Dear MOTHER: April/May 2015

Reader letters about earthbag building, water consumption, factory farms in the rural United States, a hand-built outdoor oven, pressure canning, state-level sustainable population, ethical eating, seed saving, and more.

Earthbag Home

Readers Sandy Callahan and Mike Thomas honed their earthbag-building skills by constructing this well house. Next, they’ll use their know-how to build an earthbag home.

Photo by Sandy Callahan

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Trying Out Earthbag Building

We’d like to share with you a building project inspired by the article Low-Cost Multipurpose Earthbag Building in your August/September 2009 issue.

This photo is of our well house, a utility building for our well and pumps. It’s 13 feet high and 16 feet in diameter. It’s serving as a prototype of the home we’ll eventually build.

We plan to start constructing our earthbag home this summer. It will be four times bigger than the well house, and it will have a large glass front with big wooden shutters to keep out the cold on winter nights.

Thank you for putting us on the right track to building our dream home.

Sandy Callahan
Conway, New Hampshire

We’d love to see more photos of earthbag projects. Share yours with us on our new Flickr page. — MOTHER 


On the Water Front

The article Innovative Solutions to Our Water Crisis (Green Gazette, February/March 2015) was wonderful. The quotation at the beginning — “If you think the oil wars are bad, wait until the water wars begin” — seems right on.

Several years ago, I read an article in Discover magazine that tied consumption in general to water consumption. The concept of one’s “water footprint” is something I always share with the elementary, middle and high school teachers who attend the workshops I facilitate for Project WET, a national organization dedicated to water education. Spreading the word about the hidden costs of water is so important.

Bonnie Ervin
Murfreesboro, Tennessee


Best Present Ever

I received a pressure canner for Christmas, and it has turned out to be the best present ever! I must admit, I was a little nervous when first using it (everyone seems to have a story about grandma’s pressure canner exploding!), but I found a lot of helpful how-to information in MOTHER EARTH NEWS. Before I knew it, I was canning chicken broth. There is no sweeter sound than the “pop” of the lids sealing.

Since then, I have canned vegetables, apple pie filling, chicken pot pie filling, stew and many types of soups, and, as I write this, a batch of chili is almost ready to go into jars.

Workweek meal preparation is much easier now, and we’ve cut our food costs thanks to our ability to purchase bulk and discounted items and then can them. We also use our freezer space more efficiently, and, best of all, we’re eating more homemade food.

Lori Rombough
Kingston, Ontario


Pleased with Garden Planner

Our family loves your digital Vegetable Garden Planner, and we’ve used it to plan all of our gardens here on our half-acre for the past few years. We appreciate how easy the Planner is to use, as well as how fun it makes the whole process of designing gardens. My husband and I are able to “share” visions of how our gardens should be laid out, and the Planner gives us the ability to easily work on them together. It has also taught us a lot about correct crop spacing, and it makes companion planting simple.

My husband, our two children and I started our homesteading journey about three years ago, and last summer I was able to quit my job and turn our homestead into a full-time endeavor. This has allowed me to earn money from the things we’re already doing around here, such as selling fresh produce and eggs, and writing a blog about our homesteading activities.

Sariann Irvin
Bremerton, Washington


Two Views on Factory Farms in Rural America

I’m commenting on the article How Tyson Foods Kills Small Rural Towns (December 2014/January 2015), which discusses how Tyson Foods destroys the small towns in which its factories are located.

I take great pride, along with about 1,500 others in this area, in working at Tyson’s Green Forest, Ark., complex, and I’m highly dismayed that the article talks about a town called Waldron, yet the photo at the beginning of the article is of Green Forest’s downtown, across from our city square. The photo shows only a small part of downtown Green Forest and is not representative of the town.

Tyson provides jobs and job security to many people in this area, and not just at the plant. The author failed to mention all the small businesses in Green Forest that are doing well and have been doing well for years.

So don’t you dare try to tell me and others who are dependent on Tyson for our living — whether we work for Tyson or for small businesses that rely on Tyson employees coming in and spending their paychecks locally — that we destroy small towns. We build our small towns.

Heather Rauschenberger
Green Forest, Arkansas

The article’s author, Christopher Leonard, responds: “I thank Heather for her comments, for her attention to the article, and for her dedication to the great town of Green Forest. I respectfully disagree with some of her assessment. The photos in the article are representative of Tyson Foods’ presence throughout the rural United States, as well as of many downtown commercial areas where economic activity is anemic. Creating more competition in the meat industry to curtail the monopolistic power of Tyson Foods would foster more economic opportunity in small towns, such as Green Forest, and it would allow communities to keep more of the wealth they generate.”


Lovin’ My All-in-One Outdoor Oven

I found the article Build an Outdoor Stove, Oven, Grill and Smoker (April/May 2010) on your website, and I really liked the setup because it’s multipurpose — a grill, smoker, oven, griddle, and maybe things I haven’t even thought of yet!

I’m a retired nurse, and my husband and I live in the Ouachita Mountains in western Arkansas. My primary objective for this oven was to have a means to cook in the event that we have no electricity, which happens frequently during winter.

Although a bit time-consuming and labor-intensive, this was a fun project. The instructions were easy to follow, and the unit is simple enough for one person to build. Because I’m an older woman, my husband did help me pour the concrete slab on which I built the oven, and he gave me a hand hauling all the supplies to our house. He also did most of the work on the overhead cover, but aside from that, he left the rest of the construction to me. I started last October and finished at the end of December, as many of the building steps required a drying period.

The cost was a bit more than I’d anticipated, but mostly because I made the whole oven bigger than the one in the original plans. I didn’t look for any used materials to help defray the cost, and I didn’t have many extra materials lying around either. The entire project cost about $700. (I had a metalworks company make the oven door, which cost about $60.)

I’ve made cornbread, pizza, pork roasts, beans and desserts with my cooking unit. It takes a little experience to know how long to cook foods in the oven, and I’m learning as I go. Pizza cooks in about five minutes! Last fall, my husband and I pruned our apple and cherry trees, and I’ve been cooking with the trimmings for fantastic wood-smoked flavor.

Pat Hill
Wickes, Arkansas


Don’t Let That Whey Get Away

I liked the project DIY Drying Rack for Pasta, Herbs and More in the February/March 2015 issue. I want to suggest that when people hang their homemade cheese to drain from the rack and place it over the sink, that they catch the whey. I save the whey from my homemade cheese to pour on my garden and flower beds. It’s never a lot at one time, but every bit of fertilizer helps.

Whey also works great to soak whole grains in until soft, and to feed to meat chickens for a couple of weeks before processing (provided you can keep the ducks out of it).

Richard Patterson
Neodesha, Kansas


A Call for Greater Cultural Diversity

MOTHER EARTH NEWS encourages ingenuity and rethinking one’s life — it gets people to look beyond economic and social snobbery, and to share hard work and bounty with neighbors. This is an attitude everyone needs to be exposed to, and I think MOTHER EARTH NEWS’ embodiment of it is why your readers come from all sorts of religious backgrounds and all points on the political spectrum.

We have to spread the notion of approaching people as unique individuals each and every time, regardless of anything like ethnicity, appearance, education or economic status.

That said, how about more ethnic variety in your articles and photos? What does an Asian woman who survived a war choose to grow in her garden? How did an African-American woman live through the Depression and manage to establish a scholarship with her earnings? What led a Hispanic man to eventually buy the apple orchard that he started working on as a migrant laborer, and how did he keep it going while other orchards were being swallowed up by development?

You need to give us more racial and social diversity in your stories — not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because, as a reader, I want to know their strategies, too!

Julia Jackson
Seattle, Washington


A Comfy, Cozy Cat Nap

The instructions from Elizabeth Atia in The Purr-fect Homemade Cat Bed (Country Lore, October/November 2014) were so easy to follow. I only made a few changes, using an old long-sleeved shirt instead of a sweater, and substituting polyfill stuffing in the arms of the shirt (the outer edge of the bed). All the bed needed was a little catnip to entice Amelia to curl up. It’s been less than a week since I made it, and it has already become a popular napping spot!

Courtney Denning
Cincinnati, Ohio


Pushing for Better Farm Policy

Once again, Joel Salatin blew me away with his insight on rejecting industrial agriculture in favor of forward-thinking, sustainable production in his article A 'New-Fashioned' Food System That Helps and Heals (December 2014/January 2015).

Maybe Joel could provide readers with a sample letter that we could use as a basis for communicating with our elected officials about developing farm policy that supports this new, better way of feeding the world?

Jeanne DeValeria
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Thank you for the suggestion, Jeanne. Joel has decided to write his column for the next issue on this very topic, so stay tuned. — MOTHER


Steps Toward a Sustainable Population

Thank you for referencing our precedent-setting report What is an Optimum/Sustainable Population for Vermont? in Vermont Leads the Way on GMO Labeling, Worker-Owned Cooperatives and Sustainable Population (Green Gazette, October/November 2014). I was surprised to see the critical response to it in the letter Concerned in Vermont (Dear Mother, February/March 2015).

Vermonters for a Sustainable Population is not a “lobbying group,” as was suggested. Our mission is to inform Vermont’s citizens about the negative impacts that continued population growth will have on the environment, the economy, and the quality of life of future generations. We also aim to motivate Vermonters to take actions that will help achieve a sustainable population. We are one of only three states that have a state-level population organization, the others being California and Florida.

Despite what some say, we cannot have infinite growth on a finite planet. How about environmental leaders in other states working together to make their own projections on what would be an optimum, sustainable population for their states?

George Plumb
Executive Director
Vermonters for a Sustainable Population
Washington, Vermont


Defending Dairy Animals

I’d like to comment on your article Keep a Family Cow and Enjoy Delicious Milk, Cream, Cheese and More (June/July 2010). Cows form strong emotional bonds with their calves, and it’s very painful for the mother cow to have her baby stolen. The entire process of using cows for dairy products involves the killing of innocent, sentient beings. Keeping cows for milk disregards the rights and precious lives of these animals.

Nancy Poznak
Owings Mills, Maryland


Ethical Eating: Be Mindful and Humble

In the February/March 2015 issue’s Dear MOTHER section, reader April Ford asked for a discussion on the ethics of eating meat. From my perspective, the most common reason people choose to be vegetarian is that they don’t want to kill animals. Unfortunately, there is no way to eat without killing animals and other living beings.

Vegetarians get much of their protein from beans, peas and other legumes, which are annual crops that require tilling of the soil. Animals such as rabbits, snakes, mice, moles and voles live in fields and are killed by plowing. Tilling also kills ants, earthworms, night crawlers, earwigs, beetles and all kinds of underground critters, and it disrupts the soil ecosystem. To ignore the deaths of all of these living beings is to dishonor them.

I believe eating grass-fed meat that’s raised on untilled pasture is an ethical choice. Grass evolved in partnership with bison, elk, deer, cows, goats and other grass-eaters. When we eat the grass-eaters, we honor our part in this ancient symbiosis. Humans are not separate from the cycle of eating and dying, so let’s be humbly mindful when we eat.

Celeste Lemire
London, Ontario


Android, Please

I would really love if you would make your apps available for Android devices as well. Like so many other readers, I have an Android tablet and smartphone. I’d like to be able to use these apps, but I can’t.

Stephanie Ford
via MotherEarthNews.com

Great news, Android users! Our most popular app, When to Plant, is now available in an Android version just in time for prime planting season. Simply plug your ZIP code into this app, and it will give you location-specific planting dates for dozens of vegetables, herbs, fruits, cover crops and more. Find it on Google Play as well as in the Apple App Store. — MOTHER


A Positive Difference

Wow. I just love MOTHER EARTH NEWS! I was only recently introduced with the December 2014/January 2015 issue, and I hope more people catch on soon, too.

The articles about fossil fuel divestment and B Corporations, as well as Joel Salatin’s A 'New-Fashioned' Food System That Helps and Heals, are really meaningful. We need this information to preserve this planet and to pass it on to future generations. Your reports on the high costs of factory-farmed meat and anything pertaining to solar power are educational and inspirational for those of us who want to make a positive difference. As a young man, I look forward to finding ways to contribute and sharing ideas with like-minded people.

Dan Biddle
Thompson, Ohio


Seed-Saving Success

In response to the article Saving Seeds: 7 Reasons Why and Dozens of Tips for How (December 2012/January 2013): I love the regional adaptation aspect of saving seeds, and I’ve found that the benefits can become apparent rather quickly.

I’m only an amateur gardener, but I saved some peas from my 2013 plants and grew them last year, along with some of the seeds from the original package. The peas that came from the saved seeds grew twice as fast, and they produced more than double what the ones from the package did! I had no idea plants’ adaptive qualities could be so evident in just one generation. This is the most compelling reason for me to save my own seeds — and it’s also pretty fun!

Courtney McFarland
Laguna Niguel, California


MOTHER’s Wish List

Get in touch with us via email.

Garden carts. Do you have a favorite style or brand of garden cart or wheelbarrow? Or have you found a clever or unusual use for your cart? We welcome your suggestions, ideas and photos.

Seed-starting options. What’s worked best for you? We’d love to see photos or plans of your home seed-starting setup.

Homestead hamlets. Is your neighborhood working to pool resources, live more sustainably and establish strong bonds? Maybe you’re gardening together on nearby empty lots, building a coop to raise chickens, installing a neighborhood nest of beehives, or going in together on a wind turbine? We want to know! We’re looking for leads on what we call “homestead hamlets” (see Homestead Hamlets: Neighborhood Gardens That Create Community Food Security for an example) for an upcoming article.

Pastured meat, egg and dairy producers. We invite you to take part in our nutrient-testing program.