Jen UbelakerWe attended our first Mother Earth News Fair during its inaugural year in Puyallup, Washington. (Mother Earth News is GRIT's sister publication.) It was a bit of a drive for us but we figured we were starting a new life and the information would be worth the hassle involved.  So, when we saw that this year's West Coast fair would be moved to Albany, Oregon, we posed the same questions we did during our first trip. Albany is a six-hour drive from our home. We'd have to kennel the dog and wrangle “chicken-sitters” to check on the girls and the garden because the forecast was triple-digit temperatures for the weekend. Not to mention the fuel and lodging for the two of us. Would the benefit outweigh the costs involved? Turns out it was a resounding yes.

It was a little strange for us because the fair didn't start until 10 in the morning. We've grown accustomed to early rising and, even with the hotel's blackout curtains, we were up with the sun. Hubby got a nice walk in and we tried our best to relax, but we're not really built for just sitting with nothing to do. We headed for the fairgrounds early in the hopes that we could at least wander a bit there, and thankfully the doors were open.

The first presentation we saw was “Growing Elderberries for Health and Profit” with Terry Durham. A couple of years ago, my sister-in-law introduced us to elderberry tinctures, and after our first winter of healthy respiration we decided to try and grow some for ourselves. It's kind of our M.O. We try something, and if it works, we try to figure out how we can make it or grow it for ourselves, and elderberries are no different. The presentation was geared a little bit more towards commercial growers than hobbyists, but the information was solid. We learned about cultivation, harvesting, and the different varieties of berries that we could grow. I'm looking forward to applying the knowledge in our own backyard this year. Our plants have grown from sticks and are now beginning to flower, so we're hopeful that we can become good stewards. Durham also gave us a great recipe for fruit shrub syrup, and I've got some strawberry-flavored shrub chilling in the fridge right now.

We were then lucky enough to catch a portion of a presentation about aged cheese with Gianaclis Caldwell. Once again, we've tried cheese, we like it, so how can we do it at home? I've been making soft cheeses and having some success, and Ms. Caldwell had terrific information about how to make and age cheese. Hubby was intrigued by her home-built cheese press and I could see his wheels turning. I'm expecting a new press in short order.

Next on our list was the presentation “Hot Ferments” with Christopher and Kirsten Shockey. It was an overview and demonstration of how to make fermented hot sauces. Hubby is growing a lot of different varieties of peppers this year, and when I was staring at the seedlings in the greenhouse this spring I wondered just what we would do with all of them. Now we know. We really enjoyed this presentation. The Shockeys are fun and informative, and they showed us the fermentation basics as well as two different techniques for making the pepper mash needed for hot sauces. Our only disappointment was that their book was sold out in the bookstore. 

After that whirlwind, we took a turn around the poultry show and caught up with Pat Foreman for her “Home Poultry Processing” presentation. Pat is fun and funny, and was a great resource for a subject that we have been discussing at our urban homestead. We have a coop and chickens, but we also have neighbors. How can we handle processing our birds in such a way that our home isn't viewed as the neighborhood abattoir? Pat had a lot of great ideas and tips for home processors that we will be grateful to have when the time comes.

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