run our family as a dictatorship, because I don’t dare take a chance on democracy with this crowd. And to my continued astonishment there are varying points of view even in my own family.

Fortunately the “stuff” from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR appears to cut across my family’s lines. Now that Jess has had her “Christmas” from the bag, I’ll toss it over to my youngest so that the items Jess left.


Lyle Estill’s latest book is an anthology written by 14 different sustainability pioneers—including Albert Bates and Bryan Welch. Their “Small Stories” discussions with fairgoers have become an interesting addition to the FAIR.