Confessions of a Groupie

I admit it—I’m a groupie. But maybe not the kind you’re thinking of. My fanaticism lies with the Mother Earth News Fair. I first learned about this terrific event back in 2013, a couple of years after I’d hit the retirement button on a public service career that had taken all of my energy. The Gnome and I thought going to the fair would be a great way to get our modern homesteading grooves back.

No ferris wheels or cotton candy at this fair. It’s all about sustainability and self-reliance. A perfect fit for two old, would-be hippies who wanted to get back to basics. Not that the fair’s attendees are hippies. It’s a broad spectrum of folks who fill the workshops and exhibit halls: young, old, rich, poor, hip, not so hip. They come for different reasons. I’m betting they all leave with new purpose and enthusiasm.

We took off to the fair in Seven Springs, Pennsylvania, for what turned out to be the beginning of a great new passion for gardening, food preservation, and more. I had gardened years ago back in 4-H, and the Gnome and I had tried our hands at before we moved here, but it had been a really long time. We needed some remedial education.

I can’t begin to tell you how excited we were to discover that they planned one for the next year in nearby Asheville, NC. We’ve been every year.

Here’s just a 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. Sherri Brooks Vinton put pizzaz in canning. When the holidays came, we bought a box of grapefruit from the Rotary Club just so I could whip up some jars of her grapefruit in lavender syrup. Yum!

Lisa Kivirist and John Ivanko shared their passion for community and reinforced what I already knew about the importance of prioritizing values when you’re striving to achieve an important goal. Deborah Niemann let me in on the secret that quiche is not just elegant, but a simple way to wow guests (and other ecothrifty ideas). Philip Akerman-Leist honestly laid out the good, the bad, and the ugly about homesteading in modern America. North Carolinian Linda Watson, who set out to teach people how to eat well on a food stamp budget, wowed me with inexpensive, delicious, and nutritious recipes. That’s a combination that’s hard to beat.

Niki Jabbour introduced me to all kinds of new vegetables and extolled the virtues of year-round gardening. If she could do it in Nova Scotia, surely I could in North Carolina. Craig LeHoullier, another Tar Heel, taught how to grow heirloom tomatoes successfully, always a tricky business up here in the mountains.

Well, you get the idea. At the Mother Earth News Fair there are workshops on things like foraging, wind and other alternative energies, animal workshops (raising, butchering, processing—not my thing), herbalism, composting, mushrooms, marketing your small farm or home-based business, edible landscaping, permaculture, cheesemaking, vermiculture, fermentation, ecology. There’s even a series of workshops for kids. There are exhibits and demonstrations and books. Oh, the books! We always bring home an armload.

Every year for the last five years, the fair has added a new location to its offerings. This year there are fairs in Vermont, Oregon, Texas, and Kansas as well as the ones in Pennsylvania and North Carolina. And the best part is it’s just about the most reasonably priced event you could hope to attend. A two-day ticket only costs $20 in advance ($30 at the gate). The same money gets you three days at the premier Pennsylvania fair—it’s HUGE!

This year’s Asheville fair is May 6th and 7th at the Western North Carolina Fairgrounds. I highly recommend it.

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