Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Guide to the Getting the Most From the Mother Earth News Fair

Andrea and I have attended the Mother Earth News Fair in Seven Springs, PA each of its 3 years. Things have gone more smoothly each year that we have attended. I believe that is due, in part, to changes implemented by the fair coordinators. I believe it is also, however, due to the fact that we have learned what to expect and how to better navigate the fair and the fairgrounds. I'd like to share some of what we have learned, in hopes that it may help others who are not as familiar with the fair as we are.

My tips are based on my experiences with the Mother Earth News Fair, and specifically the even held in Seven Springs. I believe that many of these tips will be applicable to the Mother Earth News Fair at other locations, and likely at events other those hosted by Mother Earth News, but some of these tips are clearly specific to the Seven Springs event.


We have stayed at the Seven Spring Mountain Resort, where the fair is held, each year that we have attended. The first two years we stayed in the hotel, known as the tower, and this past year we stayed in the lodge. The lodge was a bit cheaper, and is closer to the exhibit hall and exit to outside fair area. We purchase the Mother Earth News Fair package offered by Seven Springs, which includes lodging, weekend passes to the fair, and breakfast. We always book our rooms early, because Andrea worries that they will sell out. This past year we booked our room in April, 5 months before the event. Andrea did speak to a lady who was unable to get a room because they had sold out, but I don't know how close to the event she tried.

Staying at Seven Springs is rather expensive, so it is certainly not the best option for everyone. We consider our trip to the fair a vacation, and use the bulk of our vacation budget for the trip. Having a room on site has several advantages. First is the convenience. If a member or the party needs to take a break in middle of the day he/she can go back to the room for a bit. I did that last year, and after a couple of hours in the room I was refreshed and ready to attend the remaining workshops of the day. Without a room to go to, it would be difficult to find a spot to really rest and relax if not feeling well. It is also nice to be able to go to the room to drop off purchases, especially if buying anything bulky and/or heavy. Finally, the ability to explore the grounds prior to the start of the fair can be helpful for first time attendees; it is nice knowing your way around.

I hear that within 15 to 30 minutes there are some small communities with rooms available. The suggestion I've heard is to book them early, because, as it gets nearer to time for the fair, the rates are likely to increase. I also know that there are nearby campgrounds, although it is a bit cool in Pennsylvania in September for camping, in my opinion, unless you are staying in a heated RV. I have heard a rumor that the Seven Springs event may be moved to the summer, though, in which case camping might be a better option.


There are several dining options at Seven Springs as well as several food vendors at the fair. Unfortunately, most of the food offerings are fairly expensive. In the past our approach has been to take advantage of the breakfast buffet included with our lodging package, which is fantastic by the way, then buy lunch from one of the food vendors, and finish the day up with dinner at one of the Seven Springs restaurants. This year I had limited time between workshops, so actually snacked through lunch a couple of times rather than buying an actual meal. For dinner, we've decided that the most economical option is to buy a pizza from the pizza place inside the lodge, and eat it in our room. By providing our own drinks, this dinner costs just over $15. Compared to the $30 per person buffet I saw advertised in one of the Seven Springs restaurants, that is a great deal.

Even if planning to eat lunch from a food vendor, I suggest taking snacks. You never know how long the lines to get food might be, especially between workshops. It can be very difficult to get food and eat it during the 30 minute break. Packing snacks provides some flexibility. It may be that by snacking, then having lunch an hour or two later, the crowds will have thinned down enough to make grabbing something quick feasible. Snacking may also be a way of satisfying your hunger until a period later in the day during which there are no workshops you want to take, in which case you can take your time and have a more enjoyable meal.

Day Bag

I am a big fan of taking along a day bag to events such as this. I used a backpack the first year, because I also had camera gear in it, but in the crowds I found it a but cumbersome. This past year I carried an over the shoulder bag. It is smaller than a traditional messenger bag, but I wear it the same way.

I've experimented a bit with the contents of my day bag, and was pretty happy with the items I packed this year. My bag included a medium sized notepad and ink pen for taking notes, a book for keeping me occupied while waiting for workshops to start, a bottle of water, snacks, the fair program guide, some of Andrea's homemade bug spray (which I didn't need), a couple of handkerchiefs, and a wide brimmed hat in case of rain.

Workshop Schedule

I began deciding on my schedule for workshops to attend several days before the fair. Before finalizing my schedule I reviewed it with Andrea, and made adjustments to account for workshops that we both wanted to attend. Our goal is to take as many workshops as possible, so we try to never both take the same ones.

Our first year at the fair I made several mistakes when deciding on my schedule. Without being familiar with the layout of the grounds, and without realizing how long it would take to get from place to place I found myself often having trouble getting into the workshops. There are also a couple of areas where traffic jams occur, most notably on the stairs, and the hallways near them.

As much as possible, I like to attend workshops that are located in the same general area. In fact, last year I only attended workshops that were presented on the outside stages, which simplified things tremendously. This year I did move back and forth a bit, but tried to make sure I wasn't just going back and forth from one place to another. One strategy I used was to start the day inside, then after attending a few inside workshops, move outside for the rest of the day. This allowed me to only have to transition from inside to outside once during the day. Of course this isn't always practical. I think it is more important to attend desirable workshops, regardless of location, than to choose something just because its convenient.

The time between workshops was increased this year from 15 minutes to 30 minutes. This was a big help, but the workshops still filled up quickly. I tended to go directly from one workshop to the next, and just read my book while waiting for the presentation to start. One advantage of getting there early was that I was able to choose my seat. It took a little experimentation, but by the last day of the fair I had come up with a strategy that worked well for me. For the workshops held inside in one of the lecture halls, I preferred a seat against the wall, on the side of the room where the podium was. This gave me space between my seat and the wall to sit my bag, and ensured that I wouldn't have people needing to move past me to get to their seat. For the other workshops, I found that I preferred an aisle seat, in the section on the left. This allowed me a bit more room, since I only had someone sitting to my left. I found that when I sat on the other side, I still felt a bit cramped when taking notes by the person sitting to my right.


I have one primary piece of advice regarding shopping at the fair, and I can't stress this point enough. If there is an item that you wish to purchase, do so as early in the fair as possible. Andrea and I both made the mistake of waiting too late to buy certain items. I planned to buy several varieties of garlic from Enon Valley Garlic, but by the time I stopped by they had sold out of more than half of their varieties. Andrea wanted to buy a soap-making kit from Quiet Creek Herb Farm, but since it was going to be heavy she asked me to stop by the following day and buy it for her. By the time I got there, however, they had sold out of the specific kit she wanted. Even the Sun Oven that we bought was sold out, but they were honoring the fair price for orders placed during the fair and offering free shipping, which actually worked out better for us since we didn't have to transport it back home.

My other suggestion would be to shop at the busiest booths while workshops are going on, if you're not taking a workshop during every time slot. Some of the booths get really busy between workshops, especially the Mother Earth News Bookstore in the exhibit hall. I also found that taking advantage of the time before workshops begin and after they end can be good times to shop certain booths, but waiting until the end of the last day of the fair is not recommended.

Above all else, however, my advice is to enjoy yourself, try to learn as much as possible, and meet some new people while at the fair. These are fantastic events, and I hope that everyone who is interested gets to attend at least one of the fairs at some point in their lifetime.

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