Sunday, September 29, 2013

2013 Mother Earth News Fair - Friday Workshops

There were four workshop sessions offered on Friday, and I attended something during each. Only one of the workshops I attended on Friday was one that was on my have to do list. While I enjoyed the workshops of the day, I found that I wasn't as excited and energized for the rest of the fair at the end of the day as I have been in the past after the first day.

The Homeowner's Energy Handbook: Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Sources - Paul Scheckel, author and energy consultant

The focus of this workshop was improving energy efficiency in ones home, and the benefits of doing so. The gentleman leading the workshop was also promoting his book, The Homeowner's Energy Handbook: Your Guide to Getting Off Grid, which I might end up buying, after it was recommended by others.

There were a couple of things from this workshop that stood out to me. First was the discussion of the inefficiencies of our national electric systems, aka the grid. It was stated that for those living in an area in which electricity is generated primarily by burning coal, the overall efficiency of an incandescent light bulb could be as little as 3%, due to the inefficiency of coal fired plants, transmission of electricity over large distances, and the inefficiency of incandescent bulbs themselves. Thinking in these terms makes it clear that improving efficiency has much more impact that might be readily apparent.

The second thing that stood out was a thought-provoking statement about butter, of all things. While I can't repeat the exact quote, the basic idea of the statement was that because it requires so much work, if you had to make  your own butter every day, you'd eat much less of it. When compared to energy use, especially when thinking in terms of off-grid living, this is a simple, yet profound statement.

Certified Naturally Grown - Joe Bozzelli of Five Elements Farm

Attending this workshop was one of my top priorities, since we are starting to plan for a future farming venture. Apparently it wasn't a very popular topic at the fair, though, since there were only 60-70 people attending, as opposed to the renewable energy workshops, for example, which typically draw 200 people or more.

The focus of this workshop was the Certified Naturally Grown program, and how it compares to the USDA Organic certification. I was only vaguely aware of CNG prior to the workshop, so learned a great deal about it. CNG seems like a good alternative for small or new farms not wanting to go through the expense of becoming certified organic, which can easily cost $1,000 or more. We do need to look into the cost for Kentucky, however, as an organic farmer in the next county over indicated to us recently that it wasn't very expensive, which makes me think that maybe Kentucky has a program to help cover the costs.

After the fair, while browsing the Certified Naturally Grown website, I was pleasantly surprised to find Salamander Springs Farm, of Berea listed. Salamander Springs is operated by  Susana Lein, whom I've taken workshops from at the past, at both the 2011 and 2012 Field to Fork Festival. I also saw that Salt River Garlic, of Taylorsville was listed, which is whom I recently ordered a couple of new varieties of garlic from. I was surprised to find that their CNG status isn't promoted on the main page of their website, although is discussed, briefly, on the About Us page. This makes me wonder if being Certified Naturally Grown is as valuable from a marketing perspective as USDA Organic certification.

Small Stories, Big Changes - Lyle Estill, author

This workshop didn't have a primary focus, but turned out to be very enjoyable and informative. The gentleman leading it spent the first fifteen minutes talking about his experience with Biodiesel, use of a local currency in the community in which he lives, and a few other things from his life. The remainder of the time was spent answering questions from the audience, of which there were many.

I was most interested in learning more about the Piedmont Local Economy Tender, also known as the PLENTY, which is the alternative currency used in the community in which he lives. I was under the, incorrect, belief that alternative currencies were not legal, so was thrilled to learn that this is not the case. While I'm sure it is difficult to successfully integrate an alternative currency into a community, it seems to have some real advantages, including promoting the use of local businesses, since shopping out of town requires exchanging the local currency for US Reserve Notes.

The author has a book about local economies, Small is Possible: Life in a Local Economy, which I would like to pick up sometime.

What If: Homesteading as a Way of Life - Gloria Varney of Nezinscot Farm

This turned out to be more of a narrative than an instructional workshop. The speaker, along with her husband, was the winner of a Mother Earth News Homesteader of the Year Award, which I assume is one of the reasons she was asked to speak at the fair.

I'm typically not very interested in 'workshops' in which the speaker is just talking about his/her life or farm, as I'm there to learn new skills. However, there were a couple of things from this talk that I was interested in. The first was learning that the speaker practices biodynamics on her farm. I know only a little about the subject, but it is something I would like to hear more about.

The other thing that interested me was her unique way of treating illnesses with herbs. She has a medicinal garden, which has resulted in many visitors asking for her to treat their ailments. Due to time restrictions, she has began asking these visitors to take a walk through the medicinal garden, and bring her the herbs that speak to them. While some people may view this as dangerous, I find it to be an interesting approach and wonder about its effectiveness. She reported positive results, and gave some examples of solutions that she likely would not have found otherwise. Once we arrived home, I decided to look up the medicinal uses of sage, since I seem to be drawn to it when visiting the herb garden. I found that it is used for a couple of purposes that could benefit me, so I'm trying to begin using it more regularly.

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