Road trip! A car, snacks, friends and an awesome destination in mind. That is how my adventure to the Mother Earth News Fair in West Bend, Wisconsin, began. I have to tell you, it was an amazing experience. In fact, I think the term “Fair” does not do the event justice at all. It is so much more than a fair, more like learning extravaganza.
One of the hardest parts of going to the fair was trying to narrow down from an amazing list of workshops to what you can actually get done. I am interested in a variety of homestead activities and really wanted to check out workshops on raw milk, cheese making, herbal and essential oils, medicinal mushrooms, chicken processing and grass fed meat benefits. Community Chickens’ very own Melissa of Tilly’s Nest was giving some workshops on chicken keeping and I was especially excited to see two other authors that I admire were speaking, Joel Salatin and Robin Mather, that also helped to narrow down my choices.
The morning of the fair the excitement was in the air. Judging by the license plates that dotted the cars in the parking lot, people had traveled from all over. It was an eclectic mix of people who came together to learn and share about sustainable living and homesteading. There were vendors from all over and exhibits that really showcased the products and artisan crafts that were painstakingly hand made. I was entranced by the maple syrup products, brooms and wood carvings. Mountain Rose Herb, one of my favorite suppliers of herbs, oils, teas and other potions, was at the fair with free samples of some wonderful teas. However, I was ready for business and with my trusty ipad notebook and camera I was ready to learn.
The first workshop that I attended was in regards to raw milk and the laws that surround the dairy industry. Our speaker was Elizabeth Rich of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund. She was very informative and took us from a live demo of milking a goat to making three different kinds of cheese from the raw milk. Ms. Rich then spoke of the many laws that dairy producers face and what rights they have regarding their milk and cheese. Raw milk changes the flavor profiles of cheese. It is more complex due to the unprocessed nature of the fat globules. Raw milk cheeses are enjoyed all over the world but are heavily regulated or totally outlawed here in the United States. I also admired the no waste attitude that Elizabeth Rich had by using left over whey from the cheese making process for skin care.
As a budding herbalist and essential oil enthusiast, I also had the total pleasure of meeting Claire Orner of the Quiet Creek Herb Farm and School of Country Living. Claire was so passionate about herbs and oils that it was absolutely contagious. I was transported to France as she spoke of where she and her family had learned the art of distilling oils. Claire’s workshops, and yes I am using her first name because I left West Bend feeling like she was my friend, took us from growing herbs to foraging for them, through the distilling process and then how to use the final products to promote many different health benefits. I am still inspired and currently busy creating things with what I learned of the different oils and herbs.
I was mesmerized by an energetic and passionate microbiologist mushroom farmer. Tradd Cotter of Mushroom Mountain was a master of his craft of mushrooming. He wowed with slides and specimens of a variety of mushrooms that can be easily cultivated at home as well as the medical advancements that fungi are providing. He challenged attendees to get outside and forage, to be observant of nature. His passion was evident as he invited people to visit his farm, to send and share pictures of mushrooms they find with him. Whatever classes he is teaching, I would love to be a student in. His knowledge and experience was evident in his presentation. I think he could have filled up the entire day in one lecture if he was allowed too. I can’t wait to really turn over some fallen trees in our forest to see what I can find.
Sunday of the Fair was a big day for me. Two authors that I have admired were speaking and I was going to be able to see them both. I started the morning with a live chicken processing demo given by Joel Salatin of Polyface Inc. I was amazed by the amount of family farmers of all ages that were in attendance. Many great questions were asked and Mr. Salatin took the time to answer as many as he could. I was surprised by how much I walked away with from that workshop. There was the practical part, such as use sharp knives and that the scold is an important part in the processing of chickens to the philosophical side of farming. Joel Salatin humanized that act of taking an animals life to sustain our own. He stated that no one should kill animals every day. That really resonated with me. What must a person suffer mentally and physically to have to kill animals, even for food and not just for sale, every day of their life? Very thought provoking.
The Many Reasons To Choose Grass Fed Beef by Robin Mather was my second workshop on Sunday. As a chicken keeper, I am interested in humanely raised animals as well as the nutrition benefit of raising animals and birds the way that nature intended. We free range our chickens and supplement their feed here at my home. This workshop title focused on beef, but Ms. Mather did touch on all pasture raised meats and dairy. I was impressed with the data she offered and intrigued by the health benefits of the Omega 3 fatty acids that can be obtained from pastured raised beef and dairy. In fact, when I got home I bought some unsalted butter that was made from grass fed cows and put it in my coffee like suggested… what, Coffee? It was surprisingly very good. Butter, is after all, concentrated cream.
The Mother Earth News Fair was much more than a fair for me. It was an experience. It was a weekend filled with like minded people, information sharing, and renewed inspiration. This Mid-Michigan Girl loved visiting Wisconsin. We bought cheese curds, took some country drives along rolling farm land and stopped to photograph Pelicans at the Horicon National Wildlife Refuge. If you ever have the chance to attend a Mother Earth News Fair, I would strongly recommend doing it. Bring walking shoes, notebooks and an appetite for learning.
Check out the Mother Earth News Fair site for upcoming dates and locations.