Have you ever attended a Mother Earth News Fair? This sustainability and self-reliance event has been a must-do on my calendar ever since I first learned about it back in 2013, not long after I hit my personal retirement button. My husband and I thought a trip to the Mother Earth News Fair would be a fantastic way to re-energize — just the right thing for two old, would-be hippies who wanted to get back to basics.
Not that the Fair’s attendees are hippies. The folks who fill the workshops and exhibit halls fill a broad spectrum: young, old, rich, modest-of-means, hip, not so hip. They come for different reasons. I’m betting they all leave with new purpose and enthusiasm.
We headed to the Mother Earth News Fair mothership in Seven Springs, Pennsylvania, for what became a great new passion for gardening and preserving our harvest. We had tried our hands at gardening years before, but we needed some remedial education. The Fair turned out to be just what we needed. It was the perfect place to renew our enthusiasm for modern homesteading, too.
I can’t begin to describe how excited we were to discover a Fair was planned for the next spring in nearby Asheville, NC. We crossed our fingers that enough like-minded people would show up to convince organizers to keep it going. We needn’t have worried: Like the initial Pennsylvania Fair, the one in Asheville far exceeded the planners’ expectations. We’ve attended every single one.
Fair venues keep expanding; each year for the last several years, the Fair has added a new location to its offerings. This year, Fairs are happening in Vermont, Oregon, Texas, and Kansas, as well as Pennsylvania and North Carolina. Much more accessible to back-to-the-landers or just plain folks who want to live more intentionally.
Here’s a tiny sampling of what I’ve learned at these events. From great garlic guru Ira Wallace, I learned all about growing garlic. Haven’t had store bought since. Lisa Kivirist and John Ivanko reinforced the importance of prioritizing values when you’re striving to achieve an important goal by sharing their retreat from the corporate world to a simpler, saner lifestyle.
Smart, sassy Sherri Brooks Vinton sprinkled pizzazz into canning as only she can do. When the holidays came, we bought a box of grapefruit from our local Rotary Club to whip up some jars of her grapefruit in lavender syrup for gifts. Yum!
Niki Jabbour introduced me to all kinds of new vegetables and extolled the virtues of year-round gardening. If she could do it way up there in Nova Scotia, surely I could in North Carolina. Tar Heel Craig LeHoullier provided great tips for growing happy, healthy heirloom tomatoes, always a tricky business up here on my mountain.
Mother Earth News columnist Barbara Pleasant and intensive farmer Jean-Martin Fortier added even more gardening insights from composting to successful small-scale market gardening. Ecological landscape designer Jessi Bloom proved that we can have our beautiful landscape and eat it, too. How cool is that?
Well, you get the idea. At the Mother Earth News Fair, you can find workshops on things like foraging; wind, solar, and other alternative energies; raising, butchering, and processing animals; herbal remedies; mushroom growing; home wine-making, liquor distilling, and beer-brewing (legally, of course); marketing your small farm or home-based business; ethical farming practices; cheesemaking; bee keeping; fermentation; and so much more. Some presenters regularly make return appearances (fun for groupies like me), but you can always count on new speakers and topics, too.
There’s even a series of workshops for kids (and the whole weekend is free for the under-eighteen crowd). Exhibits and demonstrations abound. And I dare not forget to mention the many excellent books that are available — we always bring home an armload.
It’s hard to pick one thing about the Fair that’s better than all the rest, but affordability has to be right up there. A visit to any of the Mother Earth News Fairs is the most reasonably priced way you could find to spend a weekend. An advance two-day ticket costs a mere $20 ($30 at the gate). The same money gets you three days at the premier Pennsylvania Fair — it’s huge!
We’re thinking about going back to that one this year, if only for the extra day’s worth of workshops — we don’t want to miss out on anything. This go-round, I’m particularly interested in learning more about tiny homes, farmers of color, and herbalism. Oh, who am I kidding? I’m interested in most all of them.
What else is there to say about these tip-filled, expert-laden events? I can tell you one thing, for sure: Whichever one is nearest you, it’s the perfect way to recharge your sustainability batteries.
Carole Coates is a gardener and food preservationist, family archivist, essayist, poet, photographer, modern homesteader. You can also find Carole at Living On the Diagonal, where she blogs about her take on life, including modern homesteading, gardening lore and how-to, food preparation and preservation, as well random thoughts and reflections, personal essays, poetry, and photography.
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