Standing room only: Mother Earth News Fair draws crowds

Shire horses

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.

Standing room only at the fish farming workshop.

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.

The food lines seem only to get longer.
The food lines seem only to get longer.


Shire horses
Shire horses
Support for the chicken demo.
Support for the chicken workshop.
Who wants to learn to raise rabbits for food?
Who wants to learn to raise rabbits for food?
Llama getaway.
Llama getaway.
Master craftsman Lyle Wheeler making a chair.
Master craftsman Lyle Wheeler makes a chair.
Inspecting a Wood-Mizer, a portable saw mill.
Inspecting a Wood-Mizer, a portable saw mill.
Kids trying out waddle and daub construction.


Tickets cost $25 at the gate for one day. Children under 17 get in free.


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About Jeff Fobes
As a long-time proponent of media for social change, my early activities included coordinating the creation of a small community FM radio station to serve a poor section of St. Louis, Mo. In the 1980s I served as the editor of the "futurist" newsletter of the U.S. Association for the Club of Rome, a professional/academic group with a global focus and a mandate to act locally. During that time, I was impressed by a journalism experiment in Mississippi, in which a newspaper reporter spent a year in a small town covering how global activities impacted local events (e.g., literacy programs in Asia drove up the price of pulpwood; soybean demand in China impacted local soybean prices). Taking a cue from the Mississippi journalism experiment, I offered to help the local Green Party in western North Carolina start its own newspaper, which published under the name Green Line. Eventually the local party turned Green Line over to me, giving Asheville-area readers an independent, locally focused news source that was driven by global concerns. Over the years the monthly grew, until it morphed into the weekly Mountain Xpress in 1994. I've been its publisher since the beginning. Mountain Xpress' mission is to promote grassroots democracy (of any political persuasion) by serving the area's most active, thoughtful readers. Consider Xpress as an experiment to see if such a media operation can promote a healthy, democratic and wise community. In addition to print, today's rapidly evolving Web technosphere offers a grand opportunity to see how an interactive global information network impacts a local community when the network includes a locally focused media outlet whose aim is promote thoughtful citizen activism. Follow me @fobes

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One thought on “Standing room only: Mother Earth News Fair draws crowds

  1. happycamper

    I am glad this was a success. I would have liked to be at the fair. However, the admission fee was to costly for me to attend. Hopefully, its success will lead to more vendors, sponsors and large numbers in attendance can help subsidize the operating costs and significantly lower the entrance fee.

    Does anyone else feel it was too high-priced even if one could afford it?

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