Being a vendor at Turtle Island Preserve’s “Families Learning Together” Event

“Natural living” is a diamond of many facets. As a member of society, intertwined within our regular, every day lives, we see glints of the desire to return to the natural world through people’s interest in products. Examples of these products come in the form of skin care products, essential oils, kombucha and other fermented beverages and the desire to purchase Non-GMO, organic vegetables and seeds.

Eustace Conway, owner of Turtle Island, takes the desire to live a natural life to new heights.  From the Turtle Island Website:

Turtle Island Preserve is the “Brain Child” of Eustace Conway. He inherited the vision of earth stewardship and betterment of man from his maternal grandfathers’ legacy of Camp Sequoyah, founded in 1924. Turtle Island today, is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit education center, a continuation of this rich educational family heritage.

Our programs celebrate lifestyle practices of earlier people from our great grandparent’s time, back into prehistory. We orient to the basic foundation of where things come from and where things go. We plant and harvest in our gardens, milk goats, make cheese, craft bowls, spoons and tools of all size and description. We hunt and gather wild foods and medicines and natural resources abounding in our huge natural preserve. We cook exclusively over fire, gathering our own wood. We completely made the many buildings of our farmstead; carved literally right from the wilderness.

For the second year in a row, Ancient Earth Bamboo attended Turtle Island Preserve’s “Families Learning Together” Event as a vendor.  We were greeted with open arms by the Turtle Island staff of volunteers, who voiced their happiness in having us return to “The Island.”  They allowed us to set up a tent the Friday night before the event.  We were invited to gather with the staff for a meal cooked entirely without electricity in the Turtle Island kitchen.  We enjoyed our choice of chili, vegetable soup, homemade bread and kale salad with a pomegranate dressing.

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After our meal, we hand washed our dishes using a 6 tray method, beginning with a compost scrape and ending with a bleach bath.  We then proceeded to the open fire pit, where we got to know each other until the sun went down.  One interesting aspect of a visit to Turtle Island, is that you are truly under open skies .  The moon was almost full during our visit. It cast a kind night light, unhindered by any electric light pollution.  I have never seen the stars so clearly.  I even got to see a shooting star, upon which I kindly placed a wish.

As we entered deeper into the night, the kind moon failed to provide us with the warmth of it’s planetary neighbor, the sun– and the temperatures began to drop, quickly.  Aaron fired up a coal burning stove we purchased years ago from Craigslist.  Instead of placing this stove’s original fuel into the belly of the beast, we used bamboo scraps from the multiple crafting sessions.  Bamboo burns HOT and fairly slow as a fuel inside a cast iron stove.  We collected new friends that night around our “campfire.”

As our bamboo scraps began to wear thin, we decided to add wood to the fire that our children had collected for us earlier in the evening.  The heat lowered, and we all bundled up to each other and begged for the bamboo to come back to release more heat for us.  The wood just didn’t burn as hot as the bamboo!  Rhizomes, nodes and split bamboo particles to the rescue!  The heat had returned, thanks to bamboo.

The morning of the festival, we awoke and set up our pop up tent and crafting wares.  Aaron set up a bamboo splitting station, and gave numerous demonstrations throughout the day– sharing his knowledge about bamboo.

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Ancient Earth Bamboo’s 2017 vendor booth at Turtle Island Preserve.
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Booth visitors discuss the traditional Japanese Blade that AEL owner, Aaron McCarty, uses to split bamboo.
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Ancient Earth Bamboo Owner, Aaron McCarty, shows visitors where a shakuhachi flute is harvested from a whole bamboo cane.

We didn’t make much money at the event– but that wasn’t why we were there.  We achieved our plan to spread our knowledge about bamboo in America.  Many questions about bamboo were asked by attendees of the event.  Children and adults held pieces of this strange plant, most of whom were completely unfamiliar with bamboo!  One child that I spoke with had never even seen a bamboo plant before.  We happily shared information and encouraged people to pick up our wares.  Slowly, people seemed to truly understand just how versatile bamboo can be.  As a multi-functional plant, the cups, bowls, necklaces, headpieces, basket an tray that we had on display were small examples of how bamboo can be used in our everyday lives.

Many of the items we placed on our booth table were “oddities”, there for people to touch and hold and inspect.  One visitor to our booth asked which animal we had taken a bamboo node from!  He believed what he was holding in his hand (a bamboo node) to be a bone from an animal!

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Aaron McCarty gives a Shakuhachi Flute Demonstration to visitors at Turtle Island Preserve’s “Families Learning Together” event.

It is hard to summarize just how wondrous of a place Turtle Island Preserve really is.  The below post, written after last year’s Families Learning Together event, does a pretty good job evoking the emotions you’d experience after being a part of this event:

This weekend, Aaron, myself and the boys went to Turtle Island Preserve for their “Families Learning Together” event. We set up a booth for Aaron’s business, Ancient Earth Bamboo. We centered the theme of the booth around bamboo.

This was a magical event. We were the only vendors (that I am aware of) who camped both Friday and Saturday night on site at the preserve. Turtle Island Preserve is the property of Eustace Conway, who you may have seen on television in the show “Mountain Men”. This man has been living off grid for quite some time now. He is a legend, in my opinion.  Aaron got to shake his hand. They talked for a few minutes. I watched them from afar (I was keeping up with the boys). It wasn’t long before I saw Eustace smiling, laughing and clapping his hands together while talking to Aaron. He told Aaron that he admired His passion for bamboo.  Great things ahead!!! ❤️🔆

If that last paragraph wasn’t powerful enough for you, then hold on to your hat. We also got to dine from the Turtle Island kitchen with the volunteers and staff who helped with the event. They invited us up for a warm meal, cooked entirely without electricity.

At the end of the night, we sat around the fire and listened to an incredible female vocalist and talented guitarist. Everyone was so peaceful and content. Our boys sat at the front of the crowd in little wooden rocking chairs, about a foot away from Eustace who stood next to the fireplace, leaning against the side of the handmade structure, feeling the love of the moment, swaying to the music.

I teared up a bit, because it was so beautiful to witness and be a part of. We were surrounded by free, loving people who had gathered together because of our collective love of nature and care for the Earth. We sat together, surrounded by hundreds of acres of North Carolina Mountains, with stars and moonlight unimpeded by light pollution.

I long for this life. My life is enriched because of the experience that was this weekend. We didn’t make any money at our booth (what we did make we spent at the event)- but the money is not why we decided to go. We were paid in something you can’t buy– community, freedom and the greater good. We are blessed. ❤️

I may be employed as a photographer, but I took only three pictures the entire weekend. I wanted to store the feelings, the warmth and the memories as pictures in my mind. I do not regret that decision. Here’s one photo I captured just before sunset on my device. Turtle Island is quite simply, magical and wondrous. We will be back.

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As you can see, we were able to experience many of last year’s emotions at this year’s event.  Our 2017 adventure to Turtle Island Preserve ended with yet another invitation to a warm cooked meal.  We enjoyed two flavors of chicken: Barbecue and Curry with a side of hominy and rice.  Our six year old, who normally doesn’t enjoy eating meat, tore into his chicken leg, devouring all of the meat from the bone.  Our three year old seemed to remember last year’s visit, as he shared after the meal how it was time for him to sit by the fire in the little rocking chair.

We will see you next year, Turtle Island!

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Article by:  Wendy McCarty

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