Monday, October 1, 2012

Mother Earth News Fair 2012 - Workshops

At this years fair I attended 13 different workshops. There were 15 available slots, but I skipped one workshop on Saturday and another on Sunday. There was such a variety of workshops to choose from that it was difficult to decide which to take. I began trying to narrow down the choices several days before the fair began and made my final decision for each day's schedule the night before. Some time slots had as many as 5 workshops I was interested in, with none having less than 2 that I would have liked to attend.

While it is obviously no replacement for actually attending the workshop, I thought it might be helpful if I provided a brief summary of the workshops I attended. If nothing else, this will hopefully provide some additional insight on the types of workshops available at the fair. Clicking on the title of each workshop will take you to a more detailed description of the workshop and my thoughts on it.


Off-Grid Living - Christine Tailer and Greg Cole of Straight Creek Valley Farm

This presentation focused on life for the couple on their homestead, including living in a small home, using renewable energy, gardening, and raising animals. It was one of my favorite workshops of the day.

Forest Garden Design - Lincoln Smith of Forested Training and Research Center

This workshop focused on the forest garden concept, including the benefits of this type of garden, and  some basic info on how to begin the process of planning a garden using this approach.

Retooling for Tomorrow - Philip Ackerman-Leist

This presentation was a mixture of anecdotes, regarding homesteading and living a traditional lifestyle, and suggestions of various tools and technologies that are useful around a homestead.

Biochar - Albert Bates of The Farm

In this workshop the presenter covered the benefits of biochar as a soil builder and discussed several methods for generating biochar, with a focus on methods through which the heat could be used for other purposes. This was one of the workshops I wanted to be sure I took, as biochar is a topic I only recently became familiar with.


Choosing Organic Fertilizer and Building Soil Fertility - Cheryl Long of Mother Earth News

This workshop focused on the importance of building soil fertility, and various ways of accomplishing this goal, such as through the user of cover crops, heavy mulching, and liquid fertilizers.

A Homesteader's Hindsight: 20 Great Ideas and 20 Not So Great Ideas - Philip Ackerman-Leist

This workshop was an odd combination of practical advice and entertaining sentiments. The information was presented as 20 pairs of lessons, one positive, and one not so positive.

Energy Alternatives for Small Farms and Homesteads - Chris Lent of The National Center for Appropriate Technology

This presentation focused on various forms of alternative energy that can be used around a homestead, including photovoltaic, wind turbines, bio-diesel, and draft animals.

Energy Performance of Natural Buildings - Ace McArelton and Jacob Deva Racusin of New Frameworks Natural Building

This workshop was basically divided into sections. The first was a description of the design philosophy that Ace and Jacob use when designing straw bale homes. The second was a review of testing they had done on several of the homes they had built, and a review of the results.

Ordinary Tools, Extraordinary Results - Laurie Freeman and Jim Strickland

This workshop was, without question, the most inspiring workshop of the fair for me. Laurie and Jim discussed how, with the help of some friends, they built their home and a barn almost entirely without the aid of power tools. The feat seemed impressive enough at the start, but after hearing the details of what they have accomplished, it is indeed extraordinary.


Hoeing the Long Row - Andy Pressman of The National Center for Appropriate Technology

This presentation covered the process of choosing the appropriate tool for several garden jobs, and well as the correct way to use these tools. Tools covered include various types of hoes, spades, forks, seeders, and even walk behind tractors. This was a particularly informative workshop for me, since we are beginning to build our tool collection.

Integrating Woodlot Management - Dave Scamardella of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

The focus of the workshop was creating a woodlot management plan. This included tips on figuring out a goal for the property as well as information on the various types of professionals available to help with the planning process.

Bioshelter Design and Management - Darrell Frey of Three Sisters Farm & Nursery

This presentation covered the basics of a solar greenhouse and included details about the presenter's own greenhouse. Discussion topics included the building of the greenhouse and day to day operation.

Sustainable Living Simplified - John Ivanko and Lisa Kivirist of Inn Serendipity Bed & Breakfast

This presentation focused on the process through which the couple has built their homestead and business over the years. Topics discussed included renewable energy, gardening, community, and small business ownership. This was one of the most enjoyable workshops that I attended at the fair this year.

In addition to the 13 workshops that I attended, there were 2 others that I had planned to attend. On Saturday I had planned to attend the Grow Biointensive Sustainable Mini-Farming presentation, but decided that it wasn't something I was all that interested in, and that I could better use the time for looking at the vendor and exhibitor booths. Also, on Sunday, I was planning to take a workshop titled Home Sweet Zero Energy Home, but skipped it since there were no seats available by the time I got there after the Hoeing the Long Row workshop lasted longer than expected.

As always, the workshops were very educational and enjoyable. While some were not as good as the others, I learned something from each one I attended. I enjoy visiting the vendor and exhibitor booths, but the workshops are my primary reason for going to the fair. I'm not aware of any other event that offers so many quality workshops for such a reasonable price. The workshops alone make the cost of attending the fair a tremendous value. Many of the workshops offered this year were also offered at previous fairs. In fact, during one time slot, I found I had previously taken three of the available workshops. However, there were still plenty that I was interested in, and several that I had to skip because of conflicts. I am confident that I will be able to put together a full schedule of workshops to attend at next year's fair with no problem. I'm already looking forward to it.

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