Porcfest: A Freedom Experiment
A story about free markets and finding customers at a libertarian festival in New Hampshire.
Imagine a place where you had the freedom to be your true self. Not the self you present at work or home, but the unhinged version of you? What would that look like?
Now take that level of freedom and think about whether it would work or get watered down when one thousand people have the same freedom to be their truest self?
With most material goods, getting 1/1000th of a unit when you expected to get a whole unshared unit would be disastrous. In monetary terms, revenues plunging to 1/1000th of their original value would shut down governments and businesses.
But when it comes to freedom, something magical happens.
No one has to die for a person to have freedom. You don’t even have to dress differently. Two folks can have and share freedom just fine. And this level of freedom scales up.
I recently returned from a festival/conference called Porcfest. The “Porc” stands for porcupine, the animal mascot of the Free State Movement. In most settings the porcupine is peaceful, but can be prickly when provoked.
The goal of the Free State movement is to get 20,000 people to move to New Hampshire in 5 years. The end goal is to reside in the state that values freedom the most and ensure those grassroots values also appear in local and state government (and every tier in between) and fuel activism against injustice.
The Free State has recently met their goal.
I have been attending Porcfest for 3 years, and the first year I represented Bitcoin Magazine, sold magazines, gave away 3d printed Bitcoin related swag, and sat on a panel where new Bitcoin users could ask our writers any Bitcoin question they wanted.
Most of those activities I planned in advance. The things I couldn’t plan for was the friendships I made and how easy it was to form a community. You would think with folks exercising their right to carry a gun, little kids exercising their right to run, and everyone else having fun, something catastrophic would happen. But a lot of very good things happened instead.
If Porcfest was a slice of future New Hampshire freer life, then these are the prominent notes from my first visit.
- It is extremely easy to meet someone new.
- This event is a meta experiment.
It is still true that those who already know each other will typically stay together, but there is a great effort to widen existing circles.
Porcfest is arranged on Rogers Campground which is surrounded by mountains and valleys that are so grand and distant they are a spectacle unto themselves. There is a section called Agora Valley, where merchants can set up shop and sell their wares farmer’s market style. If you walk down the descending incline of the road, you end up in a large grassy field with three tents set up for talks, panels, and dance parties.
I forgot to mention a fourth tent, but it seems more like a shade tent because it often will have tables with board games, and gamers playing late into the night.
With all these spaces virtually roped off for a market, discourse, and play, anyone could find themselves spending quality time with strangers which by the end of the night become friends.
If you could sell anything tomorrow, where you knew hundreds or thousands of people could try your product, what would you make?
Porcfest is an excellent place to bring you pet projects and see who will buy and get your hands dirty with the logistics involved in serving a lot of people over 7 days.
Probably one of most beautiful examples I saw of a clever marketing gimmick, was a group of young adults, vaping and meandering in the field. Some how they got a hold of bubbles and proceeding to blow vape bubbles. Each bubble had a tiny pocket of vapor that would float weightlessly as it travelled in the bubble, and slowly disperse when the bubble popped.
A lot of who we are is shaped by the content we consume, and everyone was free to assemble their schedule and challenge their mind with some of the sharpest libertarian and anarchist thought leaders.
The non-commerce experiments I saw where, women dressed like men, men dressed like women, aliens dressed as dogs, drones disguised as birds, and one troll who drove around in a police car.
I spent 4 months settling on an idea, then realizing it was better to cast a wide net, and let my customers show me what they valued.
I planned to share a site in the second row, which had excellent foot traffic, but my desire to have a wide net of products got me kicked out of my spot.
A week before Porcfest, I emailed, messaged, and called everyone I knew until I was able to secure a lower foot traffic location.
I spent months planning out my booth and made sure everything looked good, but at first no one came.
I was delayed due to a rain storm, and after the rain cleared, I still struggled to be seen by customers.
Then as the sunlight started fumbling its way through the clouds, folks started asking me about my herbal cigarettes.
I called my experiment Afterleaf, because I wanted to explore products along the life cycle of plants. I had been gardening for 9 years and this venture seemed to match what I did with my free time.
Leading up to Porcfest, I realized that most of the plants I considered weeds, where actually used as medicine by Native Americans. Some were actively used in the Middle Ages and even further back in time.
The five-leafed aggressive vine turned out to be Virginia Creeper, which can be used to treat head lice. The plant that would stain my fingers with an orange fluid was Celandine, which was used to help with warts.
I continued to read and research plants I had been inadvertently tending to and found other herbs available online. Several of these herbs were also smokable and I tried many out with no noticeable effect.
Then after a few days of more experiments, I created four blends that had very noticeable affects.
Sunrise Blend: Slowly increased energy levels and focus similar to caffeine without the energy spike and drop.
Flow Blend: Uplifting feeling with a brief burst of euphoria.
Meditate Blend: Originally called Meditation, this blend is a more mellow and longer lasting version of Flow.
Pillow Blend: The perfect body relaxer before bedtime.
When I presented my herbal cigarettes, some people doubted any non-cannabis blend could have a noticeable effect, but they were surprised after the first smoke.
I had apparently found my market, the people who were looking for a milder high.
After a few days, I noted a very high percentage of folks bought the herbal cigs after I told them my story and what herbs I used. This resulted in me having to walk back to my booth and walk back to the customer with their order.
Eventually, the best way for me to do businesses, was to tote around a backpack with my product and a large Bitcoin address QR code on the back, so virtually anyone could pay me anywhere.
During the last days, most of my sales were made walking around and talking to people or while I making cigarettes and replenishing my inventory in the shade tent surrounded by gamers.
In this week after paradise, I am a bit sad that it isn’t as easy to set up a booth and sell in my everyday surroundings as it is in Porcfest.
But I still marvel that this festival in the middle of New Hampshire could take in anyone and give them the freedom to find friends, fun, and purpose.