Something has always kept me from going to Maker Faire. Partially due to the fact that it’s in San Mateo and I’m in Oakland. And the fact that I just don’t feel cool enough. What can I say? I’m a blocked crafter and I feel woefully inadequate in the face of all these clever people who can create sculptures of felt, make things run with steam, and invent solar powered robots – all while dressed in Renaissance Faire meets Burning Man costumes.
But as the author of an upcoming cookbook called DIY Delicious, I figured I had to go this year. I resolved to make the trip, provided I could avoid driving a car to get there.
The website helpfully provided directions for biking from BART. All I had to do was get on the train in Oakland with my bike, stay there for 50 minutes until the final Millbrae stop and then bike five suburban miles to The San Mateo County Fairgrounds, where The Silicone Valley Bicycle Coalition would be offering free valet bicycle parking. The Faire also offered a $5 discount in admission for individuals biking to the event. Bonus points!
The Faire was different than I imagined. A little more Burning Man and a little less Mother Earth News than I expected. The home-oriented DIY activities – things like gardening, raising chickens, making food products, canning, herbal home remedies, etc. kind of got lost among the blingy fire and steam arts, art cars, and sculptures, but there were definitely some fun things to do for those with an interest in the arts of the home.
Here are a few of the highlights of the day:
The Homegrown Village was where those interested in living more sustainably and self-reliantly could go to learn skills. Over the two days, there were demos on yogurt, fermentation, beekeeping, sprouting, installing greywater systems and more.
On Sunday, I attended a bacon demo by Karen Solomon, author of Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It. She did a great job of demystifying the process, all while keeping the audience laughing. I especially love that she teaches how to do it without a fancy smoker. All you need is a small grill. The bacon was delicious, by the way. And she shares the recipe on her website.
Mini Mushroom Farms from Far West Fungi. These not only look incredibly cool, but also are especially wonderful for people with shady yards or no space at all.
Plants on Walls lets you grow food in tiny spaces, or create a living wall of greenery. They are economical and easy to install. The panels are made from recycled/recyclable materials, are non-toxic and water efficient.
Got a tool that hurts your hand, or simply doesn’t quite work right? Sugru is an insanely simple material for helping you hack things better. It’s brilliantly green because it extends the life and usefulness of things you already own. And it’s empowering to be able to take charge of making things in your home work for you. Check out the website. There are tons of great ideas for hacking things better.
Rock the Bike, a group of inventors and bike advocates in Berkeley, California, whose dream is to help spread the spirit of the bike into the broader culture, was powering a band called the Fossil Fool.
Harnessing the power of technology to help facilitate local economies and bring people together to share skills can absolutely lead to more sustainable lifestyles. I discovered two new technological tools at Maker Faire.
Local Dirt, founded in Madison but with a national reach, is a brilliantly designed online database to help farmers sell their products to local buyers and help buyers find local products they wouldn’t otherwise know about or have access to.
Consumers can search by location, venue, or product. Farmers can use a simple blog interface to add products easily. The key thing here that makes this tool different from other online ethical sourcing tools is that it scales up to large institutional buyers including schools, grocery stores, and hospitals. This is where its huge potential lies in rebuilding a more localized and regionalized food system on a larger scale.
It’s also a great business model that looks like it could be financially sustainable. Use of the site is free for individuals, buying clubs, farmers’ market managers, and small farmers, while yearly membership costs are scaled for businesses, larger farms, and distributors. It also makes small farmers lives more sustainable by freeing them up to farm instead of driving to numerous small farmers markets that take up their precious time and are often not cost-effective.
Unclasses is a site that connects people who want to learn something with those who can teach it. Anyone at all can add a class and teach it themselves. Users can also browse the site and join any of the numerous classes on everything from handyman skills to making a Persian stew. It’s a young site that is mostly San Francisco Bay Area focused because that’s where the founders are, but I can see it growing. Classes are free with some donations for materials.
When you sign up for a class or to teach a class you can share it on your Facebook or Twitter page so your friends can join too. The idea behind the site is casual learning. According to the website, “Casual learning is for people like us, who have hectic lives and struggle to find fun and interesting ways to satisfy their intellectual curiosity in the limited free time they have. Think of it as educational snacking, a low-touch way to explore topics that interest you.”
All ages, learning to knit.
All in all, I’m happy I went to Maker Faire. One of the coolest things about it from an eco-perspective, is seeing so many people with children at the site. Children were building things out of recycled materials, tinkering, sewing, knitting, and exploring a whole world of things that you can’t buy at a suburban shopping mall. And that’s the real beauty of Maker Faire – showcasing the ingenuity of us humans, while teaching our children and reminding ourselves that we can use what we already own to make something new and that great things don’t always come from stores.
This is the latest installment in Vanessa Barrington’s weekly column, The Green Plate, on the environmental, social, and political issues related to what and how we eat.
Images: Vanessa Barrington