Mother Earth News has long been ahead of its time. The sustainable lifestyle magazine, founded in 1970, shared tips for self-sufficient and green-conscious living well before those ideas broke into the mainstream. Now the largest and longest-running publication of its kind, the magazine hasn’t stopped looking forward for ways to spread its message: At this year’s Mother Earth News Fair, set for Saturday-Sunday, April 27-28, at the WNC Agricultural Center in Fletcher, attendees can expect to roll up their sleeves like never before.
“The whole mission of the fair is bringing the magazine to life,” says organizer Andrew Perkins, who has helped develop the traveling fair since its 2010 inception. “We share the topics that we find are trending well though our editorial process and that people in our network are getting excited about. We’re always trying to come up with something new.”
Along with more than 150 traditional workshops and seminars, six keynote speakers and hundreds of exhibitors, the fair now features hands-on and extended workshops that dig more deeply into an array of topics selected by the magazine’s editorial team.
“Our typical stage workshop has a presenter and a demonstration, but you’re still just a member of the audience,” explains organizer Nancy Heeney. “We’ve found actually facilitating that process, whether it’s creating a different type of cheese or making a charcuterie board or whipping up a batch of mead, gets people really invested in what they’re learning. It’s something we’re developing more at each fair.”
All hands on deck
For Ashevilleans, several of these hands-on instructors are familiar faces in the community. Frances and Jeff Tacy, owners of local CBD store Franny’s Farmacy, will lead a Hemp 101 course geared toward folks who are interested in getting into the growing business. The duo, along with other industry experts, will walk would-be farmers through every step of cultivating and bringing a product to market.
“It’s always a packed room for these presentations because people want information on growing, and that’s hard to find. It’s commonly known that there’s thousands of uses for hemp plants, from clothing to building to food to medicine,” says Jeff Tacy. “It really is a miracle plant and it’s very sustainable because it grows so fast. Hemp will even pull toxins and chemicals out of your soil.”
With three years of experience under the Tacys’ belt that include extraction, distribution, processing, packaging and selling wholesale, retail and online, Jeff is confident the presentation will empower and educate many prospective hemp farmers.
For those unafraid of getting their hands dirty, local farmer Meredith Leigh, author of The Ethical Meat Handbook: Complete Home Butchery, will lead a class on how to butcher, break down and cook a half hog from snout to tail. Each hog will be split between two people — either registered partners or “blind dates” — with both participants taking home their own cuts.
Other workshop topics include installing an off-grid solar power system, making natural deodorant, hand-stitching leather and sharpening knives the old-fashioned way on a stone. On Friday, April 26, before the fair officially kicks off, there will also be a special introductory-level workshop devoted to triangle loom weaving.
“Making something like that for yourself can be more difficult than buying it, but the reaction on people’s faces when they figure it out is amazing,” says Heeney, when asked why people enjoy learning how to make things that could easily be purchased. “That’s really what this fair is centered on: stepping outside your comfort zone or meeting someone who has gone through that trial and error process.”
While a few of these workshops, such as Mushroom Cultivation for Everyone, Farmhouse Cheese Wheel and Grandma’s Soap for the 21st Century, are already sold out online, another allotment of tickets will be available at the fair on a first-come, first-served basis, according to Perkins.
Key to note
In addition to these in-depth experiences, Perkins says he is looking forward to the perspective of new keynote speaker Leah Penniman, an author and social justice advocate who co-founded Soul Fire Farm in Grifton, N.Y., in 2011. The farm’s mission is to end racism in the food system, and Penniman will share ways that attendees can get involved with that work.
“Some of our most cherished sustainable farming practices, from organic agriculture to the farm cooperative, have roots in African wisdom,” says Penniman. “Yet discrimination and violence has led to our decline from 14% of all growers in 1920 to less than 2% today.”
Penniman says she will dig into this disparity, the disproportionate lack of access to fresh food black communities face and her involvement with a global network of farmers to “increase farmland stewardship by people of color, restore Afro-indigenous farming practices and end food apartheid.”
Another highly anticipated keynote is Easley, S.C.-based mycologist and author Tradd Cotter, who will share the four easiest ways to grow mushrooms at home. Cotter will cover high-yielding, low-tech operations that require low startup costs and common materials such as logs, stumps, wood chips, compost, spent coffee grounds, paper and cardboard.
Under one roof
On average, Heeney says, about 15,000 people attend the fair, a mix of everyone from entrepreneurs to homesteaders to doomsday preppers. “When you come to a fair, it’s not long before you’ll run into people who have completely opposing ideologies,” adds Perkins. “The cool thing is they’re getting along because they’re not focused on politics — they’re learning how to make cheese.”
By focusing on education rather than the more political aspects of the green movement, Perkins says, the fair is able to spread the culture of sustainability to a much broader (and more receptive) audience.
“Mother Earth is about individual empowerment. When you’re just focused on empowering people to enrich their lives and do something for themselves, in a lot of scenarios that leads them to living more sustainably, whether they’re growing their own food or using solar power for energy,” he says.
“Our hope is that people pass their knowledge along and it continues to spread, and that inherently will create a better world to live in.”
WHAT: Mother Earth News Fair
WHERE: Western North Carolina Agricultural Center, 1301 Fanning Bridge Road, Fletcher
WHEN: Saturday, April 27, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. and Sunday, April 28, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
Fair passes and workshop tickets are available at motherearthnewsfair.com or by calling 800-234-3368. Weekend passes can purchased in advance for $25 or for $30 at the gate. Single-day passes are $20 in advance or $25 at the gate. Children 17 and under are admitted for free, and students can purchase passes for $10 at the gate.