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Mother Earth News Fair

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We Are What We Read

Our family was recently honored in Mother Earth News (Aug/Sept 2012) as Homesteaders of the Year. Being avid readers, this occasion has us reflecting on some of the books that have most influenced our values and lifestyles over the years. We’ve borrowed library books and amassed a family reference library on a variety of topics including gardening, frugality and simplicity, crafts, food preparation and preservation, and spirituality. We’ve collected a range of plant and animal identification books as well as ones filled with naturalists musings.

We believe that connecting with a community of people working on similar goals and projects is important but that good books can often fill the role of a friend or mentor when a real one isn't around. Books have taught us new things, challenged us to go beyond what we already knew, inspired us, and sometimes purely entertained us.

As I, Barbara, wrote in my Mother Earth News nomination, my husband Alan’s first gift to me was Helen and Scott Nearing’s Living the Good Life. This classic, subtitled how to Live Sanely and Simply in a Troubled World, was the first book that popularized a back-to-the-land lifestyle.

The books we turn to regularly have changed, although some we go back to again and again, year after year. It was difficult to trim our list and so we are leaving out many favorites. We decided to include both some oldies and some newer books, especially ones that influenced Rebecca in her urban homesteading. Many books on this short list you may recognize as classics, while others hopefully are new to you.

We hope we can inspire you to pick up a new book or revisit an old standby for education or entertainment. And we’d like to hear about your favorites and suggestions.

Our Top 10

1. The Good Life by Helen and Scott Nearing – As mentioned, the original back-to-the-land manifesto.

2. The Whole Earth Catalog edited by Stewart Brand – Originally published annually in the late 1960s through the early 1970s; a helpful and almost-overwhelming compendium of counterculture resources.

3. Four Season Harvest by Eliot Coleman – Coleman is both respectful of tradition (where respect is truly due) and not afraid to challenge conventional farming and gardening techniques, making this season extension book one you'll turn to again and again for gardening techniques and solutions, new and old. (His Winter Harvest Handbook builds upon and adds to the information presented in this book, with more of a focus on production for market).

4. Your Money or Your Life: Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin – The authors created an inspirational 9-step program focusing on the difference between ‘making a living’ and making a life and computing how much life energy we use to consume products and services.

5. The Wisdom of No Escape by Pema Chodron – The go-to spiritual reference book in our family,  with short, easily digestible chapters, simple meditation instructions, and a down-to-earth approach to Buddhist philosophy that makes it accessible to people from all walks of life.

6. The Resilient Gardener by Carol Deppe – This is probably the gardening book that I, Rebecca, currently go back to most often, with lots of brand new to me, useful information, much of which I haven't found in other sources.

7. The One-Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukouka – While this book from a Japanese farmer doesn't contain much hands-on advice, it presents a unique philosophy of farming in a more natural way, honed over decades of trial, error, and observation of the natural world.

8. Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter – Well-written, humorous, and hopeful but realistic about the challenges of urban farming, this excellent book was one of the first to expose us to the concept of farming in the city.

9. Toolbox for Sustainable City Living by Scott Kellogg and Stacy Pettigrew – An excellent inspiration and reference for city dwellers interested in building a more sustainable life, including info on DIY aquaponics and greywater systems.

10. Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz – Part cultural history, part cookbook, this amazing book is the next best thing to having a friend or relative in the kitchen guiding you through the steps of fermentation, gently encouraging you, and giving you the courage to experiment.

Barbara Heller and Rebecca Heller-Steinberg presented a workshop at the 2012 Pennsylvania MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR. 

Please visit the FAIR website for more information about future FAIRs: June 1-2 in Puyallup, Wash., Sept. 20-22 in Seven Springs, Pa., and Oct. 12-13 in Lawrence, Kan. Tickets are on sale now. 

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