Monday, April 21, 2014

My Experience: 2014 Mother Earth News Fair

This year for the first time the Mother Earth News Fair was held in Asheville, NC over the weekend of April 12 - 13.

Since Asheville is about a 4 hour drive from where I live, I attended the fair for the first time this year.  I've heard of these fairs before, but in previous years they'd always been held in locations that would require me to purchase an airline ticket - pfffft.

The big draw for me were all the workshops being held on subjects I'm super interested in.  You can see the full list of workshops that were offered this year here.
Adorable miniature Jersey cows Misty Morning Farms!

Some of the workshops that particularly caught my eye were "Hopping for Fun and Profit With Heritage Rabbits", "Tapping Maple and Birch Trees", "The Return of the Family Milk Cow", "Making Hay", "Grow Fruits and Nuts at Home", and "Choosing Livestock for Your Homestead".

As you can tell, there were a wide range of workshop topics and speakers, and I packed two blank notebooks ready to be filled with glorious notes on all the new information I was going to gather!

Now that I've attended the Mother Earth News Fair, here's an overview of the 2014 fair from my personal perspective:

Overall Takeaway: I'm glad I attended the fair, I would attend future fairs held in NC, and I would recommend this to others.

 Pros List:
All workshops had a TV-sized screen to
show the speaker's PowerPoint slides.  Nice!

  • A weekend pass was only $25!  This got you in to all workshops and speeches.
  • There were a wide range of workshops offered, spanning from renewable energy, organic gardening, animal husbandry, green building, and more.
  • The vendors and exhibitors were great - there were a lot of pertinent products being offered, many of which were things I had never seen before: a foot-press powered wheat thresher, an under-the-counter compost pail that mounted to the side of the door, birch syrup, etc. 
  •  I made several really valuable contacts while there.  I found the farm I want to go to when I'm eventually ready to get my first cow!  I also found people who had actually grown and eaten many of the unusual fruits I want to try, and they were able to give me a lot of good feedback that I hadn't been able to find elsewhere.
Cons List:
    There were multiple 'stages' where workshops were held.
    I spent a lot of my time at the 'Livestock Conservancy' stage.
  • The fair really suffered from inadequate signage.  The fair was held in a large agricultural complex, and there was no sign indicating what gate to use to park, so everybody tried to use the main entrance.  It turns out this was the wrong entrance, so a mile-long line of cars had to back out and turn around, one by one.  Also the agricultural complex had several buildings, and you had to figure out which building held your particular workshop... but none of the buildings were labeled.  
  • The fair offered inadequate food options.  I'm not sure how many people attended the fair, but it was in the thousands, and there were only about 7 food trucks there. NONE of the food trucks offered breakfast options, and come lunch time the lines stretched all the way across the huge parking lot.  The fair organizers had to have a rough idea of how many people were going to attend... it's not like Asheville doesn't have a million awesome food options.  I'm not sure how this oversight happened.  On Sunday my group packed a cooler and brought our own lunch.
    There were a lot of awesome vendors!
  • The depth of information offered varied by workshop.  A lot of the workshops offered wonderful, in-depth information about the workshop topic.  A lot of the workshops also just provided pretty basic information.... for example, in the 'Heritage Rabbit' workshop, the first 30 minutes were spent listing different rabbit breeds.  I'm assuming that people who are motivated enough to come in from a different state to attend this fair have already looked up the most basic information on these topics.  That's why they're interested and attending the workshop - they want to learn more.  
The week after I attended the fair, I got an email from Mother Earth News asking me to take a survey about my experience at the fair.  The survey was pretty comprehensive, and I included the same pros and cons as I did above.  I feel pretty confident that these were just first-year hiccups and any additional fairs held in NC will be a much smoother experience.  

Having said that, I HAD A BLAST!  It was a wonderful experience and I can't wait to go again!  :-)

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