Reporting and photos by Susan Hutchinson.
Asheville got the message: “Our goal is to deliver practical, hands-on training and experience [in] renewable energy, organic gardening, sustainable agriculture, green home building and more! So expect to get down and dirty,” organizers declared on the the Mother Earth News Fair website.
The first day’s attendance seemed to overwhelm the WNC Ag Center. Traffic was backed up for an hour with people trying to get in. With beautiful weekend weather predicted, Sunday is likely to be as popular.
The event is a homecoming of sorts: The Mother Earth News has roots in Henderson County in the ’70s where it operated a 600-acre Eco Village. The publication recently started staging fairs, and chose Asheville for its fourth event, which features more than 200 workshops focused on self-sufficiency and sustainability.
This weekend’s event exceeded expectations, according to Bryan Welch, publisher of the Mother Earth News — and that’s despite high expectations, he said. Advanced ticket sales were double what they expect for a first-time event. Today’s attendance is estimated at more than 9,000 attendees.
“This event had noticeable grassroots excitement infused from the beginning, and that is a testimonial to the energy of the region,” Welch added.
The fair includes more than 300 exhibitors and about 200 workshops ranging from 50-person classrooms to 1,000 attendees for the keynote lecture. There are also “on site” demonstrations by exhibitors. Local clubs and merchants were noticeably enthusiastic. Welch expects next year’s fair to be even larger.
About 80 percent of fair attendees come from more than 100 miles away, Welch said. Many attendees attend more than one Mother Earth fair in a year, he noted. Location is key to a successful event, he explained, noting that Asheville’s Ag Center is next door to the airport. Asked if organizers had considered a downtown location, Welch said, yes, once, but it turned out to be more than the downtown could handle.
Although any vendor can exhibit at the fair, organizers say they only market to businesses with aligned values.
Asheville has an unusually vibrant local food movement. Given that, Welch says they were surprised at the difficulty they had finding adequate food vendors. “No one believed us when we said it would be big. It was hard finding local-minded food vendors to commit.” Sunday fair-goers seeking an alternative to lengthy food-truck lines should consider bringing snacks and drinks. However, the lines were shorter for for The Hop’s ice cream.
Tickets cost $25 at the gate for one day. Children under 17 get in free.