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Today I look at my recent visit to the Mother Earth News Fair in Seven Springs, PA.
As I was only able to attend the event for one day, I didn’t grab any live interviews this time around. Rather, I spent my time looking at the exhibitors on display, talked with folks along the way, and sat down to catch up with Tradd Cotter at the end of the day.
Last year when I attended this event with Photographer John and his assistant Layne the focus was squarely on farm and family. This year the tone had plenty on farming and agriculture, but also included more related to the small homestead, prepping and off-grid living.
Though I don’t cover those last two topics much on the show, having a social-permaculture and re wilding bent lately, those are the places I came from when I first discovered ecological design and was looking for ways to weather the potential for both systemic and small-scale disasters. So when I saw many of the exhibitors for this year, a couple in particular grabbed my eye.
The first was L.T. Wright Handcrafted Knives. Whatever we do, wherever we go, having a good sharp edge on hand is useful for a number of tasks, even in everyday work removed from field or forest. We cut food for dinner. Open packages. Cut string. Trim threads. Peel fruits and vegetables. As you spend more time wandering you are likely to use a knife to prepare game, breakdown larger pieces of wood into kindling or tinder, or shape materials into useful tools. Whether a folder in your pocket, a fixed blade on your hip, or a chef’s in the kitchen block, having a dependable knife, or several, on hand is invaluable for making tasks easier around the house and homestead.
L.T. is making some of the most durable knives available. I know that from personal experience, as I own a Woodsman Pro made from his first knife company, Blind Horse Knives. From the pieces I handled this weekend that quality not only continues, and for a price that represents a great value on a knife crafted by hand in Wintersville, Ohio from American steel. If you are in the line for a good knife, definitely check out his site, ltwrightknives.com.
Another item in the preparedness vein are the range of solar rechargeable flashlights and lanterns from Hybrid Light. The light that stood out was the Journey 160, a 160 lumen waterproof flashlight that provides up to twelve hours of light and also includes a 5 volt, 2 amp USB port that allows you to recharge most cell phones and some tablets while on the go from the internal 2400mAh battery.
I don’t expect to rely on technology in the long run, but at the same time I don’t see it going away anytime soon, and products like this can provide a sense of normality in time of crisis, allowing a family to use see, but also to recharge some of the common features of life and use them to maintain a sense of normality during a short-term disaster, such as a weather related power outage, but looking beyond the moment they allow us to choose how we transition away from the traditional grids of civilization and prepare for a smooth, soft energy descent.
The next exhibitor to catch my eye was Container Homes of Maryland, which hails from my hometown of Hagerstown, They are taking shipping containers and converting them into tiny homes. What stood out for me is that they are offering turnkey,off-grid solutions. The model on display used a 20′ container and provides just under 150 sq ft of living space. This included a closet; a bathroom with stand-up shower and composting toilet; a kitchen area that included a sink, two-burner gas stove, and a small refrigerator; on the wall hung a high efficiency mini-split air conditioner and heat pump; two person dining-bar; and built-in full-size bed. As part of the display they also had two solar panels out front which were actively charging the included power system.
To reduce the need for electricity and lights, there was also a large skylight. When the representative, Jon Gandy, was showing me around he turned all the light off to show the effectiveness of this feature, but also saw me cringe at the thought of a skylight. In my world, skylights leak, and Jon could tell I’d had that experience, so went on to describe how they install this giant, covered, hole in the roof, which they accomplish by creating a three layer roof system that fully and securely seals the skylight in place.
For off-grid application they include six solar panels plus batteries for energy storage, and a water collection and filtration system. You can be completely off-grid with everything you need, based on the 20’ design, for $60k. The same model, placed on a foundation and tied to the grid, is $35k. If you need some more space, there is a grid tied 40’ model for $60k, though they do not have an off grid-model for this size at the moment due to the extra requirements for heating, cooling, and resource storage. As a custom container home builder, they are also able to design and build to suit your specific needs. They can be found at containerhomesofmaryland.com.
Going with that idea of being off grid and supplying our own energy, I also spent some time talking with the folks from Three Rivers EVA, a chapter of the Electric Auto Association. In addition to all of the electric and plug-in hybrids on display, including a pair of Tesla sedans which one of the members said he charges regularly from home using roof installed solar panels, there was also an e-bike making trips around the fairgrounds, which is where I spotted the bright yellow frame and big tires rolling around.
This model, from Sondors, was rather popular from all the people who gathered around it, including myself. Joining the circle the owner shared some information about the bike, which I was then able to fill in from some research on the web. Using a 36v battery and a 350watt motor mounted in the rear hub, the bike is capable of up to 20 miles an hour and has a range of 30 to 50 miles. Though the MSRP is around $1,200, the owner of this particular bike paid a bit over $1000 shipped from finding one on eBay, and Sondors is currently running a crowdfunding campaign on a new model allowing anyone to purchase a bike for a total price of $693, $499 for the bike and $194 for shipping.
Compared to the cost of a new moped or scooter, even the full retail price is a pretty good value. Tack on the cost of a small solar system at your home and you have a vehicle that costs very little to operate after the initial investment and is just right for a short commute or heading around town when the distances are a little far to walk, and this bike fills the gulf between a cruiser and something that is fully powered all the time, giving you choices between pedaling all the time, using the motor for a boost, or just letting the battery power your whole journey.
After seeing all the smiles when people saw this particular bike and interacted with the owner asking questions, I see E-Bikes like this and other innovations in this sphere as a viable way to bridge the gap where many might use a car, but not see a road bike as the way to get from one place to another, and provide security for those who would still like to use a bike, but for whatever reason no longer feel comfortable doing so over a longer distance. Even in the area where I live, that is relatively rural at 20 minutes from everywhere, this e-bike would meet the majority of my regular, personal, commuting needs in the area.
While browsing the bookstore at Mother a listener, Eric, saw my badge and said hello. While we chatted for a few minutes he mentioned his daughter was showing her rabbits at the fair, so I went down and visited Elizabeth and we talked about what it was like breeding American Rabbits and helping the breed to recover from being at risk of going away. A delightful knowledgeable young woman, when Elizabeth handed me her card I realized we live fairly close to one another, so I want to grab photographer John and go record an interview with her live. At the moment she would be the youngest guest to appear by themselves on the show and, thanks to ongoing conversations with to Jen Mendez at PermieKids, I would like to include more young adults and teenagers on the podcast. Let me know if you aware of anyone under the age of 18 doing good work related to permaculture.
One other younger person I ran into at Mother is a member of my local permaculture community, William Padilla-Brown. A budding mycologist quickly expanding his knowledge of how to identify, grow, and process mushrooms, he runs his business, Mycosymbiotics in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania. He’s one to watch, including his YouTube channel Apex Grower, as I expect in a few years to hear some interesting developments come out of his world and work.
Speaking of mushrooms brings us back around to Tradd Cotter, mycologist and researcher at Mushroom Mountain in South Carolina, and author of the excellent book from Chelsea Green on all things fungi, Organic Mushroom Farming and Mycoremedition. I caught the end of his , which relates to his revelation this year.
Last time I saw Tradd at Mother he shared with us his research into how he could use mycelium to create medicines against human pathogens. The conversation this year expanded on that with his latest exclusive: he discovered a mycelial metabolite capable of killing methicillin-resistant Staphlococcus aures, better known as MRSA.
How incredible is that?
If you get a chance go to an upcoming Mother Earth News Fair and meet the people and exhibitors in attendance. Check out some lectures, workshops, and demonstrations. There is a ton of opportunities to expand your knowledge and inspiration at these events. The next one is coming up in Topeka, Kansas, October 24-25, 2015, and then Belton, Texas, February 20-21, 2016.
Expect to find me in Seven Springs next year, sometime in September.
Along the way and until those events, if there is any way I can help you on your journey, get in touch. Give me a call: 717-827-6266 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Next up Jason Godesky joins me discuss collaborative storytelling, culture, and myth-making in the context of his role playing game, The Fifth World.
Until then, take care of Earth, your self, and each other.