Finding Our Community at the 2022 Texas MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR

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Rianna Alvarado

The MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR happens every year just down the road from us in Belton, Texas. My husband and I always look forward to it, knowing it will be a weekend away where the two of us can learn, dream and plan for our farmstead. So this year, right when it felt as if the end of winter may never come, we hooked the pop up camper to our Sequoia, packed our food and made sure not to forget the tea and electric frother!

I didn’t realize how intertwined my life has been with this event until I was asked to write about it, yet it’s undeniable and I feel more grateful each year for having such an incredible resource just down the road. We arrived that Saturday morning eager to dive in–but not before getting “camp” set up. We quickly popped up the camper, hooked up the solar panels, gathered our backpacks and skipped into the Expo center we had come to know each winter for the past 6 years.

Between morning sessions we ran into good friends from out of town while meandering amongst all of the vendors. The excitement was palpable. We happened to be chatting right in front of my favorite bee guru, Dr. Leo Sharashkin. I bought many of his books at a previous MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR and use his methods with my own hive. Our friends approach beekeeping employing his methods as well, so I felt justified as I eavesdropped on the conversations he was having with fairgoers. They were asking him question after question and he was graciously answering them. I felt like gold bee dust was swirling all around me.

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During the lunch break we each pored over our schedule, still needing to decide between the three sessions circled for 2:00 p.m. We finally settled on I Built My Cob House and So Can You! and Seed Saving 101: How to Save Your Garden Seeds, as I was planning on doing more education around seed saving in my community and have been in love with cob for close to decade.

Seed Saving 101 was not something I needed on the surface, but it was something I actively wanted to teach, so I went for it, open-minded as if a novice. Bevin Cohen could have spoken about the basics of toilet paper and I would have still been laughing and enthralled the entire time. He has a lovely kinesthetic way of teaching on stage and I certainly learned more than a thing or two! I took notes for myself and thoughtfully observed the way he illuminated this topic so I could hopefully do the same in my own community.

We ended the evening with Bed and Breakfast Nuts and Bolts by the Doughertys which, according to both sets of friends that attended the FAIR as well, were “really amazing” and “you should definitely buy their book.” My friends were right! The Doughertys did not disappoint, nor did their friend and fellow speaker, Matt Wilkinson. By the time we finished the talk, through whispered half sentences and silent head nods, my husband and I had plans to make solid our many years of discussion about starting an Airbnb.

This presentation completely demystified the whole process and spoke about it in a way relevant to us! Both speakers were running their Airbnb on a farm setting and one was using the unique niche of a more off-grid offering, which was exactly what we were hoping to do with our bus and maybe even a few other adventure vehicles we had. One of our friends mentioned they would be totally up for us bringing our bus out to their ranch and Airbnb-ing it. This was a wonderful idea and one we hadn’t considered before. We finished the evening full of new excitement for the coming season but with exhausted brains having taken full advantage of the wisdom offered for the day.

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On Sunday, we began with Gardens Make Everything Better by Karena Poke. As one of my friends pulled up a chair next to me, I was reminded of the pivotal role she played in the current direction of my life. She was the first person to invite me into her world with open arms and also the first person that made me feel at home with myself. So many of the people I was surrounded with at the time lived completely differently than I did and I felt very alone and without true community. Now, many years later, we both actively invite others into an earth-friendly lifestyle and have businesses built around this principle. During the workshop, Karena shared personal stories about programs she is part of, sparking new ideas for our own community garden plans. She gave us wisdom around practical solutions to common problems that educational gardens have, such as funding and volunteers. I left with pages of ideas and a big note-to-self that said, “OPEN GARDEN DAY.”

Continuing with my outlook of being a beginner, I decided to attend Nicholas Burtner’s talk on Introduction to Permaculture. I have been reading about permaculture for probably a decade but, never having a permanent spot to garden, haven’t been able to implement many of the principles in my own gardens beyond techniques. I sat down not knowing what to expect but open to learning. I am so glad I did! Nicholas has a contagious excitement for this worldview and graciously shared it with us all. I took a few notes but immediately walked over to the School of Permaculture booth to learn more about his program. What I found was future friends and an incredibly generous discount to his certification program for fairgoers. We had a long conversation with friends of his who happened to also run the nature co-op I had recently signed my children up for. What a world! We felt inspired to talk at length with like-minded souls and I was giddy to finally be able to realize my dream of getting my Permaculture Design Certification.

Next on our list was Seed Swaps and Seed Libraries: How to Build Sustainable Communities by Sharing Seeds with Bevin again. I wasn’t at all surprised when both sets of our friends showed up, as we are all passionate seed savers. This presentation had the greatest effect on me of them all–and that is really saying something! Bevin took us down a river using story as his boat to explain the precious nature of seeds in regard to our own existence. He spoke about his own journey into seed saving and the radical way his life has transformed since that moment. We learned how to start a seed bank or seed library and the various forms they can take based on the unique community they are in. We got inspiration for an annual seed swap and a detailed vision began to form. Though education through saving seeds has always been on my mind I never thought I might be the one who would get to organize something as sacred and important as a seed swap myself. But with the insight Bevin had just laid out and the vision buzzing in my head, I now had no excuse.

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We spent the rest of the evening chatting with vendors, catching last minute deals and soaking in the energy of the weekend. I was overjoyed to find one of my favorite vendors–For Claudia’s Sake–there in her usual spot and picked up a handmade ring and earrings that I immediately put on. To be in a place with so many like-minded people–all wanting to learn, grow and help make their little world a bit better alongside their neighbors–is a great feeling.

With long parting hugs to all of our friends we left full of joy and anticipating what the spring would bring. Every year I look forward to this event; it’s one of the few things that I think about and schedule months in advance. However, before this year, I really just saw it as a special treat for me and my husband. Looking back, I see it has played an inseparable role in my life and business.

In addition to homeschooling my children, for the past three years I have been running a creative nature school called Artphoria Studio + Garden from my home. It is a sacred place brimming with plants and animals living together in an intentional environment in which they give to each other and our little community. It’s designed to invoke curiosity and wonder to all who enter–a simple invitation to step into magic and brush up against nature and see how she smells, to hold a bunny and feel the simple joy of life in your arms. These simple interactions are missing in our education system and in so many of our daily lives. I love cultivating this space and inviting families into a little piece of paradise.

In our classes we combine literature, poetry and hands-on gardening to invite children into the natural world. We also love to use out-of-the-box creative experiences to open children up to creativity at its core. For example, in a recent camp we used only materials from the Earth to make an entire art kit. Beeswax crayons filled their marigold dyed bags along with fire pit-made charcoal, candles and handmade earth paint poured into clay sculpted palettes.

I’m sharing all of this with you to show you how linked my business, life and the FAIR have become. For instance, once a semester I order a mushroom fruiting kit for classes from Mushroom Mountain. The children get to mist the mushrooms and learn about how they grow as well as the incredible role mycelium plays in our world and gardens. The inspiring Tradd Cotter and his wife Olga do incredible work with mushrooms around the world and I love supporting them whenever I get the opportunity. Guess where I met Tradd and religiously went to every one of his talks each year he was there? You got it–the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR!

So many of the wonderful things I get to be part of I learned or connected with through the FAIR. I am happy to say within a few days of that special weekend my husband had secured a venue for Waco’s First Annual Seed Swap; I put Artphoria’s first Open Garden Day on my calendar, began my Permaculture Design Program and we are getting closer to Airbnb-ing our converted school bus.

This year will go down in history as one of the best, but really I have no doubt next year will be equally wonderful–not just because of the incredible speakers that will be there but simply because we are a community of new and long-time readers of MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine, chasing after a more connected life, a life closer to our Earth and closer to each other.

Rianna Alvarado is a writer, painter, blogger, Master Gardener and owner of Artphoria Studio + Garden in Waco, TX. You can follow her at @warmhoneytoast on Instagram or visit her blog and website at https://warmhoneytoast.com/. Her husband Joshua Palmer builds adventure vehicles for people all over the country. You can find his work and follow along at @joshuatreeadventurebuilders on Instagram or https://joshuatreeadventurebuilders.com/.

  • Updated on Apr 13, 2022
  • Originally Published on Apr 12, 2022
Tagged with: building community, Fair events, mother earth news fair, Texas