I’m at the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Fair!

Reader Contribution by Carole Coates
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My husband and I haven’t missed a single year of the Mother Earth News Fair since we first discovered the phenomenon four years ago. Our first M.E.N. fair experience was at its original venue, Seven Springs, PA, not far from Pittsburgh. Since then, we’ve been going to the much closer Asheville, NC, fair, but this year, we decided to return to the mother of them all. (The fair is currently held in six locations from Vermont to Texas to Oregon.)

Eager fair goers wait for the gates to open.

Why the Pennsylvania Fair?

First of all, it was here where we were first introduced to these extraordinary fairs that encourage a more sustainable lifestyle. Then there’s the beautiful drive that for us follows the Appalachian mountain chain through beautiful rolling hills and pastoral countryside. But the main reason we wanted to come back to Pennsylvania is because this version of the fair gives you an extra half day of workshops for the same low price as the two-day events elsewhere. Hard to resist.

My first day was a full one.

Our first stop at the fair was the Mother Earth News bookstore. It’s chock full of how-to and diy books on all sorts of topics: alternative energy, tiny houses, food preservation, animal husbandry, organic gardening—the list goes on. And a coupon for 25% off bookstore purchases comes with every ticket. The books go fast. We left with a big armful (as usual.)

 Bookstore at the Mother Earth News Fair

Then it was on to the workshops. We usually split up so we get twice as much information. In the evenings, we share notes and debrief. My day’s workshops started with Herbal Salve-Making with Claire Orner. Claire was generous with her salve-making recipes. I left knowing how to make salves for arthritis, headaches, inflammation, memory, and more. I can’t wait to start making my own.

Then it was off to a workshop led by Victor Zaderej of Happy Leaf LED. Victor showed us a quick, easy, ad space-saving way to grow vegetables hydroponically indoors using mason jars, clay pellets, and water. The key to this quick results method is to use LED grow lights. Intriguing.

In just a few minutes Kirsten Shockey whipped up a pepper ferment all the while demonstrating a few hacks and extolling the many virtues of this ancient food preservation form. I thought I knew a fair amount about fermentation, but I didn’t know ferments don’t have to be salty. And I’d never thought about fermenting herbs (they keep their fresh flavor) or condiments. Kirsten made me want to rush home so I can try a mustard ferment.

I spent the day’s last workshop period learning about backyard foraging from Ellen Zachos. Did you know you can sauté early spring hosta shoots? Or make a spice from from sumac berries? Ellen’s show and tell covered twenty-five common plants that might be found in your front yard as well as in the wild. I love the idea of foraging. As Ellen pointed out, foraging gets you out in nature, gives you exercise, and provides you with free food. Besides, finding food you can’t buy for any amount of money is just a fun thing to do.

Ellen’s book on backyard foraging

Whew! That was a lot to pack into an afternoon I didn’t have much time to check out the two hundred plus vendors. But that’s what tomorrow’s for.

Carole Coates is a gardener and food preservationist, family archivist, essayist, poet, photographer, modern homesteader. You can follow her Mother Earth News blog posts by following thislink. You can also find Carole at Living On the Diagonal where she shares her take on life, including modern homesteading, food preparation and preservation, and travel as well random thoughts and reflections, personal essays, poetry, and photography.

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