I left Virginia for the fair last Friday around 8:00 a.m. I had planned my route to Western PA on secondary roads to better enjoy the scenery, and they didn’t disappoint as they wound along rivers and over ridges covered with reddening trees.
I had driven through a snow of chicken feathers for several miles near Broadway, VA, when I overtook a truck on its way to a chicken processing plant.
As I passed the truck I could see that the condition of these birds was appalling: they couldn’t stand and were battered and dirty and missing huge patches of feathers over raw skin. And, sadly, this glimpse I got of them is only the last chapter in lives that we all know aren’t pretty. Seeing those birds made me even more firm in my conviction to not eat commercially produced poultry and to support the farmers who are raising birds in the ways that I would no doubt learn about at the fair.
I cruised up West Virginia valleys and over several mountain ranges before stopping for lunch at Warner’s German Restaurant outside of Cumberland, Maryland. A delicious brat and a mug of beer topped me up to continue on to Seven Springs.
I relied only on my iPhone’s mapping system—Google maps, not the much-maligned IOS6 Apple Maps—and it got me there with only one small operator error. But I was back on track in less than two minutes and along my detour stumbled upon the historic Burkholder covered bridge. In true road trip fashion, best to not plan too much and just roll with it—or through it!
I arrived around two, checked in to my room at the resort, and immediately hit the fair. I listened to the esteemed herbalist Rosemary Gladstar, whose book is my bedtime reading at home, talk about some of her favorite herbs. I was riveted by her. She is a beautiful woman with a shining spirit. If that’s what a lifetime of practicing herbalism gets you, I’ll chew up any number of the weeds growing in my yard and smear them on my face! Rosemary described making a tea and adding a certain flower—calendula, perhaps—to the mix. She said, “I put the gold in there because medicine should be beautiful.” What a wonderful concept, that healing happens with the eyes and that beauty can make and keep us healthy. Certainly that resonates with me and how I live my own life.
After Rosemary’s talk, I headed outside to the vendor tents. One large tent held all sorts of beautiful animals: chickens, geese, cows, pigs, goats, sheep, alpacas and llamas. The intelligent eyes of this llamas really struck me, and his haughty look was a bit unnerving.
I was most enamored of the Underhill Farm booth and their display of skeins of wool from their Leicester Longwool sheep. The owner of the sheep was giving a spinning demonstration and she made the action look both easy and supremely relaxing.
I don’t knit or crochet or know anyone who does, so I had to pass on the gorgeous skeins though they were beautiful enough to display massed in a basket or bowl.
I caught the tail end of Joel Salatin’s keynote about how biological-based systems can produce enough food to feed the world, and he was as charismatic and engaging as the myths make him out to be. Given the audience, I wasn’t surprised to hear almost-evangelically supportive hoots and hollers from the crowd in response to Joel’s statements, but it was curious and wonderful to hear such rock-concert behavior at a talk about the future of our food supply.
Next I headed to a talk on small-scale sustainable farming by David Kline, an Amish farmer.
What stuck out at me was a point David made about the importance of rest as a farmer, which may seem like a foreign concept to many devoted to a lifestyle that requires constant vigilance and recalibration. David’s family slows the grueling pace of farm life on Saturday afternoons, just like his parents and grandparents did, in preparation for the Sabbath. And, he says, one of the built-in checks that forces a healthy stopping point at the end of the day is that, “horses don’t have headlights.”
Then the talks were done for the day and I headed off the resort to find dinner. I stumbled upon the best pumpkin stand I’ve ever seen with a huge variety of beautiful squashes and gourds.
I couldn’t resist filling the back of my car with pumpkins for my parents to thank them for looking after the farm during my absence. Then back to rest, where the reading material provided in the hotel room was right up my alley: