Speaker Post: Lyle Estill of Piedmont Biofuels

Reader Contribution by Lyle Estill
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Tonight my son Arlo and I finished his “solar powered dehydrator.” He cleaned up the shop and got the unit ready for display, while I walked up to the house to fetch Tami for the final inspection.

Arlo was twelve when the two of us headed to the Mother Earth News Fair in Seven Springs, Pennsylvania. At the time I had only a couple of rules. The first is standard in our household: “We pay for any book you want as long as you read it.” The next was that he find something to keep himself occupied while I was “working.”

It turned out the latter rule was not a problem. He was immersed in everything from the “chicken whisperer” to the propagated plants to the “superior woodsplitter.” I barely saw him.

At the Fair’s makeshift bookstore Arlo was in heaven. He bought Eben Fodor’s The Solar Food Dryer; How to Make and Use Your Own High-Performance, Sun-Powered Food Dehydrator. And he bought Stephen Cresswell’s Homemade Root Beer Soda and Pop. He also bumped into Patricia Foreman, author of City Chicks. He had already read that one, and he was jazzed to meet such a “chicken superstar.”

One day we ducked out to play tennis together. We agreed that the Pennsylvania chestnuts were smaller and more bitter than the ones we grow, and that a loaded baked potato with an ear of sweet corn makes for a fabulous festival breakfast. I believe I beat him 6-2, 6-4.

What I had not factored into the budget was Arlo’s purchase of two coffee plants, two capers plants, and a couple of Aztec Dream herbs. All of them are still alive, on his window sill, but I question their utility. He says he is going to build a “Florida room” and go into citrus cultivation.

I came home with a copy of Aquaponic Gardening by Silvia Bernstein. She was at the New Society Publisher’s booth on the trade show floor.

The solar food dryer caused Arlo to worry. He found some window screens and some plate glass in the woods, and he amalgamated some scrap plywood and some cedar for legs. Getting the unit built took some time.

The Mother Earth News Fair was in September. The dehydrator was not ready to go online until March. That’s six months of “speculation,” which caused Arlo some stress. Neither one of us likes being branded as “talkavists.” We prefer getting projects done and on the ground.

By the time Tami came down to the shop to inspect the finished project, it was already a topic of family conversation. “Who cares about dehydrating anyway?” said my eldest son.

I reminded him that it is the only way we can get our hand raised popcorn to “pop.” We dehydrate our hops every year before sending them to his sister to support her home brewing habit.

I’m glad we have a new solar dehydrator unit. I can’t wait to take it for a spin. Last time the peaches had a big year we composted as many as we could eat. This time we will be ready to dehydrate.

This year’s Mother Earth News Fair returns to Puyallup, Washington. My first time there I encountered a table top donut machine that left me awestruck. To say nothing of the “belt free” lawnmowers.

I’m heading back to the Fair at Puyallup this year, and I can’t wait for what awaits me there…

Lyle Estill presented workshops at the Puyallup, Wash. 2012 MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR.  You can also get FAIR updates on our Facebook and Twitter pages. 

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