In the mid-1970s and early ’80s, thousands of people flocked to Hendersonville each year to witness demonstrations of beekeeping, gardening and other sustainability projects at the Mother Earth News Eco-Village. Area residents will have a similar opportunity the weekend of May 6-7, when the Mother Earth News Fair comes to town. For the fourth straight year, the event will be held at the Western North Carolina Agricultural Center in Fletcher. The date has been pushed back from April to May this year in hopes of getting better weather.
The fair invites visitors to discover some forgotten traditions, notes Andrew Perkins of Ogden Publications, which owns Mother Earth News. “I do believe in encouraging people, and myself as well, to learn how to do the things that people just don’t do anymore,” says Perkins, the company’s director of merchandising and events. “They do, but not to the extent that they did back in grandma’s day — like growing your own vegetables and, if possible, raising your own livestock for meat or eggs or milk.”
One of those traditions is cultivating mushrooms for medicinal purposes. Tradd Cotter of Mushroom Mountain, a research farm and tissue culture laboratory in Easley, S.C., will lead a workshop on the subject. He’s just one of some 200 regional and national exhibitors who’ll be offering more than 150 workshops on sustainability and how to be more self-reliant. Children 17 and younger get in free, and weekend wristbands can be purchased in advance at a discounted price.
Returning to the roots
From its simple beginnings in 1970, Mother Earth News has grown to be the nation’s largest and longest-running publication about self-sufficient lifestyles, the company maintains. Originally published in Madison, Ohio, the magazine later moved to Hendersonville, where it ran its Eco-Village every summer until 1985. The organization’s headquarters is now in Topeka, Kan.
The fair, says Perkins, was launched in 2010 as a way to bring the magazine back to its roots. “We knew the history; we knew that we needed to do more to engage with the audience,” he explains. “We knew that we had all these great contributors to the magazine on a regular basis, folks who are experts in all the different topics that we cover. So, basically, the conception was, what if we just take the magazine and bring it to life?”
The magazine partnered with the Seven Springs Mountain Resort in Champion, Pa., to host the inaugural fair. Each subsequent year, one additional stop was added to the tour, which gradually grew to include cities all over the U.S. Asheville was added to the list in 2014.
On average, the fair attracts about 20,000 people at each stop, says Alec Weaver, associate producer for national events at Ogden Publications, but the Asheville crowds tend to be among the larger ones.
“One of the things I always get asked is, what’s your demographic? And that’s the $10 question, because we really don’t have a demographic,” he says. “There’s all walks of life, and it’s just really interesting to see all these people from different backgrounds and demographics coming together to figure out how to live more sustainably.”
Although the overall nature of the event remains consistent throughout the tour, the Asheville edition typically includes more livestock, notes Perkins, perhaps because The Livestock Conservancy, a national nonprofit, is just a few hours east of here in Pittsboro. Workshops and seminars will discuss how to raise, cultivate and ethically butcher the animals.
Presenter Meredith Leigh of Asheville, who wrote The Ethical Meat Handbook: Complete Home Butchery, Charcuterie and Cooking for the Conscious Omnivore, says the fair helps people visualize sustainability and builds a network of folks with similar interests.
“It provides a gathering place for people to discover more self-reliance and also some of these grassroots, community-supported things,” she points out. “The fair covers all kinds of stuff: not just food and health, but also things like alternative energy and farming. I think it’s great for people to have places to come together around those topics, because even though they’re gaining in popularity, they’re still very fringe.”
Particularly in this day and age, Leigh believes, “We’re seeing the importance of feeling self-reliant and of coming up with alternatives and more sustainable technology. Doing that kind of work can be isolating, but events like the Mother Earth News Fair and publications like Mother Earth News create community and help people understand that they’re not alone.”