Monday, September 26, 2011

Overview of the Mother Earth News Fair Sept. 24-25, 2011

Hubs and I spent the weekend visiting the Mother Earth News Fair at the Seven Springs Resort in Somerset, PA.  The resort is about a four-hour drive from our house so we decided to stay at the Laurel Hill State Park campground, about five miles from the resort.  We got there around 9 p.m. on Friday night and had to set up camp in the dark.  Luckily, we have some really good lanterns so we were able to set up pretty quickly.

The campground was really nice with spacious lots, large picnic tables, and electric hookups.  They also had a decent bathhouse with plenty of toilets and several showers.  Unfortunately, we had some rather rude neighbors in the next campsite over.  They brought their dog with them and he proceeded to whine the entire night long as his "family" made him sleep outside of their (air-conditioned) camper, leaving him to stay outside in the elements (it rained quite a lot).  Then, if that wasn't bad enough, these rude people also had two badly behaving toddlers who spent the night alternatively screeching at or fighting with each other.

When you add to that Hub's snoring (he can sleep through ANYTHING after being stationed onboard Navy ships) and the screeching of numerous Great Horned Owls who were roosting above our campsite, you can bet I didn't get much sleep.  I actually didn't mind the owls too much; I thought they were fascinating, so you know I just had to Google them to find out why they were doing and why, and that kept me up, too.

Once I finally got to sleep, I was abruptly awoken by the inconsiderate campers next site over--again--as apparently, they had set their alarm clock for three a.m. on a previous occasion and had forgotten to change it back now that they were on vacation.  They must have hit snooze a half dozen times before they realized that they didn't need to get up and they shut it off.  I was finally able to get to sleep around 4:30 a.m., only to be rudely awoken at 6 a.m. by the sounds of a "See 'n' Say" and a "Speak 'n' Spell"--both toys I normally approve of, but at that moment, I wanted to set them (and their owners!) on fire.

We finally got up and got going around 9 a.m.  We left for the fair and found that it was only about five miles from our campground.  On the way to the resort, we noticed that the trees, hills, and houses/farms reminded us a lot of the countryside we see in Vermont.  We arrived at the fair shortly after 10 a.m. and only had to wait about 20 minutes or so in traffic before we could find a parking spot.  The resort provided shuttle buses (school buses) for us to get down to the area where the fair actually was.  It only took about five minutes for us to get to the main gate.

The main entrance was unique in that it was covered by a huge, round dome which was "wrapped" to look like planet Earth.  It was really neat to see.  (Pictures to follow once I can download them from Hub's IPhone... he ended up coming down with food poisoning yesterday and has been sick all day long).  Since we had pre-ordered our tickets, we were able to walk right in.  When we were given our red wristband (indicating we had a weekend pass) we were also given free environmentally-safe laundry detergent samples and our programs--which were the size of magazines.  We had already perused the program online so we'd have an idea of what to expect, but it was nice having it printed out (on 100% post-recycled content, no less) so we could map out our plan of attack.

Many, many classes/lectures/how-to's were offered and it was difficult to choose among them.  There were sessions on everything from Aquaponics to Hunting Deer for Food and from Guerilla Gardening to Urban Agriculture. We decided in the end to go with what we were most interested in learning about and what we needed the most assistance in accomplishing.  We also divided and conquered; some classes we both went to, and others, to maximize our time, we attended separately.  Here's a list of the sessions we did attend--the instructor's/speaker's name(s) are in italics, the ones who have a * by their names also have a book published on the same subject--you can find these books on the Mother Earth News bookshelf:


Sustainable and Natural Beekeeping Workshop  James Zitting
When Technology Fails:  Self-Reliance and Surviving the Long Emergency  Matthew Stein*
When Disaster Strikes:  What You Need to Know, Do, and Have on Hand  Matthew Stein*Food Preservation for the Faint of Heart  Kathy Harrison*
Seed Saving and Storage  Heather Mikulas
Small-Scale Home Butchering  Matt Wilkinson
The Gourmet Butcher  Cole Ward


Food Gone Wild:  Recognizing and Identifying Wild Foods  Faith Starr and David Fish
Food Gone Wild:  Foraging On-Site Edible Plants Walk  Faith Starr and David Fish
Put 'em Up!  Classic Preserves, Modern Twist  Sherri Brooks Vinton*
Solar Electricity Basics  Dan Chiras
Making Cheese in Your Kitchen  David and Terry Rice
Shitake Mushrooms:  Growing, Harvesting, and Preserving  Claire and Rusty Orner
Egg Production:  It's Not All About the Chickens  Jeannette Beranger

I will be summarizing each session in a separate blog post as there was so much information that is too good not to pass on to everyone.  Each session provided really good information along with recipes and invaluable instructions.  Please check back over the next few days to learn some really cool stuff!

The layout...

The staff of the Seven Springs Resort/Mother Earth News Fair really did a great job of making sure there was enough accurate signage to direct you to where you needed to go and there were plenty of easily located/clean restrooms all over the fair.  (Anyone who knows my Hubs knows how crucial this fact is).  The fair didn't feel bunched up or crowed at all due to the fact that the different sessions, exhibits, displays, etc. were spread out between numerous outdoor stages, spacious indoor classroom/lecture halls, and three floors of a rather large exhibition center.

One of the only complaints Hubs and I had about the fair was with the fact that visitor attendance was severely underestimated and it was standing room only at most of the outdoor venues and in some of the indoor classrooms.  For example, a lot of people must have been interested in/concerned about technology failing as our When Technology Fails session was so packed, we ended up sitting on the floor!  I heard several staffers remark during the weekend that attendance was double what it was at the same venue last year.  I think the organizers ought to take this into account when they are planning next year's fair.

The other teensy complaint we had about the fair was the small amount of food vendors available for attendees.  This led to sometimes extremely long lines for food, which led us to skip a session or two over the weekend because we had to eat.  On the other hand, the small amount of food they DID have was really delicious.  The first day, we had all-organic, local beef and vegetable kebabs with couscous and garlic hummus with pita bread.  Delicious!  The second day, we had organic local beef hamburgers with organic potato chips with salt & pepper, and a cheese platter made up of local Pennsylvania cheeses.  I have to say, it's been awhile since I had such fresh-tasting food!

We didn't need to buy drinks because they had a water "bar" where you could refill your water bottles with ice cold filtered spring water.  We brought our water bottles with us hidden in my purse (like I would at the movies!) but we soon found that they actually wanted us to get our water from the water bar instead of buying plastic disposable water bottles.  I wish more events (concerts, festivals, sporting events, etc.) would follow this practice.

The fair had its trash "boxes" organized by "Plastic Bottles," "Plastic Utensils & Refuse," "Paper," and "Food for Compost."  I was pleased to see that the plastic bottles box at each spot was practically empty.  Now THAT'S what I like!  The only downside I saw to this system was that there was nowhere to deposit metal or aluminum.  This became clear when I saw an elderly gentleman trying to figure out where he was supposed to deposit the piece of aluminum foil that his sandwich wrap had come in.  He read all of the signs, muttered to himself for a moment, then simply folded up his tinfoil into a neat little square and placed it on the ground in front of the boxes.  When I walked by there again later in the day, I noticed some more tinfoil and a few aluminum soda cans and glass bottles lined up in front of the box. Again, something the organizers might want to take into consideration for next year.

Demographic Observations/Trivia from the Mother Earth News Fair

-Probably 90% of the people attending the fair were of the Caucasian persuasion.  8% were Asian, and 1% were Hispanic.  I only saw two African-Americans during my two days at the fair.  Does this mean that only white folks care about the planet?  No.  In my opinion, it means the organizers need to do a better job of marketing the fair to people from all backgrounds to have a more diverse audience at the fair.  I have many friends from many different races and I know they feel the same way about the planet and environmentalism as I do, no matter what background they come from.

-Hubs and I were surprised to see less Hippies/Granolas than we were expecting.  Surprisingly, the attendees seemed to be right around our age, wearing normal clothes, and nary a dreadlock between them. (I only saw about 10 Caucasian-American folks with dreads the entire weekend, thank goodness.  Don't get me wrong, I think dreads look awesome on African-Americans and Rastafarians, but not-so-good on young, unwashed Caucasian-Americans.  In my opinion, dreads on C.A.s look like dirty, unwashed, snakes of indeterminate origin).

-The majority of attendees were dressed like us--jeans and casual t-shirts.  The rest of the clothing seemed to range from casual granola to full-fledged hippie wear (skirts made of burlap or handkerchiefs, in one instance).  The footwear was mostly comfortable sneakers/hikers, with more than a few Crocs and Ugg boots mixed in.  Hubs was surprised to see so many women and children wearing Wellington boots.  I think that was due more to the rain than a conscious fashion choice.

-There were more women than men in the cooking/canning classes.  There were more men than women in the renewable energy/tools classes.  Does this mean women belong in the kitchen and men should stay out in the garage with their tools?  Again, marketing could have helped in this matter by making the class/course descriptions sound more gender neutral and diverse.  The one man I saw in my canning class had come in there by accident (he sat next to me during the class) but told me afterwards he wished he had consciously sought to attend the class from the beginning, as it was full of valuable information.  As he was in his late-20's and not married yet, he didn't have a firm grasp on cooking skills, so attending this canning class taught him that he could can/freeze/dehydrate the leftovers of the food he did cook, thereby stretching his limited food budget expenses and saving him money.

-The fair was great for kids 7+.  There was a circus-type environmental sideshow for kids, a kids' treehouse/discovery play area, and the kids could participate (and did!) in an eco-parade where they shouted out that they were the game-changers and they wanted be environmentally conscious.   It was really inspiring to see so many young people interested in recycling, organic farming, and renewable energy.

-The fair is NOT good for kids under age 5.  Every baby I saw there was being toted around in either an uncomfortable backpack or stroller and 99% of them were fretting every time I saw them.  The unfortunate toddlers who had to walk (or were towed behind their parents on leashes--*disclaimer:  I towed my child on a leash as a toddler, too, but that's because he would take off at the drop of a hat, so I needed a way to corral him) were usually in tears, sobbing about something or another.  Simply put, it's not fair to drag babies & toddlers around a venue that isn't really designed for them.  Parents, do yourselves a favor and enjoy a kid-free weekend at next year's fair.  Trust me, you'll enjoy yourself a lot more and you'll be able to avoid the evil eyes from those of us who DID leave their kids at home, who are trying to enjoy a class/lecture but can't due to your baby/toddler crying through the whole thing.  If you MUST bring your baby/toddler, please, if your child starts acting up, be considerate and remove yourselves from the class/lecture.  It's not fair to the rest of the audience and it's certainly not fair to the instructor or speaker who has to try to compete with the wailing of your child.  Believe me, I love children of all ages, but there is a time and place for them, and this is not it.  Okay, I'm getting off my soapbox now!

Things We Learned from Attending the Mother Earth News Fair

-The food is tasty but it is expensive.  We bought a plate and a side and just asked for another plate and split our meal, saving us quite a bit more money than if we'd bought two separate entrees.

-Bring your own water bottle instead of buying expensive sodas or sports drinks.  They have water bars where you can refill your bottle with fresh, filtered, cold water.

-Study the map that comes in your program and write down all the classes you are taking on it so you can easily find them.  At most you only have about 15 minutes between sessions and they tend to fill up quick, so you need to be able to find your class fast in order to get a seat.

-Along with studying the map, determine alternate exits from each building/area.  The main entrances/exits tend to bottleneck when classes are due to start, so if you don't want to be late, find that little-known exit that will allow you to get to your class sooner.  Hubs and I found an exit that took us out of the main building through the resort's kitchen corridor and it was virtually undiscovered by anyone else but us and just a handful of people.

-If you have time, stay for the Q & A portion of each session.  We probably learned 50% of what we needed to know just from listening to people's questions and the instructor's/speaker's answers. 

So, dear readers, that's just the overview of the Mother Earth News Fair.  Tune in tomorrow for more posts on each individual session with tons of valuable information.

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