A couple weeks ago I made my first visit to Texas for the Mother Earth News Fair. Wanting to make the best use of my time and the rental car, I scheduled my flights so that I would arrive by noon on Friday and leave close to 5pm on Monday. Since I have an interest in fiber, I checked ahead online to see if there were any interesting yarn shops near where I would be traveling and found Yarnorama. Their website indicated that it was in an old renovated store and that the owner, Susan Fricks, had grown cotton. It sounded like my kind of place.
I flew into Austin and drove 40 miles east to Paige, TX and found Yarnorama. I had envisioned it to be in a town with other shops. That store might have been part of a going town at one time, but there wasn’t much there now, except for Yarnorama, of course, which is hopping when spinning, weaving, and knitting groups meet there regularly. I enjoyed chatting with Susan and she did know about cotton. She told me that I could bring out more color in my vest by washing it in an alkaline solution, suggesting washing soda. Well, I bought a small box of baking soda on the way to the hotel and added some to the water when I washed one side of the front of my homegrown cotton vest in the sink in my room to try out the idea. It is a pH thing and you could tell the difference! I hadn’t realized you could change the color of cotton by changing the pH. Thanks Susan!
I made it to the hotel that evening and met up with my friends. Besides the wonderful people I meet at my talks and around the Fair, these events are an opportunity to hang out with other authors and speakers, publishers, and the Mother Earth News staff in the off hours. Where else could we have that kind of opportunity? Besides the chance to get to know one another better, a lot of information gets passed around during these times.
I gave three talks in two days at the Bell County Expo Center in Belton, Texas—From Seed to Garment, Planning for Cover Crops in Your Garden Rotation, and Seed Libraries and Other Seed Share Initiatives. I was delighted to see that the Ploughshare Institute had a number of booths there, in particular one about fiber arts, complete with spinning wheels and looms. They also had kits for sale that included tahkli spindles (the kind I use for my cotton) and support dishes for them in either pottery or wood, all made by folks in their community. I enjoy it when I can let those who attend my presentations know where they can get supplies or seeds related to my talk. Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and Brim Seed Company had cotton seeds for sale.
When preparing this year’s talks I had to find information to make my cover crop presentation relative to the Texans with a very different climate than mine. The last spring frost in Belton, TX is around March 11-20 (my date is April 25) and the first fall frost can be expected about November 21-32 (I usually expect it toward the end of October). Gardening slows there in the hot dry days of August. If you understand the concepts in garden planning, you can adapt the information to your climate. I really like the Plant / Harvest Schedule that I offer as a free download on my website, but when playing with it to see how some crops would look using Belton’s frost dates, I had to do some cutting and taping on the worksheet I was using to add more weeks on both ends of the season. You can grow some of the same crops there as you could grow in Virginia or even Maine, but you would want to look for different varieties that do the best in each climate.
The fairgoers were wonderful! They were so appreciative that the Mother Earth News Fair finally came to Texas. I enjoyed meeting them and had some great conversations, including one with a woman I met in the line at the MEN bookstore who told me she had my cover crop DVD and it changed her life. Now that she knew about my books, she added them to her purchases. Besides the presentations and the books, there are vendor booths that offer so many great things—things you may have heard about, but hadn’t actually seen, and things that are new to you. Attending a Mother Earth News Fair is like walking into a place where the magazine opened up and the writers, advertisers, and everything else came to life.
That Saturday I attended a brunch sponsored by Purina to showcase their new line of organic poultry feed. The spokeswoman was pretty proud of helping bring that project to the public. If there is enough interest, Purina will expand their line of organic feed. I am a Mother Earth News blogger and on Sunday I attended a blogger lunch, along with two people who each blog about cooking—one was a cookbook author and the other a rocket scientist. Yes, it was an interesting time.
I had much of the day on Monday to enjoy before my flight home, so I drove an hour north to Homestead Heritage Craft Village, which is where my new friends from the Ploughshare Institute were. To quote from their website, “Homestead Heritage is an agrarian-and craft-based intentional Christian community. Its literature stresses simplicity, sustainability, self-sufficiency, cooperation, service, and quality craftsmanship.” The Craft Village is open to the public and has a fiber arts cottage, blacksmith shop, pottery house, grist mill, cheese-making house, and a woodworking and fine furniture-making shop. There is also a restaurant and General Store on the property. Classes are given in each of these areas through the Ploughshare Institute. If you can’t make it there, you could bring the classes to your home through their online program.
I was met by Sue who heads up the fiber arts department and given a great tour. It turns out that they are experimenting with growing flax and planted it in the fall, since it gets too hot, too fast to plant it in the spring. It was flowering now. Quality craftsmanship was evident throughout the Village.
I wasn’t the only one involved with the Mother Earth News Fair who was there that morning. E.J., Ingrid, and two authors from New Society Publishers, Jerome Osentowski (Chelsea Green author), Ira and Gordon from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, and Joel Salatin and his wife Theresa were there. We were being shown around by different people we had met at the Fair and our paths kept crossing. The New Society folks had to head to the airport, but the rest of us stayed for lunch.
Jerome and I had lunch in the restaurant with the weaving class. Over lunch I had an opportunity to talk with Kay, who I had become friends with over cotton spinning at the Fair. I only had the briefest time to talk with Butch who is involved with their gardening program. Their gardening practices are very much like mine. Butch already knew me through my DVDs and has now become familiar with my books. I hope to make it back to Texas to the Mother Earth News Fair and to Homestead Heritage. I didn’t know what to expect on my first visit to the Lone Star state, but I felt welcome wherever I went.