Photographer John, Layne, and I had an incredible time at the Mother Earth News Fair. Thankfully we had three days to enjoy ourselves, from Friday, September 12th to Sunday September 14th, 2014, or we might have been a little overwhelmed, there was so much going on. During our time there we had a chance to meet with or talk to a number of people. If you have a chance to attend one of the Mother Earth News Fairs, as they are held in multiple locations throughout the country, please do. They are well worth your time.
Here are some of, but by no means all, of the highlights.
First up was Michael Judd, author of Edible Landscaping with a Permaculture Twist. We had a chance to interview him and hang out some throughout the show. Michael was very generous with his time and even more dynamic in person than when we sat down an interviewed in the past. If you are near Frederick, Maryland, he is someone worth looking up. As I live not too far from Michael, I want to go visit again and do another formal interview. You can checkout his design company and find more information at: Ecologia Design.
Next we sat down with Tradd Cotter who was just as engaging in person as he was in the interview that came out in early September. We sat down for a while and talked about medicinal mushrooms, which was the second of our videos from the fair. Once the camera was shut off he hung out with us for another hour talking mushrooms and we dug deeper into why it’s important for people to own the knowledge to change the world. He also joked with Layne and John when they showed up to photograph one of his presentations. If you get a chance to take a class with Tradd or see him speak at a conference, do it. It’s well worth your time. John, Layne, and I also have an invitation from Tradd to go visit him in 2015 and tour the facilities at Mushroom Mountain.
There were also Jason and Sera Drevenak of the North American Bushcraft School. Located in Hedgesville, West Virginia, they are not too far from my hometown of Hagerstown, Maryland. Together they offer a number of primitive skill workshops and classes which are right in line with the re-wilding that Ben Weiss and Wilson Alvarez advocate. Jason is a gifted and engaging teacher who lives this. Jason and Sera tan their own hides from road kill, and forge their own bushcraft knives. Of all the workshops I saw, Jason’s on primitive firemaking drew one of the largest crowds I of any of the non-keynote events. People stood around the edges of the stage area four and five deep. I’m planning to go down and take some classes at the North American Bushcraft School sometime, or at least go visit.
I also spoke with Matthew Goldfarb of Fruition Seeds. He and Petra Page-Mann (no relation to me that I know of), have one of the coolest plant breeding programs around that I know about. I heard about their work when talking with Matt Stillerman and Michael Burns at the Fingerlakes Permaculture Site Tour, and after seeing their company in the program wanted to grab them for a few minutes.
Matthew and Petra are working to create open-pollinated heirloom varieties that are adapted and resilient in local conditions, unique to the bioregion in which they are developed. I purchased several packets of the Insectary Blend of seeds to plant next year as part of our 2015 garden.
Three Rivers EVA – The Western PA Chapter of the Electric Auto Association – had a variety of electric vehicles on-site ranging from custom built cars, trucks, and bicycles, as well as factory products including a Tesla Model S.
Sitting up near the electric vehicles was Tara Whitsitt of Fermentation on Wheels. This is a food and fermentation education project that travels the country teaching people about nutrition in a converted bus. If you’ve read any of the books by Sandor Katz, you have an idea of the jars and crocks filling the bus. She had kimchi, kombucha, water and dairy kefir grains, and many many others in a well-designed stable rack allowing everything to remain in the open and on display. Once she’s settled into an area for a few days I want to sit down and have a chat with her.
Uncle Mud was running ongoing cob and plaster natural building workshop that was very hands-on and kid friendly. One of the pictures I took here was of a small girl putting plaster on the wall. The man speaking to those around him encouraged her to pull and play while he talked with the other people around him. As a parent I liked the openness and willingness to allow her to learn and experiment.
I also met some others folks along the way who are doing good work and I’ve reached out to them for interviews, including Dan Chiras, of The Evergreen Institute and author of the Natural Home, and Lloyd Kahn, author of numerous books on tiny houses and hand built homes, including the incredible Shelter.
While at the fair I also had a chance to sit down with Jen Mendez of PermieKids.com and we talked about permaculture, education, and podcasting for a while. She’ll be joining me on the show as a guest.
Some interesting products and organizations from the event.
Airhead Composting Toilet. I liked this unit for the small size and easy to empty liquids container. Compared to some other companies the price was rather reasonably at under $1,000. If I were going to purchase something for a tiny-home installation, of what I saw at the show, this is the one I’d go for.
Brooder Bottle Cap. This is a simple ball valve design that fits to a plastic soda bottle, whether 20oz or 2 liter, to water chickens and other animals. It strikes me as an appropriate technology because of the simplicity and durability, I also have been reading about a move in commercial chicken operations to move towards bottle feeding and this is an inexpensive way to do so. Al, the owner, was generous with his time explaining the idea behind the products as well as how to train your chickens to use them. He also wants to create a 501©3 that can produce these watering bottle caps for distribution to developing countries and disaster areas. Retail at the show was $5.95 for a pair.
Chatham University, located in Pittsburgh, PA, was onsite and handing out information regarding two interesting degree programs. A Bachelor and Master of Sustainability. If you are involved in permaculture and would like some additional education to support your work, something I’ve found useful in the credentialed society in the United States, this is a direction worth investigating. Another suggestion for a program is the one I’m enrolled in, which is a Master of Park and Resource Management at Slippery Rock University.
Patrick and Matthew of Go Sun Stoves were there demoing products. I’d talked to Patrick last year so it was good to see him there and to meet Matthew. They both met at a Permaculture Design course and worked on developing their innovative solar oven. I want to pick one of these up and spend a year cooking with it through all seasons and conditions and see what living with this type of solar cooker is really like.
With the idea of using natural and renewable resources, an interesting wood splitter onsite was the WoodOx Woodsman. Having watched my father put an axe into his foot, twice, as well as splitting wedges fly when struck off center, these three and four way splitters are tools that safely handle the task of preparing firewood for a self-sufficient homestead.
At the event were two purveyors of mushroom spawn and supplies. One was mentioned by Michael Judd when we sat down and spoke, which is Smugtown Mushrooms out of Rochester, NY. The other was Back Bone Food Farm in Oakland, MD. If you’d like to try someone else, here are other options.
Finally, I’d like to give a personal thanks to Brandy Ernzen, the PR Manager for Ogden Publications. She made the entire experience of working the Mother Earth News Fair easy and simple.
That ends the report from the Mother Earth News Fair by the crew at The Permaculture Podcast. We shot some other video along the way, which I’m working on as time allows. Keep checking out the YouTube channel for the show, as well as the Facebook page.
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Until the next time, create a better world each day by taking care of Earth, your self, and each other.
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