Sunday, September 29, 2013

2013 Mother Earth News Fair - Sunday Workshops

I was back to a full day of workshops on Sunday. When looking over my schedule, there was only one that I was particularly excited about. Fortunately, though, I found myself enjoying everything I attended that day. My favorite workshop of the entire fair ended up being one I took on Sunday, that wasn't even initially on my schedule.

Small Farm, Big Exposure: Inexpensive Marketing Solutions - Ryan Walker of The Livestock Conservancy

Now that we've started some preliminary planning for a farm-based business, I felt like it was important to start learning a bit about marketing, and other business-related topics. This workshop seemed like a good opportunity for an intro. There were only 60 people or so in attendance, though, which seems to indicate that this isn't a topic that most people at the fair were interested in.

The presenter made a few suggestions that I think we definitely need to consider. The first was to develop a story, and communicate to your customers and potential customers. This seems like good advice, as it provides a way to stand out from the competition, and gives customers something to relate to. Another suggestion was to develop a logo, and be consistent with its use. I wouldn't have considered the importance of using labels and packages that use the same color scheme as the logo, but he made a good argument for this.

How to Walk Away From Civilization - Mike Olson, author

This was one of the workshop which was on my list of possibilities, but I didn't decide to take until the day before. Andrea suggested that it sounded like something I would enjoy, so I decided to check it out. I'm glad I did, because it was, by far, my favorite workshop of the weekend. A lot of others were also interested, as was apparent from the fact that more than 100 people were standing or sitting on the ground around the edge of the stage to listen to the presentation.

This workshop was a narrative about the presenter's experience with living alone in the wilderness for a summer. While I am typically not a fan of this type of presentation, I found this one to be very interesting, so much so that I immediately ordered his book, Unlearn, Rewild: Earth Skills, Ideas and Inspiration for the Future Primitive, when I got home.

There were several inspirational comments from the presentation. The one that sticks in my mind the most is the idea that even if we change the world in which we live, we must also change ourselves for the changes to be complete, as we have to change the fundamental factor that shaped the world in the first place. This reminds me of the well known quote by Mahatma Gandhi, "Be the change that you wish to see in the world.", which I admit I never really got until attending this workshop.

Heat Your Home with Solar Energy - Dan Chiras of The Evergreen Institute

I have actually taken this same workshop in the past, but felt like it would be useful to take it again. I've learned more about passive solar design since initially taking it, and am starting to think about a home design, so thought a refresher would be helpful.

The presenter gave many examples of passive solar design, including several from homes he has lived in. His passive solar home in the Colorado Rockies, at an elevation of 8,000 feet provides a good example of the benefits of utilizing these design principles, and also gives him a great deal of legitimacy when speaking on the topic.

Earth, Straw, and Wood: Build a Mortgage-Free Natural Cottage - Chris McClellan of The Natural Cottage Project

This was another popular workshop, with approximately 30 people standing just to hear the presentation. My interest in the topic is due to my desire to use natural, and when possible local, materials for building a home. I suspect that many, if not most, in the crowd, however, were primarily interested in the possibility of constructing a low-cost home, which might require no mortgage.

The presenter used Henry David Thoreau's well known cabin to illustrate the cost effectiveness of building with natural materials. While Thoreau's cabin only cost the equivalent of $850 (some sources I have found suggest closer to $3,000), it was stated than an earthen shelter of similar dimensions would have cost roughly half of that amount. Most people in the crowd seemed to agree that such a small cabin, which was 10' x 15', would be much to small. While I do agree that it is on the small side, I believe that learning to live in smaller homes is something that would be beneficial for us all.

The primary method of construction being discussed in the workshop was cob, but a couple of other methods were mentioned as well. Several books were recommended, which I plan to check out. These include ShelterHome Work: Handbuilt Shelter, and Tiny Home: Simple Shelter by Lloyd Kahn, The Cob Builder's Handbook by Becky Bee, The Hand-Sculpted House by Ianto Evans (which I already own), and Building a Low Impact Roundhouse by Tony Wrench.

He also talked about the workshops offered by his organization, which I'd like to check out sometime. They offer two-week workshops approximately four times a year, and several weekend long workshops, which I'm more likely to attend, at least at first.

Conduct a Home Energy Audit - Kale Roberts of Mother Earth News

I was interested in attending this workshop because I know that we need to perform a home energy audit, but I'm not sure that I want to pay a professional at this point. I figured it would be nice to learn to do some of this myself, even if ends up not being as thorough and accurate as a professional audit.
There were very few people attending this workshop, I'm not sure if this is an indication of a lack of interest in the topic, or if it was primarily because it was the last workshop of the weekend.

Several tools were discussed that can help perform a home energy audit, including the Kill a Watt , which I own and use and The Energy Detective (aka TED) which I'd like to buy at some point. Unfortunately the workshop was sidetracked by a gentleman who had had a negative experience with compact fluorescent light bulbs, and wanted to use the workshop as an opportunity to make his displeasure with them known. The instructor handled it well, and explained that the issues he described had been known to occur with cheap Chinese imports that had, at one point, flooded the US market, and that those issues were not expected with quality bulbs, of which he gave some recommendations. He also went on to explain that CFLs had always been intended as a transition technology, until something better could be developed, but the use of CFLs grew quickly, and government policies were enacted that seem to push them, even though LEDs have now became more readily available and affordable.

Due to the distraction, the presenter didn't get though all of the material he had planned. He did manage to rush though much of it, but clearly not in detail as he had hoped. I still came away from a few useful pieces of information that should be helpful down the road.

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