Reporting: Mother Earth News Fair 2016

On July 9th, I attended the second Mother Earth News Fair held in West Bend WI, an event a friend suggested I visit.

Not having attended the previous year, I didn’t know what to expect when I drove up to the Washington County Fairgrounds. Though I expected it would be busy, I was still shocked with the hundreds of people that were arriving even as I was driving in.

The location was perfect, as was the day. The sky perfectly balanced sunshine and clouds, with a gentle breeze adding to the effect. Each stage was located in one of the fairground buildings, with vendors and booths with a similar theme in and around them. (Example, the Renewable Energy Stage had booths about renewable energy.)

With some time before my first session, I wondered around the fairgrounds to get my bearings and view the various vendors they had. To my surprise, I met several from various Farmer’s Markets I attended over the years. It was a nice reminder of how tight knit that community is, regardless of how much time passes between seeing some of these people, the bond is still there.

With my wondering finished, old friends greeted, it was time to start my sessions.

How Much Grass Can Pigs Eat?

Presented by a farmer from MO named John Arbuckle (I did not ask if he had a cat named Garfield), who raises pigs on pasture. Overall much of the information was common to our general knowledge: pigs are healthier when allowed a diverse diet with less grain.

One of the more interesting things said was clarifying a difference between pastured pigs and grazing pigs. While both are good, a pastured pig, by definition, is a pig simply raised on pasture fed with about the same amount of grain. A grazing pig eats a diverse diet with substantially less grain. But the semantics can easily be debated.

Since this session was held at the Livestock Conservancy Stage, complete with animals in the building, what was most impressive was John Arbuckle’s ability to speak above the noise of the animals squeaking and squawking.

Farm Succession Planning

Elizabeth Rich with the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund, presented this fascinating session on how to preserve your farming legacy after your death. While there were many sessions on things like Salad Bar Beef and backyard chickens, this one presented a topic not enough people in the agricultural community consider.

She began the workshop by using the example of the story of Puss in Boots, how when the Miller died he left his first son with the mill, the second with the donkey, and the third with the cat. That was how early succession planning worked: The first born got the most.

From there we proceeded to learn why a farmer requires more than a will when leaving his property to his heirs, and what are the best strategies to ensure that those heirs who want to keep the farm going can rather than it being merely parceled off.

The most important lesson stressed was communication in the family. Especially if the various members are scattered across the country, it is easy to perceive unfairness in leaving more to one child or another, or an item that someone expected to go to themselves.

General Bee Hive Inspection

I hadn’t planned on going to this session, but found myself wondering around the fair and was drawn into it. Presented by Shane Gebauer and Kim Flottum, both gentlemen were beekeepers from different states, Shane from SC and Kim from OH.

What drew me in was the banter between them, if rehearsed it couldn’t have been better. Shane would explain how something worked and then ask Kim a question, Kim would make a joke about Shane being willing to sell the audience the tool required, and the audience would roar with laughter.

Beekeeping is not among my various interests, over all though I certainly learned something I hadn’t expected to and enjoyed it. It gave me a better appreciation for bees and beekeepers, and reminded me that a little light humor can go a long way.

Benchmarks of Truth

This was the last session of the day, the one that I had probably been the most excited about. Presented by Joel Salatin from Polyface Farms, it promised an interesting title that would give plenty of food for thought.

Getting on stage, Mr. Salatin smiled at everyone and commenced his session. He said he had ten benchmarks of Truth for us, ten things that he had learned meant your farm was following truth, that it was going on the right track.

In brief, the Benchmarks were:

  1. Does it build carbon? – Instead of environmentalism by abandonment we should be environmental by participation, building the soil on our farms and properties through action rather than attempting to preserve it by inaction.
  2. Is it child friendly? – Can the landscape of your farm capture the imagination of a child? When your farm is child friendly, it means you are doing things right. No child want to play in a filthy stock yard or liquid manure pond, but running in green grass is every child’s playground.
  3. Is it being honoring? – By this, he asks is your farming system allowing the cowness of the cow, the pigness of the pig, and the chickeness of the chicken? By allowing these animals to fully express their natural behavior, you are allowing them to do what comes naturally, like a cow eating a diverse salad bar diet rather than feedlot corn.
  4. Equity is immaterial – Equity, the value of your farm, should not be placed in the buildings and infrastructure. Instead, it should be put into management, skills, people, information and customers. Mr. Salatin said he could loose his farm tomorrow, but he would still have his skills, his knowledge and his customers and could start from the bottom again.
  5. When innovation is encouraged – Innovation is what breathes life into cultures and businesses, allowing for new and greater opportunities and when discouraged is a sign of decline.
  6. It increases the commons (anyone can do it) – It adds to the general knowledge and community rather than draining it.
  7. Easy to enter, easy to exit – It means having nimble infrastructure, being able to start and stop without having to worry about the kind of massive baggage that we sometimes think we need to try something new.
  8. When the decision of what we’re doing is consistent across all fields – When our choices are agreed upon in our moral, spiritual, and financial interests. “Does what you believe in the pew come across on the menu?”
  9. That the model is appropriate for both developed and undeveloped countries – Could what you are doing here in America, transition well into a country like Libera? Most systems that can’t will violate the earlier benchmarks and be too clunky to be well managed in the long run.
  10. Does it scale both up and down? – Could you decide to add more pigs or reduce more pigs? With your farming system, does it require a minimum to run it, or could you work with how ever many you wanted? With salad bar beef you can add as many as you have land for, or reduce to only one or two, your choice.

These are, as best as my notes and recollection can manage, the Ten Benchmarks of Truth given by Joel Salatin. He encouraged his audience to take them home and try them, to see which ones they agreed with and disagreed with, but from his experience, these are the Ten he has seen.

Conclusion

Most the conferences I’ve attended are distinctly farmer, what surprised me about this one was that it wasn’t. I had forgotten that it was the Mother Earth News Fair, and consequently a great many of the attendees were people who read the magazine and have an interest in homesteading. This was rather encouraging, as it reminded me that there are a great many people out there who may not be farmers, but still are interested in learning more about us and supporting us.

Curious to visit a fair yourself? Take a look at the link and look for one near you. http://www.motherearthnewsfair.com/

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