Dear MOTHER: August/September 2014

Reader letters about the consequences of modern agriculture, timesaving garden equipment, debt-free living, avoiding pesticide-laden nursery plants, the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR in Asheville, N.C., and more.

Joel Salatin Fair

Joel Salatin delivers his keynote speech at the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR in Puyallup, Wash., in June.

Photo by Ashley Cain

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Reconnecting the Disconnect

I just got home from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR in Asheville, N.C. (April 12 and 13). From the moment we arrived up until the very last event — where we witnessed hundreds united to hear Joel Salatin speak — I was (and still am) struck by an overwhelming sense of love, peace, inspiration and joy.

Many of us who are passionate about self-reliance and sustainability live in parts of the country where we are disconnected from like-minded people, and our daily reality can really drag us down sometimes. To be able to participate in your FAIR was truly inspiring.

Gatherings like the FAIR connect our divided nation. They also connect the knowledge and wisdom of older generations with the curiosity and tenacity of young people who are struggling to grow life where land has been paved over and chemicals have been scattered. At the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR and other events like it, humanity can reconnect, rediscover its collective soul, and find ways to live up to its potential.

Crystal Meserole
Hendersonville, North Carolina


Timesaving Garden Tractors

Wow, another great issue of MOTHER EARTH NEWS! We always expect that, and that’s what we always get. In each issue, I look first for articles by Barbara Pleasant — what a talented gardener and writer.

Joel Dufour’s piece about tools for large gardens was terrific (Best Garden Tools for Big Plots and Large Harvests, June/July 2014). Two-wheel tractors are in short supply in this part of the country. My solution has been to use four-wheel garden tractors — not the riding mowers from big-box stores, but rather small, heavy-duty tractor models that accept ground-engaging tools.

I own two such tractors: a new Dixon and an older John Deere. Both are equipped with a “sleeve hitch,” which allows me to attach tools such as a plow and cultivator. I’ve invested less than $5,000 in both machines. I don’t use either for lawn mowing — only garden work. My plots are about 3,000 square feet, and using these tractors saves me time plowing, planting, cultivating and harvesting.

Jack Graham
Selah, Washington


Be Mindful of Your Privilege

In response to We Get What We Pay For (News From MOTHER, June/July 2014): If by “we” consumers, you’re referring to “we, the white, middle-class consumers,” then sure, go ahead and make that statement.

But please do us all a favor first: Take a step back and stop universalizing your bourgeois experiences. Oftentimes choice is limited by a racialized economic system that privileges one class of people over another. Nowhere in your editorial did you suggest a means for low-income people to actively engage in reshaping the food system.

Asia Dorsey
Denver, Colorado


Earth: Not a Political Issue

Don’t back off of discussions about climate change or organic vs. industrial farming methods. They may represent “political” issues for some readers, but they are real issues, and if they can’t be discussed among people who love the Earth, where can they be discussed?

I think MOTHER EARTH NEWS has done a tremendous job of not taking sides but still fostering a dialogue on these topics.

Val Andriessen
Kirkland, Washington


More Nostalgia, Less Fuel

Awesome grass-roots artistry in the story DIY Horse-Drawn Wagon Is a Ready-to-Roll Bakery Cart (June/July 2014). The idea to bring goods to market using the original horse power is refreshingly different, and I bet others will follow the author’s example. I hope so! Nostalgia is definitely in, and less gasoline usage is exactly what our Mother Earth needs.

Todd Leonard
Opelousas, Louisiana


Pig Photograph Correction

In the article Try a Flexitarian Diet for Better Health and a Better Food Budget (June/July 2014), the caption for a photo of pigs read, “Gestation crates prevent sows from standing or turning around.”

First of all, sows can stand in gestation crates. More importantly, though, the photo you printed is of a farrowing crate — not a gestation crate. By definition, gestation refers to the mother’s time between conception and birth, so the fact that there are piglets in the photo should have tipped you off that this was not a gestation crate. I recommend running a correction to your photo.

Tim Andera
DeFuniak Springs, Florida

The photo was indeed of a farrowing crate. We regret the error. — MOTHER EARTH NEWS


30-Year-Old Tiller Still Truckin’

I enjoyed the article Best Garden Tools for Big Plots and Large Harvests by Joel Dufour (June/July 2014). I have a BCS 735 tiller, and I purchase all the parts I need from Joel’s company, Earth Tools. Knowing Joel has been a great experience.

I bought my BCS tiller back in 1984. I still use it, and it’s still the best tiller I’ve ever owned.

Darrell Burdge
Hazel Green, Kentucky


Debt-Free Living — And Lots of Sightseeing!

Regarding Debt-Free Living in Your Dream Home (June/July 2014): Another option for debt-free living is to downsize from a typical home and buy an RV. You get a debt-free home, and you get the joy of traveling.

I have read several great posts by some recent retirees about their adventures RVing in the United States and New Zealand on the website Retirement and Good Living.

George Brock
New York, New York


The High Costs We Pay for Cheap Food

The article Hidden Downsides of the Green Revolution: Biodiversity Loss and Diseases of Civilization (June/July 2014) was excellent and right to the point — the best thing I’ve read in a long time concerning the Green Revolution. Like the article’s author, Richard Manning, I’ve long thought we as a society are overfed and undernourished.

Modern agriculture fights nature instead of working with it. We have killed biodiversity. Our beef cattle are raised in feedlots and fed corn mash, protein supplements and drugs to keep them upright until they’re ready for the slaughterhouse. The cows are sick, meaning U.S. consumers buy meat from sick cattle — which, regardless, still has the USDA stamp of approval on its packaging — at the supermarket.

Do we truly think we can nourish our bodies and stay healthy by consuming products from sick animals and empty calories from highly processed foods? Oh, sure — because we mix vitamins and minerals into our processed foods, and because we ourselves then supplement our diets with pills.

As a consequence of the Green Revolution, we now grow our food in soil that’s depleted of nutrients and chock-full of chemicals and artificial fertilizers. Our soil has become an artificial, inert medium that’s devoid of any life. When are we going to have another Dust Bowl? We’re asking for it.

Cheap food? You get what you pay for.

Dana Fast
Lake Clear, New York


Polyculture Possibilities

The article Hidden Downsides of the Green Revolution: Biodiversity Loss and Diseases of Civilization (June/July 2014) made one of the best cases for biodiverse perennial polyculture farming that I’ve ever read.

Many people who are interested in permaculture and agroecology are looking to replace monocultures of corn, soy and wheat with diverse, woody polycultures. These mixes would include herbaceous understories, vining plants, fungi, and animals in rapid rotational schemes to produce more nutritious food per acre — with a fraction of the fossil fuel-based inputs — than any field of genetically modified corn or soy ever could.

Scott Vlaun
Norway, Maine


Challenge Accepted

You’ve received a lot of feedback on your article concerning childfree living as a consideration for green living (Making a Green Choice: Childfree Living, February/March 2014). I have children myself, and I highly disagree with the article, but I would like to thank you for printing it.

Even though I hold a different opinion, I would rather subscribe to a magazine that has the fortitude to print something that challenges me than a magazine that simply panders to the greatest number of people.

Jacob Miller
Champlin, Minnesota


Firsthand Effects of Fracking

I’m curious whether MOTHER EARTH NEWS has heard from readers who have had to leave their homes because of hydraulic fracturing.

My family saved all of our money for a long time and finally got our dream farm in 2012. Finding a home on land that hadn’t been sprayed with toxic chemicals and didn’t sit too close to other sprayed land wasn’t easy.

I moved my children here to expand our holistic and organic lifestyle, to grow all of our own food, and to live in peace and quiet. Then, all of a sudden, there were cautionary flags everywhere and trucks doing testing that vibrated our home. That’s when I first found out about the fracking.

A four-well pad is going in very close to my house. I can see it clearly, and I’m beyond upset. We quickly put the house on the market. We’re selling our entire farm, including my beloved goats that I can’t imagine living without. My heart is broken — for my family, for the Earth, and for all of the Earth’s inhabitants. We aren’t going to stick around to see the damage done here; our farm will become worthless and we would be poisoned by methane and chemicals.

Have other readers reached out to you about this? We don’t know where to go or how people handle this kind of heartbreak and loss.

Katie Skardoutos Tierney
Brown City, Michigan


Nix the Neonics

After reading your article Neonicotinoid Insecticides: Are Your Nursery Plants Being Treated With Bee-Killing Chemicals? (Green Gazette, February/March 2014), I’m wondering where I can buy plants, trees and shrubs that haven’t been contaminated with neonicotinoid pesticides. I live in central Pennsylvania, and while we have some good organic farms around, I have no idea whether local greenhouses stock organic offerings.

Do any reliable online resources provide this sort of information to help consumers steer clear of these dangerous pesticides?

Mindy Harp
Newport, Pennsylvania

Mindy, we don’t know of an online directory listing greenhouses that avoid neonicotinoids. Organic greenhouses do not use neonicotinoids. Unfortunately, unless a garden center or store grows its own plants, employees probably won’t know what chemicals may have been applied to the plants. For information specific to your area, we recommend searching on LocalHarvest, as well as connecting with others in your community via your state’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS Facebook page, where you can share and discuss local resources. Friends of the Earth, a global network of environmental organizations, is working to get neonicotinoid-treated plants off store shelves via its BeeAction campaign. — MOTHER EARTH NEWS


Blue-Ribbon Request

Thank you for a lovely MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR in Asheville, N.C.! The lectures and workshops were not only numerous and fascinating, but they also offered the unique opportunity to have questions answered by authors and experts I admire. I also valued being able to visit vendor booths for products I purchase regularly. Speaking directly with the business owners in such a cheerful setting was wonderful.

My friends and I left smiling, our arms laden with seed packets, seedlings, jams, juices and more. Best of all, as we slowly meandered home, our minds were abuzz with all the new knowledge and ideas presented at the FAIR. You must put on another FAIR next year; I (and all of my friends) implore you.

I do, however, have one request: At next year’s FAIR, could we have some good-natured competitions and contests? I’m talking jams, jellies, pickles, pies, sauces — delectables and crafts of every kind! I just happen to make some of the best homemade kombucha in the Southeast, and I would relish some healthy competition.

Marilyn Zumwalt
Athens, Georgia


The Power of Positivity

Oh, wow! Thank you so much for turning me on to the experience that is the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR. It was a fantastic weekend! The live poultry-processing demonstration from Joel Salatin and David Schafer of Featherman Equipment was in itself worth the trip. I watched the demo, and although I’ve been processing my own chickens for a few years, I know I can do it better now.

I also enjoyed hearing MOTHER EARTH NEWS Publisher Bryan Welch’s positive philosophy regarding a sustainable future. (Funny to call it “positive” when he talked about “voluntary death,” but it was.) Even though I’ve been reading Mother forever, I didn’t know who Mr. Welch was before attending the FAIR.

Next year, a caravan of us is planning to travel from Middle Tennessee to Asheville to attend! I’ve been telling everyone I know about the FAIR, and many are eager to have the experience, too.

Betty Taylor
Williamsport, Tennessee

Thank you all for the kind words about our FAIRs! We, too, love the invaluable face-to-face connections that the FAIRs make possible. We have FAIRs still to come this year in Pennsylvania and Kansas. You can find more information on these two events — including the speaker and workshop lineups — and stay up-to-date on announcements regarding the dates and locations of next year’s FAIRS at our MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR website. — MOTHER EARTH NEWS