Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

Add to My MSN



Dream sequence begins…. 

 I am one of those incredibly good-looking people. My whole life has been easy because of my natural good looks. I’ve always got the best jobs. I’ve always had the best opportunities. I’ve always earned more than my less attractive co-workers. Young attractive women give me their seat on the bus. Companies want me to work for them because I just look so darn good. Life has just been a walk in the park because of my incredible good looks…. 

Dream sequence ends. 

OK, I lied. That was just a fantasy dream sequence. Dream sequences are a very effective art form. They must be because David Chase constantly used them in “The Sopranos.” 

I’m not that good looking, haven’t really had many jobs working for other people, and women don’t have the opportunity to give me their seat because I’m a bad environmentalist and rarely take public transit.

Through the magic of Facebook I did recently learn that Kim, the vice-president of the Student’s Council at my high school, had a crush on me. Nice. She waited 35 years to tell me this…

It wouldn’t have mattered though. I had already met Michelle in Grade 12 and there was no need to keep looking for the perfect woman (Michelle’s note: this isn’t exactly what Cam wrote here, but close enough.) Michelle apparently found me attractive since in high school I think this is what most of us use as the main criteria for mate selection. I think she also found me funny. She used to laugh at my jokes.

Have you ever noticed that over time your spouse doesn’t laugh quite so often at your comic material? At the start of any relationship it’s all “Oh, you’re so funny!” Laugh out loud funny. Over time Michelle stopped laughing and would only just smile at my jokes and antics. Then eventually she stopped even smiling at my incredible comic genius and instead she just rolls her eyes most of the time.

Usually the key to good comedy is to just change the audience. I can always get a laugh from people who don’t know me. That’s easy. The challenge is in keeping those audiences that come back to the comedy club night after night (i.e. your spouse) entertained.

Over time I’ve learned that it’s a good strategy to hedge your bets and I began to believe in the Red Green philosophy of long-term relationship building. Red Green would end his duct-tape-inspired shows with this little nugget of wisdom;

“And remember men, if the women don’t find you handsome, they should at least find you handy.”

I have come to rely on this axiom more and more as we approach 35 years of being together. This is not easy for me since I’m actually not the “handiest” of men. Oh sure, if Michelle wants a fancy newsletter published or an eBook created, I’m there for her. Those are skills that I have. But if the toilet is plugged up, that’s another story.

Since moving to our little piece of paradise I have been working on my “handiness quotient” very hard. When we first moved into this house there were only 2 bedrooms and one large open space upstairs. We used bookshelves to delineate a space for Katie’s bedroom. Eventually she requested a “real” bedroom and so I built her a wall. It included receptacles and light switches and even a door that works!

When the girls started high school we decided that one bathroom wasn’t enough to handle the morning “rush,” so I converted a large walk-in closet upstairs into a bathroom. This included a toilet and sink and light fixtures that worked … the whole nine yards. The fact that I put this new bathroom into a house that was built in 1888 when indoor plumbing didn’t exist made it all the more challenging. As always, I have my neighbor/coach Ken Gorter to thank for my newly acquired skills.

When we put up the new Bergey wind turbine on a 100 ft tower, I did it. The whole thing. The digging, the concrete work, the assembling of the tower, the wiring…. Everything. When we needed a chicken coop, I built it. When the starting motor went on my old green truck, I put a rebuilt one in myself (with Ken’s coaching). When we decided to put in a solar thermal hot water system with all of the plumbing and electrical work and the hot water tank and the welding of the steel frame, I did that. Including the welding.

So when the kitchen tap recently needed fixing, I was up to the challenge. It had been dripping for a long time. But I’d been lazy. I just kept plastic jugs under the tap to catch the drips and used the water to fill the kettle or to water plants. The water never went to waste. But it was kind of annoying. I took it apart once and couldn’t fix it the easy way, so I decided to replace the cartridge.

So once I had purchased a new cartridge, I took it apart again and messed around with washers that weren’t the right size and all the other little things that seem to go wrong with every do-it-yourself project. And then, it hit me! Fixing the leaky tap would, no doubt, put me way up on the “handy” spousal rating scale, but I knew I could do even better!

Years ago Dan Aykroyd did a skit on Saturday Night Live in which he played a refrigerator repairman. And while he was busy repairing a fridge, there was a significant amount of his “butt crack” showing.

So on the morning that I finally got around to repairing our kitchen tap I called Michelle in to the kitchen. “Come and see this before I put it all back together,” I said. Michelle walked in to find me bent over the sink working on the kitchen tap, without a shirt on, and with my loose-fitting work jeans pulled half way down my butt. And in the annals of comic genius, I hit this way out of the park. In fact, I hit it three streets out of the ballpark.

 Michelle erupted in laughter louder than I have heard in decades. And it wasn’t short lived. These were deep, visceral belly laughs that went on for 3 or 4 minutes. I believe her eyes welled up with tears from laughing so hard. It was just another red-letter day at Sunflower Farm.

The moral of the story is that the tap is fixed and that luckily she finds me handy, and apparently after 35 years she can still laugh at my jokes. Or laugh at me. Doesn’t matter. As long as she laughs!

* * * * * * *

Don't forget about Cam & Michelle's new book, "Little House Off the Grid" available right here at Mother Earth News! Click on the shopping link above to find it! 

For more information about Cam or his books please visit or 


homestead in winter


Blogging for Mother Earth News carries many rewards but probably the most significant for me is being able to let others read about my experiences, successes and failures and maybe take something home with them that will be of some value. The blog site is chock full of more useful information than can be imagined.  Having become acquainted with other bloggers I believe I can say our common trait is to be able to share with others what we have learned along the pathway of life, through much research or trial and error.  

As I go back through the blog topics under the Happy Homesteader heading I am amazed at all the interesting topics.  Topics like the best apple pie, living off grid -energy options, cutting your trees into lumber, lifestyle choices, hoop style greenhouses, dog stories, animal rescue, pet adoption, wolf rescue, wood mill techniques, “how to” farming information, fixing barn roofs, mountain homesteading, small engine maintenance, buying a tractor, making soap, laundry detergent and lotion, wildfire mitigation, solar power and choosing a homestead site plus multiple other topics which are just too many to list.  All this information and ‘how to’ advice in just two months of topics. Subjects written by those with expert knowledge that are comprehensive and yet easy to understand and interesting to the casual reader. When coupled with 10 more months of subjects written by peoplIne who know their subject it is an overwhelming treasure trove of information at your fingertips. Then when all those topics are multiplied by 45 years of contributions there is probably not a subject which is not archived that wouldn’t be of value to a reader with any possible need. It is all available free to any reader that wants to take time to scroll through the site and explore.    

All that is required is the ability to type a subject into the search engine and voila there is a list of abundant information at your fingertips which will prove valuable and be of enormous help to those seeking answers for a project or lifestyle change. I can say from my personal perspective that Mother Earth News has provided me ideas and instruction that have made life much easier over the years and helped me make smart informed decisions.  

If you have a few moments to spend or a specific need just research it in Mother Earth News. If you don’t find the information you are looking for I would be very surprised. For example when I was attempting to get our association to stop using a toxic spray I found many well written topics in Mother Earth News that proved to be of great help. The articles not only helped educate me but provided me information that was of immense value. Not everyone can or would like to live remote on the side of a mountain like we do so being able to share experiences may just help others realize that if we are doing it then it is clearly possible and may encourage them to give it try it also. We therefore are able to share tough lessons and favorable choices with others and hopefully inspire a thought or help better decisions to be arrived at based on experience.  

The one common thread I find with all those who contribute topics is their willingness to share their knowledge to help others and the unselfish time they contribute to putting that knowledge down in writing for all to access. Sometimes the bloggers do open themselves up to contrary opinions but for the discerning reader all comments join together to put topics into a better perspective. It is through the insightful topics and comments that terrific information is available for readers seeking answers.

So to the Mother Earth News staff who facilitate these blogs, chose the appropriate bloggers to contribute and the bloggers themselves who give so much of their time and experience - a most hearty “Thank You”.

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and mountain living go to:


 By Cam Mather

I read a great book that said that one of the keys to happiness is being grateful. Canadian Thanksgiving is this weekend. I am grateful for that. I think it’s a nice chance to spend a long weekend with family, almost 3 months away from the chaos of Christmas.

I am thankful to have four seasons, and I anticipate each one with great enthusiasm.

I am grateful to our chickens for being exceptional at converting grains and grasshoppers into a very protein dense little package that helps me get through a day of manual labor.

I am thankful for dark chocolate.

I am grateful to the Stone Mills Volunteer Fire Department members who give up their time to make our community safer.

I am thankful for Dr. Pepper (and potato chips,) that I indulge in once a week (sometimes twice on special occasions… like Thanksgiving.)

I am grateful to the many wonderful healthcare professionals who made having to deal with Michelle’s breast cancer last fall, as good as an experience as one could hope for in such circumstances.

I am thankful for potatoes that allow me to store a winter’s worth of food in the root cellar for free and be ready to start next year’s crop in the spring without spending a penny.

I am grateful to the protestors who are taking to the streets to tell the powers that be that Wall Street has run things long enough, and that the U.S. doesn’t need dirty oil from the tar sands. The original off-gridder Henry David Thoreau “got” the concept of civil disobedience and helped inspire others, and I am grateful to him for that.

I am thankful to the staff at Starbucks who save up their coffee grounds for me to pick up when I go to Kingston, and have kept tons of organic material out of a landfill while nurturing my blueberry plants.

I am grateful to Morgan the Wonder Dog who warns us when cars pull into the driveway and keeps the coyotes at bay.

I am thankful to the researchers at Bell Labs that created the first solar panels in the 1950s that allow me to live with all the creature comforts of modern society, far from the maddening crowd.

I am grateful to my parents who allowed me to be a kid as long as I could and let me find my own way in the world. It was a long and winding road, but a pretty great one to travel.

I am thankful for coffee. I cannot get this monkey off my back, so I am just going to give up, embrace it, celebrate it and appreciate it.

I am grateful to the farmers and workers in warm climates that grow those wonderful beans that make the worldwide coffee addiction possible.

I am thankful for the 3 tablespoons of crude oil with the energy equivalent of 8 hours of my manual labor, that allow me to use a chain saw or rototiller to do a day’s worth of work in less than an hour, and still have energy left to do other stuff.

I am grateful to our cats for bringing such joy to my high school sweetheart.

I am thankful for having the best neighbors on the planet that have made our integration into country life… awesome.

I am grateful to Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniack who developed the computer that I use every day to earn my living. Their design makes it more tolerable for me to do so.

I am thankful for Captain Crunch. But only once a year.

I am grateful to Steve Harrison and the engineers at the Queen’s University Solar Lab that developed my EnerWorks solar hot water heater that gives me 60% of my hot water for free, with no CO2 emitted to the atmosphere. It’s the coolest product ever.

I am thankful for the farmers that grow all the food that I don’t, whether they are orange farmers in Florida or grain farmers on the prairies. They contribute far more to our lives than lawyers, financiers or politicians.

I am grateful for the birds and owls and wildlife that provide the soundtrack for life at Sunflower Farm.

I am thankful to have two exceptional daughters who bring me great joy and in whom I am infinitely proud.

I am grateful to a Saskatchewan preacher named Tommy Douglas who shared his vision of a universal healthcare system paid for by the communal wealth of our society. This system allowed Michelle to experience the exceptional system that grew from his vision, and it didn’t cost us a penny.

I am thankful to all the musicians from Led Zeppelin to Joni Mitchell to Jon Bon Jovi to Kurt Cobain to Sarah McLachlan and a thousand other artists who have brought such great joy to my life.

I am grateful to the workers and engineers at Ford and Honda who make products I shouldn’t own and drive, which I try and use as little as possible, but when I do, are pretty darn great.

I am thankful for that great big glowing ball of fiery gases that comes up each morning and that my plants use to grow food, that the trees use to make my firewood, that my solar panels use to make my electricity and hot water, and that is warming my office as I write.

And last but now least, I am thankful every day that I am given the gift to get out of bed and enjoy all these amazing wonderful things.

Happy Thanksgiving!

For more information about Cam Mather or his books please visit or


I am a philistine when it comes to art. I found this out when I took my daughters to the McMichael Art Gallery north of Toronto when they were young. We were outside when I overheard a well-to-do woman (you know, the kind they mock in National Lampoon movies) ranting on about all of the “philistines” who know nothing about art but take up space in the gallery. I was at the gallery because I am a big fan of the Group of Seven artists, who often painted in the areas of the country where I liked to canoe. I think it’s pretty neat to admire a painting by someone who would have paddled the same lakes and done the same portages as me. Apparently though I didn’t get the art and as far as that woman was concerned, I really shouldn’t have been there. Michelle and I chuckled over that woman’s arrogance.

I was pretty comfortable with not “getting” art, not that I ever really tried. The type of art that confused me the most were those big art installations that aren’t permanent. The artists put all of this effort into something that didn’t last. Eventually all the flags and the fabrics got taken down. Or the ice sculptures that eventually melted when it got warm enough. What’s with that?

But recently I had a little personal epiphany where I suddenly understood those artists who do art that doesn’t last. I was beginning to work on this year’s skating rink on the pond next to our house and I began to think about what a horrendous waste of time it is.  I put all this effort into a rink and as soon as we get our first big dumping of snow, I’m just going to let it go.

Really, what a stupid way to spend my time. It doesn’t make me any money. It doesn’t make the world a better place. Oh sure, my friends and family members will enjoy skating on it over the holidays but sometimes I think they just humor me. On the other hand, it doesn’t have a negative effect on anyone. Now that we know the environmental consequences of say flying to a beach in Mexico for a week, I think this is a far better use of my time. No one gets hurts. No one’s life is any the worse because I waste time on my skating rink. In fact, it makes me feel like a wealthy man, having a frozen pond to skate on right beside my house.

Xmas Eve Day Skating on the Pond

But I think this ephemeral, temporary element of a rink is part of its charm. This year the lower area of the pond that used to be pretty clear of plant matter has started to grow in, so I’ve had to hack away at bulrushes and various other protrusions through the ice. We had one of those Decembers when the ice didn’t freeze consistently and we had a bit of snow that made it a bit rough. I used to cut a hole in the ice and flood it with buckets, but now I run a hose from the basement faucet and water the rink with well water. This is a major undertaking for me, living off the grid in a low sunlight month like December. I would never have attempted this before I replaced my batteries with better ones that I know can handle the pump coming on a few times. Also I make sure to do the flooding on a sunny cold day.

First I have to scrape off any of the rough ice and pack snow down in places where the ice is too thin. There’s the hassle of thawing hoses and finding thin enough gloves to fit inside my waterproof ones so that my hands don’t get frozen. Standing out there flooding the rink really freezes your extremities. If there’s been a snowfall I have to shovel it too. And if it’s a big snow it can be an insane amount of work.

When ice is freezing it makes huge cracking sounds. It groans and sometimes will crack right under your feet. It’s quite terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. Tom Cochrane has a great song called “Big League” with the lyrics “Sometimes at night I can hear the ice crack, it sounds like thunder and rips through my back…” There’s nothing like standing on 5 inches of ice when a fracture in the ice appears under you with what sounds like a crack of thunder.

We are less than a mile from 6th Depot Lake and West Lake, and are surrounded by some very large ponds created by beavers. As these large areas of ice freeze there is tremendous pressure and the cracking can be very loud. Sometimes when I am standing outside in the inky blackness on a really cold, still night I can hear the ice on these nearby ponds and lakes cracking and groaning. It’s eerie and scary and totally awesome. And since the closest human being to me is about 4 miles down the road, I’m probably the only person hearing these whale-like symphonies of nature.

I really love making a rink. I’ve done it since I was kid and I lived on the St. Lawrence River near Kingston. And now that I’m 50 I think I enjoy it even more.  It’s part of the holiday tradition for me. Open presents. Eat. Skate. Eat. Eat. Fall asleep. Eat 5,000 calories a day, burn about 500 while skating. And I really, really love skating. There’s just something about steel blades cutting through hard ice and how little friction there is, and how fast you can go. I can skate around in a circle on my small rink for hours and never get tired of it.

When we lived on the St. Lawrence there was the odd time when the river would freeze thick enough to skate before there was a dumping of snow. It was like skating on glass. If you really wound up and slapped a puck as hard as you could it would go forever. There were times when we would see fish under the ice as we skated. I can remember seeing a huge sturgeon that looked like some prehistoric monster swimming below the ice under my skates. It was magical.

Our pond is perfectly situated. It’s in direct sight of our two solar trackers and it sits right underneath our wind turbine. I find it so invigorating to be zipping around my rink while the sun is charging the batteries on a sunny day, or the wind turbine is making electricity on a cloudy day, or at night. The feeling of independence and joy is totally awesome. In the words of George Constanza on Seinfeld… “I’m bustin!” And to be able to look out my office window at the rink - well I can’t put a monetary value on that. I find it priceless.

View Out My Office Window

By the middle of January the rink will be gone and my energies will go into getting into the woods to cut up dead trees for next year’s firewood.  Now this is a practical use of my time. I love cutting wood too, and in this case it actually nets me something in the end… I have no heating bill. The rink is just a huge waste of time. A huge, mindless, joyful, wonderful, existential waste of time.

If you’ll please excuse me, I’m off to strap on my skates and pretend I’m Dave Keon winning the Conn Symthe Trophy as Most Valuable Player on the 1967 Stanley Cup Winning Toronto Maple Leafs! Someday I’m gonna play in the big leagues!

P.S. -  I’m pretty sure I’ve used “existentialist” wrong, but that just proves I’m a bit of a philistine in this department.

Photos by Cam Mather.  

For more information about Cam or his books, visit or 



Ah, holiday dinners. There's nothing better than gathering with friends and family for a delicious meal. Like the celebrations of years past, my family gatherings this year are sure to include a smorgasbord of meats, veggies and grains. I can't wait! But something is weighing on my mind — what can I do to ensure that my dinner didn't support the undue suffering of farm animals?

How can you confirm that you are buying products from producers that don't use gestation crates, overcrowded cages and the like? If you don't have access to a nearby farm, you can start by choosing dairy, eggs and meats with the Certified Humane seal; you'll know that the product you're purchasing was raised and handled with a firm, independently verified set of standards. Also, on their Web site, you can search for stores in your area that carry certified products.


We finally had some snow on the ground (although it’s almost all melted away again) and so I can take a break from garden work. I’m not in “firewood” mode yet, so I have been taking it easy and getting caught up on some reading.

Then we decided to re-claim some of our Aztext Press books that we have been storing at our printer’s warehouse. They charge us for warehousing them and since there were a few half-empty pallets we thought we’d have them shipped here. That meant that I needed to build a few more shelves downstairs in the guesthouse for storage. Which meant that I had to clean out a big area. The area was full of empty boxes that we use to ship books out. Any time that we see good boxes at the grocery store, we grab them to use for shipping. Our collection of boxes started out small and grew exponentially. And of course, anytime anyone shipped anything to us, I’d save the box. Needless to say, the pile of boxes was enormous.

So I finally said, “enough” and did a major purging. I recycled a lot of them and knocked down some of the best candidates to be reused when I need them. There were so many boxes that had been there for years and that I’d never used. I started questioning my decision to have kept them for so long.

This was reinforced when I shifted my focus to the garage, which hadn’t had a good cleaning since we moved in here 14 years ago. I had tidied it up just enough to be able to fit the car in again this fall, but it was a tight squeeze and the side of the car scraped the garbage cans as I pulled it in. The biggest mess was the recycling area. I have plastic bins for all the regular stuff, but I also have a big plastic bag of aluminum cans that we take to a local animal shelter as a fundraiser, and a box full of the wine and beer bottles that I collect from the side of the road, some old motor oil I needed to recycle, boxes of old catalogs, magazines…. The boxes and bags of materials seemed endless.

Glass jars, of course, should be in the recycling bin. But I love glass jars. I save a lot of seeds so I don’t like to recycle jars just in case I need them for seeds. It doesn’t matter that I have boxes of glass jars stored in the horse barn. Nope, I’ll just save this great pasta sauce jar, “cause I might need it” in the future.

I have a genetic predisposition to this hoarding behaviour. My Grandpa Micklethwaite saved everything. I can remember helping to clean out his basement after he was gone and my Grandma was moving out of the house. It was a dream job for a kid like me. He had amazing stuff, including Playboy magazines from the 1940s and 50s that were so old the revealing images of ladies in one-piece bathing suits were actually illustrations and not photos. I’ll bet they’d be worth a mint now.

So I know I have this predisposition to “save” (the classic denial term of a hoarder) which I must fight. Of course being a “mild” peak oil/economic collapse “doomer” everything has some potential value. This cheap broken badminton set, it may come in handy sometime. That old piece of carpet that has been chewed by mice, who knows how valuable that could be in the future. That busted printer, I’ll bet there are some screws or something I can MacGyver eventually. Let it be known though that I hoard for all the right reasons! My hope is always that I won’t have to buy something new in the future if I can find something used in the horse barn (which has no room for horses right now).

I am now going through a major purging of many areas of the house and barn. But I realize I am not alone. Since I’m done in the garden for a few months and we’re watching more TV, I got 3 more packages on our satellite TV dish and I’ve watched a few of those “Hoarder” shows. Holy crap! It’s an epidemic. I’m not alone. The whole damn continent is struggling with this. And not only are there shows about hoarders who have “professionals” that come in to help them with their addictions, there are shows about the people who clean up the messes they leave behind, like “Storage Wars” where a group of people are shown bidding on multiple storage units that have fallen into arrears and the contents are sold to the highest bidder.

My eyes have been opened! This television thing is pretty great. As an anthropological study I find it amazing to have missed a lot of this stuff and then order some new cable channels and discover what I’ve been missing.

And it shouldn’t surprise me of all people. I constantly think about how the North American economy is based on “consumption.” We buy stuff. We don’t make much any more, but we buy it. Wal-Mart goes into a town, destroys the main street, then buys all their stuff from China so American manufacturers throw their employees out of work, but somehow the former employees still have enough income to shop at the store that destroyed their livelihood. Seventy percent, that’s 70% of the U.S. economy, is now based on consumption - buying stuff. It’s crazy.

When I’m not engrossed in cable TV shows about hoarding, I’ve been reading a book called “The Value of Nothing” by Raj Patel. It’s about how the price of all of this cheap stuff doesn’t really incorporate all the externalities that go into its production. The mining, the cutting of trees, the creation of the energy for the factories (much of it coal in China), the resource extraction, the pollution, the carbon emissions, etc., etc. It is a truly mind blowing experience to stand in a dollar store. How can we make so much stuff, so cheaply? And to be preemptive of criticism, I will admit to shopping at dollar stores. I try and limit my consumption, and I do buy stuff used from secondhand stores, but sometimes I buy new stuff and I marvel at being able to purchase so many different items for just $1 or $2.

As I was reading the newspaper recently I saw an ad for a new 2-day course called “Extreme Hoarding Decontamination” offered by a private company. The topics covered in this seminar include “Blood borne Pathogens (yuck), Airborne Pathogens (yuck, any pathogens are gross), Wildlife feces remediation (does this assume raccoons are living in the house?), thermal bed bug treatment (gross) and more!

Yup, it trains you on how to be a professional hoarder-cleaner-upper. So I’m puzzled. Does this course exist because there are so many hoarders out there that there is an actual market for hoarder cleaner uppers? Or has some clever business owner realized, that with so many TV shows about hoarders, that there would be the perception by the general public that there would be such a market, and hence they could profit by training people on how to do it, even if they never get work?

I’m going to look into this. Heck I’m already qualified. If you saw before and after photos of my garage, you’d know I have a flair for this. Bring on that abandoned multiple storage unit! Unlock and load! I’m here to clean up. I’m a “Hoarder Buster!”

* * * * * * *

For more information about Cam or his books please visit or


Organic food is gaining popularity across the country. Whether this popularity can be chalked up to health-related concerns about pesticides, an interest in supporting earth-friendly agriculture or both, it's without a doubt that more of us are seeking out organic products than ever before.

While this is definitely a good thing, it also leads to an increase in the number of companies that want to market their product as organic when that might not be the case, per the many guidelines of organic food production.

The National Cooperative Grocers Association (NCGA) has come to the rescue with the industry's first fraud detection and prevention program. NCGA and the International Organic Accreditation Service will help retailers ensure that 'certified organic' means 'certified organic.' 

Recent Posts