I have to admit that when I arrived for the Mother Earth News Fair in Pennsylvania I was in a pretty marginal mood already. I had spent the day touring Carnegie Mellon University with my son, Ryan, and fell in love with their Computer Science program, as did he. But it is SO expensive! Why do universities need to be so crazy expensive?
Anyway, I was pondering the conundrum of cost vs. value in an undergraduate education as I drove the 2 1/2 hours from the Pittsburgh airport Seven Springs Resort where the MEN Fair was being held. It felt like it was in the middle of no-where, but a very beautiful no-where that was displaying a full pallet of stunning fall colors. I finally arrived at a mid-sized ski resort. I parked my car far from the doors to the lobby thinking that I could really use a stroll after all that walking anyway. I hauled my bags out of the back of the rental and trudged up the hill, then carried them up two flights of stairs (hadn’t anticipated that one!) and arrived at the registration desk puffing. That’s when the fun started.
“We have no record of you, Mrs. Bernstein. Perhaps it is under a different name?” We went through every name I knew from my publisher, who made the reservation. No luck. Then went to the one name I knew at Mother Earth News…James…something. Fortunately the woman next to the clerk I was dealing with overheard our discussion and said “Duft?” “Yes!” I exclaimed; relieved. They clerks discussed a “rouge” list of people from MEN that they had encountered the prior night and fortunately I was on it. Then my clerk said “your roommates” haven’t checked in yet. My roommates? At this point I was picturing an awkward middle-aged women hotel room slumber party, but she assured me that I was staying in a three-room condo with two other women. Ah…ok…that should be fine. So I got directions, carried my luggage back down the stairs, trudged back to my car, and started driving. And driving. It ends up this condo was almost a fifteen minute drive from the main resort property. I got inside, found no roommates yet, and also found no coffee for the morning or access to a glass of wine, which frankly I needed at that point.
I got back in the car and drove to a General Store I had seen on the way to the resort. It was a classic, right down to the large, amiable, bearded guy behind the counter and Maxwell House being the only brand of coffee. But no wine. He told me about another store “about six miles down the road, turn left, ya can’t miss it”. As I walked back outside with my breakfast supplies I was enveloped in a fog that had settled and visibility was severely limited. No wine tonight! Back to the resort, driving like an elderly lady with my hands at 10 and 2 and my face pressed forward towards the windshield.
I finally made it back to the condo…and couldn’t get in! The key had been demagnetized. Back to the car and another long trip back to the resort.
OK…you get the point. I’ll try to wrap this up! I did end up having a pair of roommates – author Deborah Niemann who wrote Homegrown and Handmade and her wonderful husband Mike. If you ever want to feel inferior, try spending the weekend with a pair of serious homesteaders! They arrived with a cooler of supplies that included heir own homemade goat cheese from their own goats!
The fair itself was incredible. They had fourteen stages going at any one time with speakers on topics ranging from “Raising Backyard Goats”, “The Zen of Herbal Jelly” and “Homemade Bread in 5 Minutes a Day”. The speakers included some of my heroes in the good food movement – Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms, Francis Moore Lappe, author of “Diet for a Small Plant”, and Joan Dye Gussow author of ”This Organic Life”. I was also able to meet other New Society authors such as Lisa Kivirist and John Ivanko who wrote “Farmstead Chef”, and David Tracey who wrote “Guerrilla Gardening”.
I spoke twice on Sunday, both times to packed rooms, and signed books for an hour. There was tremendous enthusiasm for aquaponics at the fair, which was really being introduced to the Mother Earth crowd at this event. My book sold out!
The event ended with an impromtu trip to a local winery with my roommates, who were now new friends. Dinner was followed by an evening snack of homemade goat cheese from the homegrown goats. A far better ending than the beginning of this trip, for sure!