Tried and true

Few local enterprises have enjoyed the kind of widespread, ongoing support and kudzu-like growth achieved by the nonprofit Organic Growers School. The annual event’s wide-ranging classes and workshops draw enthusiastic, standing-room-only crowds. Each March, upward of 1,000 teachers and students gather for an intensive, daylong exchange of knowledge about organic agriculture.

Sheep thrills: The Organic Growers School, pictured here, offers classes in everything from wooly worms to wool, but the True Nature County Fair will be sheep-free. photo courtesy organic growers school

Still, the folks behind the project have long envied New Englanders their Common Ground Country Fair, a Down East shindig that has enlivened the little village of Unity, Maine, each September for more than three decades. Despite its relatively remote location, Common Ground typically draws more than 50,000 visitors. Now, the Organic Growers School has created its own fall celebration, the True Nature Country Fair. The inaugural edition is slated for the weekend of Sept. 28-30 at Deerfields in Mills River. The daily entry fee ($5 adults, $3 children 3-12) also covers classes and entertainment.

Touted as a weekend-long celebration of sustainable living in the Southern Appalachians, True Nature will feature vendors of local, organic and sustainable products and resources from throughout the Southeast; workshops on sustainable living; a children’s program; and live music—all presented in a pristine mountain setting. Everything featured will be from the Southern Appalachian region and produced from resources that are at least 50 percent organic and/or sustainable.

A variety of workshops and educational nature walks will be offered at no extra charge. On Saturday morning, gardening expert Pat Battle will create an affordable greenhouse using metal conduit and a homemade bending tool. Several local naturalists, herbalists and botanists, including Chuck Marsh and Doug Elliott, will lead sessions on useful herbs and plants throughout the weekend.

The classes will run the gamut of do-it-yourself/grow-it-yourself topics: Basics of Homeopathy; Medicine Making With Kids; Growing Woodland Botanicals; a Permaculture Workshop; Herbal First Aid; Making Herbal Honey Pills; and 10 Great Edible Landscape Plants You Shouldn’t Live Without. Brian Winslett of Blue Ridge Biofuels will offer a Biodiesel 101 class on both Saturday and Sunday.

“The highlight of the children’s program will be a performance by the Red Herring Puppets” on Sunday at 1:30 p.m., notes Karen Vizzina, the fair’s principal organizer. “They will perform Rowby’s Travel, in which Rowby, an alien visiting planet Earth, tells of his adventures and introduces age-old stories from France, India, China, the U.S.A. and Scotland.”

The fair, she explains, is starting out fairly small, but the organizers expect to grow it into a real agricultural extravaganza in the coming years. One World Kitchen will provide healthy quesadillas and more, all made with organic ingredients.

The True Nature main stage will feature: Elam Blackman (folk singer/songwriter) and WiseApple (driving bluegrass) on Friday; Utah Green (purely genuine folk), Dehlia Low (old timey band), Ian Thomas (folk) and the Galen Kipar Project (classical, jazz, blues, soul, folk and world beat) on Saturday; and Brian McGee & the Hollow Speed (country), Ian Thomas and The New Familiars (rootsy rock ‘n’ roll) on Sunday.

More than a dozen vendors will be on hand, including: Blue Ridge Biofuels; Dinwiddie Drystone Masonry; the WNC Green Building Council; Earth Fare; Greenlife Grocery; North Carolina Ginseng & Goldenseal; Carolina Bison; Reems Creek Nursery; the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project; Useful Plants Nursery; homeopath Margaret Bennett; Pine’s Herbals; the Blue Ridge School of Herbal Medicine; the Appalachian School of Holistic Herbalism; the Mountain Green Party; UNCA’s Farmland Values Project; and The Blue Ridge Naturalist.

A variety of sponsors help make the event happen: Blue Moon Water; the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association; the Early Girl Eatery; Mountain Xpress; Organicfest; New Life Journal; the North Star Diner; and Reems Creek Nursery. The Organic Growers School receives ongoing support from The Beattie Foundation, Carolina Farm Credit, Earth Fare and Greenlife Grocery.

Deerfields, a 940-acre family-owned mountain tract, is about 20 minutes south of Asheville in Mills River. The fairground features an old homestead with two cabins, apple orchards and ponds. The event is family-friendly, and all ages are welcome. All areas of the grounds are handicapped-accessible. Bring your family, friends, picnic supplies, lawn chairs and blankets—but leave pets at home.

The True Nature Country Fair is in keeping with the spirit of such well-established regional events as Organicfest and the S.E.E. Expo. All of them emphasize local, sustainable answers to the fundamental environmental challenges we face.

Admission is $5 adults, $3 children ages 3-12 (no charge for children under 3). No advance purchase is necessary: Tickets will be sold only at the gate. For more information, visit, e-mail or call 342-1849.


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About Cecil Bothwell
A writer for Mountain Xpress since three years before there WAS an MX--back in the days of GreenLine. Former managing editor of the paper, founding editor of the Warren Wilson College environmental journal, Heartstone, member of the national editorial board of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, publisher of Brave Ulysses Books, radio host of "Blows Against the Empire" on WPVM-LP 103.5 FM, co-author of the best selling guide Finding your way in Asheville. Lives with three cats, macs and cacti. His other car is a canoe. Paints, plays music and for the past five years has been researching and soon to publish a critical biography--Billy Graham: Prince of War:

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One thought on “Tried and true

  1. Oscar

    Fair sounds great. OGS is fantastic. Just one comment though — several friends who’ve attended OGS have found the organizer to be not a “happy camper,” on separate occasions. It’s a lot of work organizing these things, but might want to lighten up. There is an unhappy undercurrent being left in the wake.

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