Mother Earth News Fair 2013 — A Seller’s Perspective

Reader Contribution by Ed Essex
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Well, it’s official. Another wild weekend at the Mother Earth News Fair in Puyallup, WA. Noooo, it didn’t rain. The weather was pretty decent and the place was packed. I’m pretty sure a good time was had by all. Well – sort of. We had to get up early Friday morning and pack our truck for the 300 mile trip to the fairgrounds, unload again same day, and set up a booth and be out of there by 7:00. What were we going to do for the remaining two hours until we went to bed?

The trip was uneventful except for the stop and go traffic as we got closer to our destination. Where we come from it’s considered busy if you see three cars on the highway on the 20 mile trip to town. Last fall on a Friday night we saw a whole bunch of cars on the highway all at once. We finally figured out it was the Friday night football game between competing tiny towns. They have tiny football teams too.  Not enough people to make a regulation team.

When we got to the hotel to check in I was pleasantly surprised to see they had put a few new concrete stair treads in. Last year they just duct taped the ones that were crumbling. (I’m not making this up. See the picture in last year’s blog. I guess they made enough money from the packed house at last year’s fair to remodel.

We used our big truck because this was a big event so parking was a problem everywhere we went except for the fairgrounds of course. We parked in the Orange parking lot right next to the Purple one. I have to admit, I felt pretty important with my Exhibitor Badge. Last year we hung them around our necks with some kind of organic hemp rope. It was way Granola. This year they used shoelaces with a clever little trick at the ends of the shoestring which kept the string from falling out. Of course that made them useless to re-use in my shoes after the fair was over which I thought was a little wasteful.

We arrived early just in case there were, well, I don’t know why we arrived early. I looked all over for coffee but the one and only coffee stand was NOT going to open until nine which is halfway to noon where I come from. I saw the Blacksmith coming in from outside for coffee and waited around to see if the Barista would make an exception for him. He had a big Bowie knife on his belt but no luck for him either. She was tough.

We had booth 427. It was a corner booth in one of the hundreds of rows of booths. It cost money. I was surprised because I thought I was doing folks a favor just by being there. And I personally think if you can pronounce Puyallup you should get your booth for free anyway but someone higher up the fair chain nixed that idea.

The Fair opened at 9:00 so I went to get coffee. We didn’t see any potential customers until 10:30 anyway. We were at the opposite end of the main gates. I’m not sure what color parking lot the fair-goers parked in. Hopefully the “Green” lot. Green is our favorite fair color!

By mid morning everything was up and running. Multiple workshops (yes, people paid money to come to the fair and work) and people everywhere. Many of them came to our booth just to say hi. We met them last year. Nobody bought anything but they sure were friendly. One person we met last year walked all the way from the waterfront off a ship to attend the fair. He is a pretty intelligent guy so I think he was the captain. He took a card. I wonder what he might be interested in for life aboard a ship. Maybe a solar flashlight for nighttime at sea. Maybe he will use it for a smugglers signal. I wonder what color dock he is berthed in? I digress.

You cannot believe the variety in booths, workshop, and speakers. Our booth was right next to one of the main event classes. One speaker talked about the benefits of raw milk which started out good but by the time she was through speaking about  “things that can go wrong with an udder” segment I was trying not to listen to the rest of it. On the other hand, in the fermented foods class the speaker swore to the audience that there had never been one recorded incident of botulism from homemade sauerkraut. Good to know!

Outside there was an organic Carmel Apple stand. Something you would only find at a Mother Earth News Fair. I saw one woman walking around with a corn cob that had to be at least 15” long. Tsk tsk – GMO – duh. I looked around for the organic deep fried spam but couldn’t find it. Maybe an idea for next year.

I also saw the blacksmith out there. He kept his knife in its sheath. Probably so more people would come to his booth. Many folks were dressed up in Pioneer garb. Leather, homespun, and calico, except for the blacksmith. He was wearing paisley. I asked him about it. He said paisley had been around since the 1800’s. Sure and MEN is going to give me a free booth.

Probably the most amazing booth (besides ours) was the Bookstore. Definitely competing with Amazon. Absolutely everything possible with part of the title being “How To”…… If you come Sunday afternoon and stay till the end, sometimes they discount the books – you didn’t hear that from me.

I have to tell you about the booth “behind” us. It was for sustainable cleanliness including non electric bidets. Get it – “behind us”? There was only a curtain separating us and I guess I don’t quite know how to describe the conversations taking place on the other side of the curtain. They seemed to be very grown up about it. Tasteful or clinical terms only. The best part was how the interested fairgoers approached the subject, not being trained in the more subtle terms of “bottom irrigation”. I just made that one up. I never heard it at the fair. I had to hand it to those people. They kept a straight face for the entire two days.

I was sad when the PA said the Fair was closing. I didn’t even get to ride in an electric car. We had to pack everything ourselves and load it back into the truck. I thought it was part of the booth “package’ but I guess not. Organized Chaos is how you would describe a fair takedown. I felt bad for one booth. They had to take all of their leftover goods to FedEx and package them. It was multiple trips for their little rental car. They were from Florida. Oh my.

All in all I think everyone who attended had a good time. Even the kids were pretty well behaved. They had to walk past the blacksmith to get in.

Ed and Laurie Essex live off grid in the Okanogan Highlands of Washington State where they operate their website