Building Practical Skills for Household Resilience: Mother Earth News Fair Coming Up (Online)

“Uncle Sam expects you to keep and raise chickens,” says a charmingly illustrated poster from 1918 (which I saw on Facebook). “Two hens in the backyard for each person in the house will keep a family in fresh eggs.”

1918 goes down in history as the last year of World War I, and as the first year of the so-called “Spanish Flu” pandemic. Now, a century later, our “war” is on multiple fronts including obesity, hypertension, diabetes, malnutrition, topsoil depletion, declining biodiversity, food deserts, mental-health issues, addiction, and household economic stress. Add to that the recent disruption of essential supply lines by Covid-19, and we’ve got a perfect storm motivating us to learn “old-fashioned” skills such as growing a garden and raising small livestock.

Many people now are growing vegetables, learning to sew and bake, keeping bees, raising poultry. Many many other people are interested in doing these things but aren’t sure how to get started.

One way is good old YouTube; you can find detailed how-to videos for any skill you can possibly think of, from pickling to bicycle repair to natural building. But there’s so much content out there that it can be overwhelming. And the quality of the instruction varies.

That’s where attending a curated event comes in handy. Yesterday I took the plunge and signed up for the Mother Earth News Fair. This fair has been held in person in different locations around the USA since 2010, but this year it’s happening online. (Hooray!) Turns out the organizers had decided to try an online option this year anyway, and the pandemic just accelerated their plans.

The Fair offers eight courses: 1) DIY Skills (encompassing such skills as solar electricity, humanure composting, and DIY farm tools); 2) Food Independence (including edible yard, yogurt-making, and such), 3) Livestock (poultry, cows, goats, rabbits…); 4) Modern Homesteading (including honeybee husbandry, wildcrafting, mushroom survival skills); 5) Natural Health; 6) Organic Gardening; 7) Practical Skills (vermicomposting, mycoremediation, sheet mulching, etc.); 8) Real Food.

If you register by June 20, you get all eight courses for $20, comprising a total of 50+ videos. (After June 20, the price goes up to $20 per course, which is still a good deal, but I sure like being able to get the whole kitten caboodle for $20!)

Each vid is only 20-30 minutes long, which should be just right to get an overview and enough pointers to embolden you to go ahead and get started with some basic carpentry, herbal tinctures, or whatever the topic is. If you’ve ever watched instructional videos that are hours long and super detailed, you might have noticed that you run the risk of getting bogged down and never getting started. (At least, that’s what I tend to do!) And really when it comes down to it, the best way to learn is by doing.

Mother Earth News is a mag I’ve been reading for awhile. Their articles tend to be thorough, yet easy to follow. So I expect the online fair will be similarly high-quality. (Oh, and unlike an in-person fair, where you have to choose from among concurrent sessions and cannot attend them all, the online fair will offer the videos pre-recorded, and they’ll remain available for you to watch and re-watch anytime in the coming year.)

This also solves the problem I’ve sometimes had in the past, when I’ve attended a super packed conference and gotten all charged up and inspired, only to return home and not remember this or that info; not feel able to get started on my own. I don’t think I’m the only one: I’ve seen people attend a class on composting or solar cooking, and years later they still haven’t done anything with it. I’m thinking that the format of the Mother Earth News Online Fair might just be the “secret sauce” that helps people navigate past the usual blocks.

To see the full list of video topics, and to register for the fair, go here. I hope lots of you will sign up! Let me know if you do. If there’s enough interest, we could even form a mutual support and encouragement group. The course videos will be released on June 20.

Remember that 1918 chicken poster I mentioned at the beginning of this post? It says at the bottom: “In time of peace a profitable recreation; in time of war a patriotic duty.” Amen to that! We are now in a time of war on multiple fronts, but we can increase our peace by building household resilience skills — and sharing them with our communities.

Speaking of peace, the 1918 poster has a special note for parents: “An interested child, old enough to take a little responsibility, can care for a few fowls as well as a grown person.” There’s a world of freedom, empowerment, education, and even behavioral therapy packed into that simple little sentence! I’ve seen very young kids on farms be very skilled and very loving at taking care of animals, when they knew it was their responsibility. If schools end up having to close again, it could be that part of the secret to keeping kids engaged, busy, and learning at home is as simple as a few backyard chickens or veggies.