Report about the National Heirloom Expo

I wrote this in mid-September (ish).

I guess I’d better write these notes before I forget what I was going to say! Photos: 2016 National Heirloom Exposition

The Expo seemed smaller this year- in attendance, and in vendors. The first thing I noticed when I arrived at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds was that the ticket booth wasn’t open – instead, the Expo had its folks selling tickets from a table in front. I wonder if it was cheaper to rent the space without paying the folks in the ticket booth.

I went in and checked out the vendors. Lots of great stuff, as always, as well as some craft-type vendors that seem to always be “filler,” just taking up space. Chelsea Green was not there – they usually have a large area that must be 2-3 booths’ worth of space. Their books were available from other vendors such as Real Books. I ordered a book that I’d seen at their table last year 🙂 Oh, last year and the year before I think I saw Sandor Katz at this one booth where they sold homesteading supplies and some books and stuff- they weren’t there.

On the first day of the Expo, the Health Department came through and ticketed people who were giving out food without the proper permits. This caused an uproar that included Jere Gettle, the owner of Baker Creek Seeds, which runs this event via its Seed Bank in Petaluma, saying that the Expo might have to move to another city such as San Jose. The fact that he had other places in mind seems to imply that they’ve already been considering moving the event. Attendance seemed lower and I’d imagine that having fewer vendors was frustrating. The head of the Health Department resigned this week.

One thing that I’ve noticed about the vendors such as seed companies like Johnny’s Selected Seeds and our local Harmony Farm Supply is that nearly every company is focused on growing for summer, or summer growing by default. Here in the greater Bay Area we can grow food all year long. You’d think they’d have at least displays about winter growing, perhaps even selling season extension supplies or providing coupons to encourage folks to order them. Our local Natural Gardening Company had garlic bulbs and seed potatoes ($4 per pound? I could swear those are cheaper elsewhere), which was good to see.

Farmers. There are usually a half-dozen or so produce farmers in a spot near one of the exits. Is it possible that they were scared away by the health department? Soda Rock Farm was one of the few farms onsite (they primarily grow a lot of varieties of tomatoes). I did see the owners of Green Star Farm (who are never at the farmers’ markets I go to, even though my understanding is that owners have to be there once a month), but they were talking to each other when I went over to say hi.

I think there may have been one less building of exhibitors, which was weird. One of the best things that I found was the kids’ building. We showed up there to find the kids’ seed exchange. Matt Powers, the host of the Permaculture Tonight podcast, was mc’ing up on stage, and there happened to be watermelon sampling there in the same building! Yay! There was a table for coloring (pages from a coloring book that was available for sale, lol), and there were displays about seed saving and who knows what else! There were games being played outside (sack races and whatnot), but we didn’t make it outside in time to see them.

We never went to the animal area. I always enjoy seeing the animals, although I’m always nervous about picking up animal diseases on my shoes. My poultry husbandry instructor is a veterinarian, and he told us about how diseases are often spread at county fairs. The animals are housed in the fairgrounds’s barns.

I didn’t get to hear any speakers this year. There were some repeat speakers, which is nice for new folks, but kind of frustrating for someone who wonders who else is out there in the “real food” movement. I am always so annoyed at the “real food” thing that Baker Creek espouses. Yes, it’s nice to focus on heirloom varieties, but HOW they are grown is so important. Organic or Certified Naturally Grown certification answer so many questions that customers need to ask.

I love that there are vendors of healthy foods, although the $15 burger from the Fork Catering food truck was brutally expensive. I didn’t see a Petaluma Pie Company table. I’m hoping that this is because things are going so well for them at their restaurant in Petaluma, and not because they didn’t think the event would be financially worth-it.

The displays of squash were beautiful, as always. The old-timey music, especially Sideshow Slim, was annoying, as always. He does this weird self-deprecating thing between songs (I think he probably has pretty bad depression) where he also makes some kind of nasty comments about women, and I don’t like it. Old-fashioned sexism is still sexism. The worst part is that he always says the same lines between songs. He’s an amazing musician, though- he demonstrated 2 styles of yodeling!! The kids, including mine, loved dancing in front of the stage.

T had so much fun that weeks later, when we’d drive near the Fairgrounds, he would ask if the Expo is there, and when it will happen again. I hope that the National Heirloom Expo will be back in Santa Rosa next year!

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