Excursions / Garden of Eatin'

A Look Inside the National Heirloom Exposition

A look inside the National Heirloom Exposition

Last week was my first-ever visit to the National Heirloom Expo in Santa Rosa, and stepping onto the Sonoma County Fairgrounds was like stepping into a Garden Betty dream. Imagine booth after booth of produce porn, tables lined with late summer bounties, vendors serving up local, sustainable, and organic food, and a pop-up farm filled with fluffy sheep, alpacas, goats, rabbits, turkeys, chickens, and other fowl.

If you like to geek out on garden stuff, run an urban homestead or a full-scale farm, strive toward a life of self-sufficiency, or simply appreciate good food that comes from the earth, coming to the Heirloom Expo is like coming home.

Live entertainment stage

It’s the type of place where sheepherders, beekeepers, soil scientists, and food policy pundits come together with home gardeners, seed collectors, homebrewers, and wildcrafters. Duck into one of the speaker buildings any hour of the day, and you’ll find a presentation on everything from the benefits of biodynamic farming to the corporate takeover of organic agriculture.

Inside the food hall, the famous pumpkin tower loomed over 10 feet tall. (And I swear we did not coordinate our outfits beforehand.) Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds grew most of it on their seven acres of land to prepare for the show. I can only imagine how fun it must have been to harvest!

Pumpkin tower

Around it were impressive displays of squash, melons, tomatoes, mushrooms, garlic… almost every variety of vegetable and fruit under the sun. If you stayed until the end of the show on the last day, you could even take home your favorites, for free. (Whatever remained was donated to the Sonoma food banks.)

Food exhibits

Swan squash

Summer squash




Heirloom garlic

When I saw these adorable turbans, the theme song for Super Mario Brothers popped into my head!

Turban squash

What do you call a cucurbit that’s half pumpkin, half goat?

Half pumpkin, half goat

I passed intricate sculptures carved from watermelons, mobile gardens planted in the flatbeds of trucks, giant pumpkins sagging under their own tremendous weight (the winner came in at 1,427 pounds!), and garden exhibits demonstrating a range of techniques in permaculture, composting, and native planting.

Watermelon carving

Watermelon sculptures

Mobile garden

Mobile garden

Raised beds inside a truck

Beehive exhibit

Giant pumpkin contest

Giant pumpkin

Giant pumpkin

Giant pumpkin winner

Demonstration gardens

I finally met the crew from Boogie Brew and BriteTap face to face (both of whom make the best products for gardeners and chicken-keepers, and I’ll be telling you more about them soon!) and must have circled the fairgrounds at least three times, taking it all in. You know it’s a good show when you keep finding new things you missed the last time.

But I have to say, my favorite part of the day (aside from meeting some of you rockin’ readers for the first time!) was spending an afternoon at the poultry and livestock exhibits. I mean, how could you not love a face like this?


Or this?


Or bring in this picture for your hairdresser? (I think a Polish needs to be in my future!)

Polish hen

The chickens were quite the stylie crew, donning all manner of hats and hairdos.

Polish chicken

Heirloom chicken


Sporting a Cruella 'do

Punk rock chicken

Elegant tufts

Large wattles

And this lovely lady? It looked like she had a strawberry sherbert ear.

Adorable ears

I also saw sheep getting sheared for the first time. It was incredible to see the coat fall off in one piece, especially with some of those sheep sporting wool at least 6 inches thick. Touching freshly sheared wool left a thin layer of lanolin (or wool wax, as it’s known) on my hands, the same lanolin used in lotions to beautify our skin. No wonder the sheep were so soft.

After watching that demonstration, I’m still stunned that my fancy technical socks come from that nappy pile of wool. Farm to closet, truly.

Shearing a sheep

Shearing a sheep

Shearing a sheep

Shearing a sheep

Sheep's wool

About Author

I'm a plant lover, passionate road-tripper, and cookbook author whose expert advice and bestselling books have been featured in TIME, Outside, HGTV, and Food & Wine. The No-Waste Vegetable Cookbook is my latest book. Garden Betty is where I write about modern homesteading, farm-to-table cooking, and outdoor adventuring—all that encompass a life well-lived outdoors. After all, the secret to a good life is... Read more »


  • Erin Faith
    September 21, 2014 at 4:23 pm

    Linda, this looks like so much fun! Thanks so much for sharing this discovery. Love all the pics. It’s so colorful!

  • MaoMaoKitty
    September 18, 2014 at 4:13 pm

    What a wonderful recap! I get the Baker Creek catalog and always fantasize about going one year. Your photos have me convinced. It looks like heaven. Actually it almost looks like too much to handle for my garden loving mind, body, and soul. I could see myself needing a few intermissions from visual overload!

    • Linda Ly
      September 18, 2014 at 11:13 pm

      I didn’t realize how large this event would be; in hindsight, I should’ve allowed at least 2 days to really take it all in! (Especially since I wanted to hear some of the speakers.)


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