Mother Earth News Fair gets down and dirty in Asheville

Photo courtesy of Warren Wilson College

Mother Earth News Fair returns to the Western North Carolina Agriculture Center on Saturday, April 11, and Sunday, April 12, marking the fair’s second consecutive appearance in Asheville.

The fair is an opportunity for fans of Mother Earth News, the bimonthly environmental magazine based in Topeka, Kan., to get hands-on experience with the topics covered in the publication, including renewable energy, organic gardening, sustainable agriculture and green home building.

Last year’s fair drew large crowds out to the Ag Center with an attendance of more than 16,000 over the course of the weekend. During the opening hours of the fair, traffic to the gates of the Ag Center was heavy enough to cause traffic backups onto Interstate 26.

The 2014 fair occupied a large portion of the Ag Center property with a variety of live demonstrations, exhibits, speakers and vendors that included a mix of nationally branded companies as well as several sustainability-oriented local purveyors of botanicals and homesteading products. This year’s fair will again feature a number of family-friendly vendors, workshops and events that focus on a back-to-the-earth lifestyle.

Back to the Earth living

Mother Earth News was founded by John and Jane Shuttleworth in Madison, Ohio, in 1970, but the publication has deep ties to WNC. By the third issue (published in May 1970), the Shuttleworths had moved the operation to Hendersonville, where it remained until the mid-1980s. The couple had another impact on the region — they used the funds from the magazine to establish the 600-acre Mother Earth Eco-Village in Transylvania County. The village was both a residential and research center that brought thousands of visitors to conferences and seminars on alternative energy and sustainable living until its decline around 1985, the year the publication was sold to the New American Magazine Co.

The fair is really an extension of Mother Earth’s early days, offering attendees multiple opportunities at hands-on learning in one location. The fair will feature over 150 interactive workshops that cover a range of topics, including organic gardening, cooking and food preservation, renewable energy, homesteading, small-scale livestock, green building, natural health and green transportation.

John and Jane Shuttleworth are the founders of Mother Earth News. Image courtesy of MEN
John and Jane Shuttleworth are the founders of Mother Earth News. Image courtesy of MEN

The workshops will be led by a number of nationally renowned experts, including sustainable farmer and author Joel Salatin, cheesemaker Claudia Lucero, herbalist and author Rosemary Gladstar, organic gardening experts Barbara Pleasant and Pam Dawling, and beekeeping expert Kim Flottum. Local sustainability and homesteading notables presenting include Meredith Leigh (who discusses butchering and breaking down chicken and hog carcasses to get the most out of your meat), Richard Freudenberger (making your home energy-efficient and making small-scale alcohol fuel), Alan Muskat (foraging wild edibles), Juliet Blankespoor (cultivating an herbal tea garden and using medicinal herbs safely), Janelle Lucido-Conate (preserving produce through fermentation) and Natalie Bogwalker (preserving the wild abundance of Southern Appalachia).

The fair will also offer attendees an opportunity to interact with over 300 vendors selling items ranging from local foods and body-care products to black soldier fly bins and compositing toilets for the more adventurous. Families attending the fair also find activities for all ages, and children will have their own stage of hands-on activities like milking goats and cows, making dairy-free smoothies and planting garden seeds in the ice cream cartons.

Nan Chase, the Asheville-based author of Eat Your Yard who will be conducting workshops on canning and on making garden wines, says the fair is a positive experience for “everyone and anyone.”

JeannetteBeranger_EvaluatingChicken_ByJenniferKendall copy
Jennifer Beranger of the American Livestock Breeds Association evaluates a chicken at a previous Mother Earth News Fair. Photo by Jennifer Kendall, courtesy of MEN

“Anyone who is the least bit interested in learning new skills will be amply rewarded,” Chase says. “The speakers are experts in their fields and eager to share their knowledge. I like how there are classes for every skill level, from beginners to real pros. There is even information about logging and slaughtering livestock, not just about growing things.”

This year’s fair also offers a special focus on self-reliance and homesteading with a number of demonstrations and exhibits showcasing sustainable living. Artisans from the John C. Campbell Folk School will demonstrate traditional skills such as blacksmithing, broom making, spinning, weaving and hand-carving wooden spoons. Ian Snider and Mountain Works Sustainable Development will demonstrate using draft horses for logging and using the logs to build tiny homes. The Land Of Sky Clean Vehicles Coalition will also have an alternative fuel vehicle exhibit.

Of course, there will also be heritage breeds of livestock and horses that will give the event a country-fair feel. Food and snacks will be available on-site from 15 local food trucks, and attendees are encouraged to bring their own reusable water bottles as Klean Kanteen will be offering free potable water.

When asked about advice for first-time Mother Earth News Fair attendees, Chase offers, “The best thing is to attend both days. There is so much to see and do that it could be overwhelming to try and cram it into one day. Take it easy, stay in the shade and build in some time to take a break to sit and relax.”

Photo by Hayley Benton
Photo by Hayley Benton

WHAT: The Mother Earth News Fair

WHERE: Western North Carolina Agricultural Center in Fletcher

WHEN: 9 a.m. – 7 p.m. Saturday, April 11; 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Sunday, April 12.

INFO: Ticket prices are $25 in advance for a weekend pass or $30 at the gate; children 17 and under are free. No single-day passes will be available this year. Tickets are available online via motherearthnews.com or by calling toll-free 800-234-3368 or at the gate.

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About Josh O'Conner
Josh O’Conner is an urban/land use planner with a passion for urban agriculture. He can be reached at @kalepiracy or @joshoconner on Twitter or e-mailed at josh.oconner@gmail.com.

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4 thoughts on “Mother Earth News Fair gets down and dirty in Asheville

  1. Carmen

    That sounds wonderful and exciting fair. I wonder if there is something like that here in Arizona? Thanks for sharing.

  2. Allen

    There are 5 Mother Earth News Fairs scheduled this year. In June, there will be one in Albany, Oregon, and in October, there will be one in Topeka, Kansas. The others are farther from you in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania,

    • Doug

      When and where are the Mother Earth News Fairs in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania?

      • Jenna

        The 26th Annual Energy Fair will be in Central Wisconsin the weekend of June 19-21. It will feature keynotes from folks like Amy Goodman, sustainable living workshops, renewable energy themed exhibitors, family friendly entertainment, and local food and brews. Check out the Pre-Fair Guide here: http://www.midwestrenew.org/programguide.

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