Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A Trip to the Mother Earth News Fair

Charlyn Ellis, winner of Mother Earth News’ 2012 Homesteader of the Year, recounts her first trip to the Mother Earth News Fair.
When we were first invited to the Mother Earth News Fair, we hesitated. It was a long drive, and there are no campgrounds near Puyallup, Washington. But as we looked over the schedule of events, we saw some interesting speakers and changed our minds. Mark printed out the schedule. We highlighted lectures, packed up our van, found a campground in Olympia, arranged animal care, and headed up I-5.

When we pulled into the parking lot on Saturday morning, our anticipation mounted. There were hundreds of people heading into the fairgrounds, all grinning broadly. Mark surveyed bumper stickers. “Lots of Ron Paul supporters,” he observed. “Balanced by ‘COEXIST’ in various religious symbols.” Once inside, we consulted the program and map. I headed for a local permaculture workshop; Mark was interested in a discussion of land use in Pierce County. While I waited for the organizers to set up a microphone and balance an easel board, I chatted with my neighbor, a woman from Eastern Washington. We compared notes on tomatoes — always a popular subject — until the presentation began. Afterward, we both advised a new gardener to hunt down several books on permaculture and moved on. Mark enjoyed his lecture as well; the information was specific and detailed on how the county was preserving farmland.

That became the pattern of the weekend. We consulted the schedule, found our personal interests, separated, and regrouped. Whenever I sat down alone, my neighbors chatted with me. I met an older man from Texas who was visiting a friend in Seattle for his son’s wedding while waiting for a discussion on Warre hives. Mark was intrigued by a presentation on bio-char, one of his favorite topics. We both enjoyed listening to Paul Stamets talk about how mushrooms healed his mother of cancer; we loved the photos of tiny houses by Lloyd Kahn; and Will Allen’s description of urban farming and building the soil was inspiring. There were dozens of possible topics to explore — solar energy, raising chickens and goats, canning and preserving, seed saving, winter gardening . . . nice practical stuff. There were also more philosophical discussions on living simply and deliberately. There was no way to experience it all.

When we were not listening to presentations, we wandered around looking at exhibits. I heard one speaker rally the troops by shouting, “Are you ready to talk chickens?” “Yes!” they roared back. I spent half an hour gazing at a beautiful goat. Mark enjoyed looking at the electric car display. The Mother Earth News and Storey bookstores were always good for a browse. We were both interested in an automatic chicken door that popped open again for a few minutes right after dark to let the stragglers in. Those guys understood their clients! When we grew tired, we slipped outside for a bit of fresh air.

While we were waiting for Joel Salatin’s talk, we were struck once again by the variety of people. Small children were everywhere, climbing on the bleachers. Teenagers texted. Groups gathered in conversational circles, comparing notes. There were old hippies smelling of patchouli, young twenty-somethings just starting out raising goats, home schooling families doing “research” for class, and some urban dwellers who dreamed of homesteading someday. Everyone was enthusiastic.

It was a grand time. We learned some things, bought a couple of books, and were inspired by the number of people there who were interested in becoming more self-sufficient. Some of them were living in apartments, growing a pot of rosemary on the balcony, while others were living in off-the-grid houses in the woods. But it was, by far, the friendliest group of people I have ever seen at a festival, and I’ve been to a few. We’re going back next year — and bringing our friends. We know where to camp — and we need more people to divide and conquer the presentations.
Read Charlyn’s blog, 21st Street Urban Homestead.

Mother Earth News Fair, Seven Springs, PA •  September 21–23, 2012

Participate with MOTHER EARTH NEWS and GRIT magazine in celebrating Homesteading Education Month this September. Share your self-sufficient skills with friends and neighbors by hosting an open house, tour or workshop, plus find events happening near you at

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