Celebrating With Mother

I had the best of intentions to write this update several weeks ago. We had just returned from the Mother Earth News Fair in Seven Springs, PA and I was so excited to write all about it! Then life happened, as it usually does. For the last several weeks it seems we have just tried to keep up with all that has been going on. Add our entire family of five getting sick together and my laptop hard drive going out to our normal hectic lifestyle and … WHEW! So here I am, a month late but still excited to share our experience! It would take a book to describe our entire weekend, so here are a few of our favorite highlights!

Andrew and I have wanted to go to the Mother Fair for several years. There has always been one reason or another why we couldn’t go. This year, the Seven Springs, PA fair fell on the same weekend as a very special event. Andrew and I both turned 30 the 3rd week of September! What better way to celebrate than with a trip to the Mother Earth News Fair? 

Now don’t go thinking this was all just fun and games. We had another agenda. The last few weeks before the Fair, we reviewed all of the seminars and read the details about each segment including the speakers. As much as we were looking forward to having fun, we needed to learn as well! Andrew and I are planning to add bees to the farm next year. Beyond that, we want to construct a hydroponics green house complete with stocked fish tank. We are also raising a pair of young milk cows, with plans to make our own milk, butter, and cheese in the future. Many of the speakers attending this year’s Fair were speaking on these topics. Not to mention my farm hero, Joel Salatin was giving several seminars! I would have made the entire trip just to hear him once. 

So September 20th rolled around. The day of my 30th birthday! We spent nearly 14 hours in the truck driving up to PA. On the way through Abingdon, VA we just couldn’t resist a stop at the Heartwood Gallery. My Mom had told me about this place on her last visit through the area, and I am so glad I got the chance to view it myself!

The Heartwood is a beautiful gallery full of many different types of art. Woodworking, quilts, paintings, weaving, and even musical instruments, it’s all there. Here are a few of my favorites.

Our first full day in Pennsylvania was beautiful. Bright skies, warm weather, and lots to see and do! We arrived early so we could spend some time walking around to vendors before starting our seminar experience. There were around 220 vendors there that week, farther than the eye could see outside as well as inside the resort.

Our first seminar was given by William Woys Weaver on heritage seeds. I was interested in hearing him speak, but I really did not expect to enjoy it so much. Instead of just a generic run down of heritage stock, he wove a wonderful history of food, people, and how “seeds are the common heritage of all Mankind. They are the hope of our shared destiny.” Mr. Weaver highlighted the many benefits of heritage stock. Such as the higher nutrient content, ability to reproduce like offspring, and multi-use crops like the sickle pea which can be used fresh or dried as well as having edible leaves. 

One of the things I appreciated most about Mr. Weaver’s speech was his attention to the difference in nutrients found in modern commercial vegetables vs. their heritage counterparts. He mentioned this could play a big part in our modern obesity problem. “You have to eat more of empty foods to feel full,” he said. Organically raised heirlooms have as much nutrients in one pound as one and a half pounds of the commercial option. This is not only important for your waistline, but your pocket book as well!

Later in the evening Friday we had our first opportunity to hear Joel Salatin. In his “Can We Feed the World?” seminar he covered the major reasons why our current food system just isn’t working. I believe his major point he wanted to make was that we have broken the natural biological cycle. This began with the invention of cheap N,P,K chemical fertilizers in agriculture. Then evolved into cheaply produced commercial monoculture agriculture. While N,P,K chemical fertilizers were originally hailed as the solution to the problem of poor soils, they are actually making the problem worse. These fertilizers are temporary, chemical and non-renewable replacements for what we should be using; manure. Manure not only contains N,P and K but also an entire host of both macro and micro minerals required for healthy plants and healthy people. Unlike chemical fertilizers, manure also provides a layer of organic compost which builds the top soil. 

Joel went on to say that yes, it is possible for us to end hunger and feed the world. However the problem is not a shortage of food, but an issue of distribution. Until our mindset and behaviors change towards agriculture, we cannot feed the world. Here’s why… 50% of the food produced here is trashed. Why is all of that food trashed? For starters, consumers only want pretty food. All of that bruised or blemished produce goes to waste. Then there is the issue of transportation. When food has to travel 1500 miles before making it to your shopping cart, there is bound to be a substantial loss since fresh fruits and vegetables are perishable. 

“Commercial agriculture stands on the shoulders of devastation,” Joel said. If instead of contributing to this cycle of chemical fertilizers, mass production, transportation, and tasteless tomatoes more people would choose to eat local and eat sustainable we could change the world. He gave many examples of how to do this. Including pruning and fertilizing cropland with animals and their manure. Using electric fence to “mob graze” pastures was one way he suggested to keep pasture healthy, fertilized and productive. For this session, Joel ended with a quote which stuck with me “Nature responds to our touch and our care far more than to chemicals and corporations.” 

Now, somewhere between William Weaver and Joel Salatin we got hungry! In our search for food we ran across something we had never had before. A hempzel! Yes, a pretzel made with hemp. Who would have thought that would actually be good?

Now Friday evening was busy, but it wasn’t extremely crowded. We managed to get to each of our seminars we were interested in. So back in our rooms Friday evening we laid out our plan for Saturday. Saturday morning arrived, not at all like Friday! Cool, wet, and overcast. Once we arrived to the grounds an hour early we were shocked at the crowd! Our first seminar for the day was “Pluck a Lotta Chicken” where standing room only was an understatement! There were people sitting in the floors with others standing over them.

In this seminar with Joel and David Schafer from Featherman equipment there was an actual live demonstration of processing chickens. They literally did four chickens from kill cone to finished in less than five minutes. Amazing! What we wouldn’t give to have the featherman processing equipment! Ah, well. At least I came home with a new kill cone for our chickens. Here you can see Joel demonstrating the proper way to clean a chicken. He moved so quickly, I could not keep up with what his hands were doing. The man standing over him had a video camera that broadcast the whole process onto large screens at the front of the room.

Now, I already mentioned how much more crowded Saturday was. It only took us a few hours to realize we had a problem! With so little time between seminars, it wasn’t possible to get from one location to the next and still get a seat. This wasn’t a problem on Friday, with a smaller crowd and pretty weather we could just stand around the edges of the outdoor tents and most of the rooms. However, once we got to the seminar outside on beekeeping with top bar hives, there were no seats and the standing room available was not sheltered. We decided to do some more walking around instead of braving the weather way in the back where it was hard to see and hear. We ran into this problem again later when it began to rain, hard! Of coarse when it started raining we were standing under the edge of a tent, right where the water was falling. So we did miss a few seminars that day where we just couldn’t arrive soon enough to get a seat. Even when we skipped one to get to the next in time, we couldn’t get seats together. Apparently everyone had that same idea at the same time!

We split up some for the afternoon sessions. I was determined to see the Gardening with Chickens seminar outside, and by that time it was very wet and cool outside. So the others headed indoors where it was warm and dry. I am so glad I battled the weather! Though the blowing rain did prevent me from getting pictures of “Oprah Henfree” the gorgeous hen on display. The topic of using animal manure as compost and fertilizer was at the forefront here too. The point was again made that hybrids, GMO’s and factory meats actually cause nutritional hunger. They are developed for fast growth, looks, and easy growing instead of nutrient value. For instance, broccoli grown in 1950 had a calcium level of 13mg per serving, now that level is only 4.4 mg! But it sure looks pretty on the grocery store shelf. 

One of the easiest and most efficient ways to increase biomass in the soil, improve fertility, and grow bigger harvests is by incorporating chickens into your gardening program. This idea is not just an American one. In Flounders, Belgium the solid waste department had a serious issue with to much garbage. Regrettably, a large percentage of the waste being produced was scraps and edible waste. So the authorities began a program that gave any family who enrolled in the program three free chickens to use for garbage disposal! What a concept. Imagine, if the city of New York gave a pair of chickens to all of its citizens? How many tons of waste would be spared from the landfills daily? 

Another great example that was used is the Vermont Compost Company. They operate a waste pick up program for restaurants, prisons, and schools. They collect all edible wastes, and dump them by the truckloads onto a five-acre property. Here they have 1200 composting chickens and a handful of livestock guardian dogs. None of these animals have to be fed any additional feeds, because they consume the food waste. They are capable of consuming four TONS of waste in one year! There are three benefits to this:

  • 1)Less garbage sitting in plastic bags in landfills
  • 2)Compost produced as a by-product is available for farmers and gardeners
  • 3)1,000 dozen (yes, 1000 dozen!) eggs are produced each month

Wow! How impressive is that? This program is something that every county, in every state of America could easily do. Imagine being able to create that many eggs in a month, and that much compost for FREE as by-products of a garbage collection system. I also picked up several great ideas on how to use chickens to prepare raised beds as well as using them in traditional gardens for weed and pest control. 

We wound down our Saturday evening with another session with Joel Salatin. This one, “Folks This Ain’t Normal” was informative, funny, and spot on. Here he basically reviewed the topics covered in his book by the same name that I was actually reading at the time of the Fair. For anyone who hasn’t read the book, I would definitely recommend it! 

We did manage to catch a few other seminars, but these were my favorite of the weekend. Of coarse we didn’t just sit in seminars all day! There were so many vendors to see it took the entire weekend to explore them all! We came home with shitake mushroom logs, new angled hoes, kill cones, shirts, books, and magazines. It will take me until the New Year at least to read everything I came home with! I definitely see an entire blog update later on Joel Salatin’s books. He really has the same outlook on commercial agriculture as we do. 

While driving back to the hotel one evening, we ran across a really neat place called Fletchers Farm Market. This family ran market was established in 1949. They grow all sorts of seasonal produce, and at the time of our visit they were stocked full of a variety of pumpkins, gourds, apples, and peppers.

This is what actually drew our eye at first to them. The pumpkin on the bottom weighed in at 891 pounds. The big guy on top was 1050 pounds! And to think, I thought my 8-pound pie pumpkins were big this year!

We came home at the end of the weekend so tired, but also so excited! The knowledge we gained on this trip was definitely worth the 14-hour drive! I also came away with a sense of calm and contentment knowing that there are others out there just as crazy as we are! So many times we get that odd look or the question “why?” from those we know. Why bother with all this trouble? Why spend so much time on animals, grass, and gardening when we could be having fun? Why stay here instead of going out and taking vacations? This trip provided the encouragement I needed to know that we are on the right track for our family! 

We are really hoping to be able to attend again next year. There is a rumor that in 2013 Mother Earth is adding a new location that is a bit closer to us! Regardless of where it is, I know we will go back. Maybe not next year, but we will be back. It was just to great not to! 

Want to see more pictures of our trip? Check out our Facebook page at “Ans Farms.”

Published on Oct 31, 2012

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