The Mother Earth News Fair Experience

Mother Earth News magazine was so kind as to send me tickets to their Mother Earth News Fair in Puyallup, Washington which was held in the beginning of the month. Being a blogger for Mother Earth News really has its perks! I really enjoyed myself and saw some great demonstrations, sat in on some fantastic workshops, and met some wonderful people. My guest for the weekend was none other than my very own mother, who is a long-time goat lover and the perfect tag along for a sustainability fair. Neither of us were sure of what to expect, but we we both learned so much from some very knowledgeable (and pretty cool) people. If you would like to go to the Mother Earth News Fair, there are two more locations and dates this year.

Since I am an avid Joel Salatin fan, I have to mention this first. Joel Salatin is awesome and I got to meet him. I was the first in line to get my book, Folks This Ain’t Normal, signed all because my dear mother stood right at the table for half an hour while I was at his poultry processing workshop. Thanks Ma! I shook his hand, he signed my book, and then I may have threatened to photobomb him if he didn’t take a picture with me. Poor guy. I’m pretty sure I can call us best friends now… Real bff’s. See? As creepy as I’m sure I came off, he was super nice.


Other than meeting my agricultural idol, there were some other fun sights to see…

Only at the Mother Earth News Fair…


Suntime Yurts; traditional Mongolian yurts

Fungi Perfecti



Other great companies I saw:
Cousin Mary Jane sells hemp-y baking goods and clothing
Tango Zulu sells fair trade baskets and artisan gifts from around the world
North American Wool Cooperative links wool production farmers with each other to help rebuild the fiber community
Bee Thinking sells bee hives, supplies, and has classes in Portland, Oregon

You guys, I think I’m a total dork. Not only did I bring a giant notebook to take notes in (of all things), but I also glued a copy of the Fair schedule into the first few pages. I may have looked silly to those sitting around me in the workshops with my giant notebook, but you can bet everyone else wished they had brought bigger paper to do note doodles on.

Practical Permaculture Techniques Marilene Richardson of SongCroft Farm
This workshop was awesome! Plain and simple. I have been finding myself much more interested in permaculture as of late. I have read a couple permaculture related books, but there’s nothing like hearing about it from someone who utilizes the techniques on their own land. I don’t know much about Marilene Richardson, in fact– I had never heard of her before, but she certainly knows her stuff!

First we learned about “tree guilds”. What is a tree guild? Well, Marilene described it perfectly as an ecosystem for every tree you plant versus just planting a tree. So what does your tree need? Your tree needs nitrogen, so plant something that puts nitrogen back into the soil to feed your tree like beans. Your tree needs bees (especially fruit or nut trees) for pollination, so plant edible flowers at the base of your tree to attract pollinators. Your tree may need added minerals in the soil, so plant comfrey or daikon or other plants with deep roots that will bring up minerals for the benefit of your tree.

We learned about “forest gardens” which mimic the forest ecosystem with edible perennial plants planted in layers. Vines like hops or kiwi growing on fruit or nut trees, towering over berry shrubs next to root veggies (as to not compete for root space) and a ground cover surrounds everything to suppress weeds and give nutrients back to the soil.

Some other great ideas included using a “rocket stove” to heat a greenhouse efficiently during the winter and using willow branches or other branch trimmings to weave a fence.

“Hüglekultur” I had heard of before, but Marilene explained it in more depth. Hüglekultur is a German word (yeah baby!) which describes an interesting method of creating more surface area and food pockets. Logs or hay make up the core of a mound and is covered with top soil or compost, then planted into. It is one of the best ways to avoid poor soil, multiply your planting surface area, and to retain water for heavy drinking plants. Hüglekulturs can be made with found yard debris or you can even collect yard waste from your neighbors like: lawn sod, leaves, manure, compost, and –otherwise useless– wet hay. It even creates heat and stores water which means earlier planting and less watering! That’s a win-win.


Aquaponic Gardening Sylvia Bernstein
There really isn’t much to an aquaponic system. This was a pretty nice workshop though in that Sylvia had some wonderful tips and tricks to get started. I really enjoyed the Q&A portion of her workshop because people had some real interesting questions that I hadn’t thought of and Sylvia was able to share her insight and experience with everyone.

The basic idea of aquaponics is that you have a tank with fish in it who create “waste”. The “waste” water is pumped up into a grow bed with plants, the plants use the fish “waste” for nutrients and a natural fertilizer which cleans the water. The water is then automatically drained back down into the fish tank creating both oxygen and replenishing the clean water for the fish. My only problem with the whole idea is that as much as it is said, aquaponics is not a closed system. You still have to feed the fish from an outside source. I was thinking you could grow grubs/worms to add as an additional piece of the system, but then you are also inputting compost or food for the grubs/worms AND it would require more worms than I think you can reasonably grow in your backyard. Hmm… any readers have any remedies?

Tips for aquaponics systems:
• you need: a grow bed, grow media, plumbing, and a fish tank.
• use gravel 12″ inches deep as an inexpensive grow media.
• use materials for your grow bed and fish tank that are: water tight, food safe, and ph neutral.
• tilapia fish are used most commonly in aquaponics because they require little oxygen, low quality water is okay, and they breed readily in captivity.
• tilapia have a 4-6 month breeding cycle
• put a 6″ inch diameter pipe that is 2 feet long into the tank for brooding females.
• scoop out any baby tilapia into a separate tank until they are size able because tilapia are omnivorous. Larger fish will eat the babies if given half a chance.
• plants that thrive at a ph level of 6.8-7.0 will do well in an aquaponics system. Sorry blueberries!
• heavy drinkers and plants that like dry soil will both do well in an aquaponics system… right next to eachother even!
• 200 gallon tank is perfect for tilapia
• worms work through the fish “waste” well.
• tilapia need need food with a protein content of 32-36% and more as babies.

Aquaponics resources: The Aquaponic Source, Aquaponics Fourm with off-grid group, and Sylvia’s website.

Live Poultry Processing Demo Joel Salatin and David Schafer
I felt like I was at a rock concert during this workshop with front row seats! But let’s face it– if anyone is going to be the rock star of the agricultural world, it will be Joel Salatin. Right? Don’t answer… it’s ‘yes’. This was by far the most attended workshop of the weekend. This won’t be the easiest workshop to explain, because –obviously– it is best seen with your own two eyeballs. But I will try to get the gist across with my crude sketches (that were drawn while simultaneously watching the close-up camera on the big screen, and listening to the guys talk, AND watching Joel slice and dice).

First you want to deny your poultry to be processed feed for 18 hours. Then put the poultry (in this case chickens) head down into one of these nifty cones. The cone holds the chicken in a kind of “hug” which helps them to feel safe and keeps them from hurting themselves and bruising the meat. Then you use a sharp knife to cut the artery right below the ear on one side of the neck. Be sure to cut deep enough because the chicken is likely to be afraid of a second cut. The chicken will get lightheaded as they pass out and bleed out quickly (about 90 seconds).


Once they have bled out, you can use a fancy chicken dunker or dunk them by hand (holding onto one foot) into a scalding water of 145-148*F. A few drops of soap or detergent will help break the surface tension of the scalding water. The feathers will need to be able to move back and forth in the dunk and you can pull tail feathers to test the readiness to pluck. Pluck by hand or using a fancy schmancy plucker tub. David suggested purchasing a plucker with a few other people or even renting one. I could tell it would be well worth it to use one of these plucker drums.

Next, pull off the head from the neck (don’t waste that neck meat). Cut the feet off at the knee. Joel said to always look to cut on the “valleys” of the chicken. Then cut off the oil sack which looks like a big bump where the tail feathers used to be.


This part is confusing on paper. Where the throat kind of is, there is a big flat lump called the “crop”. Pull a little of the skin at the base of the crop, nick below it with a knife, then rip the skin open exposing the crop and tuck your fingers under it. You should be able to pull half of it off and then pull the wind pipe out of the neck. Remove the esophagus, which feels like a bendy straw, from the neck.


Now let’s talk about poultry butts. Nick the “rear” (above the vent if your chicken is belly up on the table) to make an opening and pull the guts out. This will leave a single intestine attached. Cut both sides of where the intestine is attached and then the rest of the guts out ending with the wind pipe. Everything will pull right out. Then pull out the lungs (and heart I’m guessing) from the body cavity. Them some slippery buggers!


Lastly, make a little slit near the cavity and tuck the leg bones into the slit. Perfect oven ready chicken folks! Put the chicken in an ice bath until it has cooled to 40*F for 2 hours. Let the meat rest for 24 hours before cooking.


Medicinal Bee Gardens Marilene Richardson of SongCroft Farm
Marilene’s workshop on bee gardens was fun. I was excited to see the show of hands as to how many beginning beekeepers were in the crowd as well as people who were simply considering keeping bees. It was quite encouraging. Planting for bees is important because of the decline of honeybee hives. A few things to keep in mind when planting a bee garden is to plant no closer than 6 feet to the hives so that you aren’t planting in their “poop zone”. Bees need potty breaks too. Also keep a water feature out for the bees where they can safely land and drink.

This will be mostly a list of great plants that can be used medicinally for your family as well as help bees both medicinally and to increase nectar flow. You will need to consult your physician or herbalist as to how to use these herbs for yourself.
• calendula • apple • lavender • basil • sage
• bee balm • borage • cat mint • mullen
• echinacea • maple trees • chamomile • thyme
• chives • comfrey • lemon balm • marjoram
• meadowsweet • anise hyssop • yarrow

Basil and bee balm both affect bees very positively.
Both feverfew and black cohosh will repel bees.
Lemongrass is also great as an essential oil; just a drop or two may help keep your hive from swarming in the spring.

Be Strange Keynote Speech Joel Salatin
Unfortunately, I was not able to sit in on Joel Salatin’s keynote speech (since the only flight back to Sacramento flew out as his speech started). A FMF reader and fellow Fair-goer, Wendy, was kind enough to take notes for me. Apparently Joel’s speech was quite inspirational and the strongest message was to just get out there and do it! My favorite quote from the speech is, “if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing poorly [first].” Hear, hear! That’s how I live and farm. 😉

The following is a summary of the keynote speech given by Joel Salatin provided by Mother Earth News’ website and photos of the notes that Wendy took.
“Have you ever wanted to turn your farming hobby into a thriving business venture? Joel Salatin will help you reach past the fear of failure while laying out many common fears and misconceptions. “Don’t Be Scared, Be Strange” carries an encouraging message for anyone hoping to achieve their dreams from someone who is living his dream. This is a can’t miss presentation at the FAIR! “




6 thoughts on “The Mother Earth News Fair Experience

  1. Wow you made it like we came along too!!!!!! Great pic’s and Great details on what you learned!!!!!! Wish we had something like that here . We do have some, but always to far to travel. At least for me. On asking question I would have done the same! And being geeky is a good thing. When if time does get bad, The geeky’s will be the one to seek out. I’m always telling my grandkids that tv, and elec games aren’t going to feed you if tech. stops. Hope your having a great day!!!!! Thanks for sharing. keep up the good work!!!!! Love stopping in to see what’s new. Did my first fodder, cows looked at it????? Going to start a new batch tonight. Mare

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