Dear MOTHER: August/September 2015

Reader letters about making homemade bread, welcoming the next generation of homesteaders, battling a homeowners association about a front yard garden, voting with the dollar, publishing American Spirits tobacco ads, and more.

Jackilyn Andrews

Inspired reader Jackilyn Andrews enjoys her California garden with her Great Pyrenees mix, Gabby. Jackilyn dreams of someday building her own home.

Photo by Jackilyn Andrews

Content Tools

Inspiring the Next Generation

I read the article Most Useful Tools for a Half-Acre Homestead by Lloyd Kahn in your June/July 2015 issue, and I’m so inspired by the idea of building my own home. I’m 23 years old, and I’m discovering the world of sustainability while thinking about building my own personal homestead. I’m still young, but I hope to have a home and garden that I put a lot of care and hard work into, while making a mindful effort to repurpose materials.

I’ve always been excited to see Mother Earth News in my mailbox, and I want to assure you that even the younger generation is interested in fostering a healthy planet, body and mind. Your magazine has given me a lot of tricks and tips to get started on being more self-sufficient. Thanks for the inspiration! 

Jackilyn Andrews
Eureka, California

A Baking Breakthrough

I picked up the 2015 Guide to Fresh Food All Year special issue and read it cover to cover. I really enjoyed all the stories. I’m a city boy longing for a country life. When I came across William Rubel’s article Delicious and Easy Homemade Bread, I thought, “Yeah, right. We’ll see.” I’ve tried making bread before and failed miserably. Just ask my wife, kids and even my dog — they’ve all tried to cut, chew and swallow the results of my bread-baking attempts.

Although I was reluctant, Rubel said it was easy, so off I went on another baking adventure. This time, my loaves turned out great. The entire family enjoyed them so much that the dog didn’t get any! Well, OK, he got a little — but only because he’s a part of the family, too. I was also pleasantly surprised by how long the bread stayed fresh — about 10 days! 

Mike Hyder
Holly Springs, North Carolina

A Saddened Seed-Sharer

In response to Seed-Sharing Snafu (News from Mother, April/May 2015): I live in Minnesota and wasn’t aware of the laws restricting “regular people” from sharing seeds. I’m sad and disappointed to hear that an innocent thing I’ve done can be considered a crime! I signed the petition at Save Seed Sharing, and I hope your other readers do, too. 

Jamie Peterson
Isanti, Minnesota 

Good news, Jamie: The Minnesota legislature recently changed the law — seed sharing and seed libraries are now legal there! — Mother

Raving About Renewables

Green Gazette is one of my favorite sections of your magazine. Thanks for continually providing articles on renewable, Earth-friendly energy resources, such as solar and wind. It’s refreshing and encouraging to see that jobs are also following these new and emerging alternative energy sources, and that prices for consumers are dropping. Our ability to more efficiently convert sunshine into energy has happened quicker than anyone predicted, and wind power has also become cheaper and more widespread.

I hope we can continue down this road toward a healthier planet and energy independence. 

Rick Thorum
Midvale, Utah 

The Power of Voting with Our Dollars

On the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Facebook page, we posted an article from Fortune magazine titled Special Report: The War on Big Food. The article spoke about the declining sales of huge food conglomerates, such as Nestlé and Campbell’s, and we were proud of your comments about how you vote with your wallets to put pressure on Big Food and industrial agriculture. Here are a few standout responses: 

My Dad started us off on conscientious purchasing when apartheid was a problem in South Africa. He explained it to us, and then said, ‘’From now on, we don’t buy anything from South Africa.’’ I have purchased items based on these kinds of standards all of my life, and now I’m 70 years old. I pay attention to countries and companies who make bad decisions — one example being Nestlé, which claims that no human being is entitled to water. You can’t trust governments or corporations. Instead, vote with your dollar. — Jo Rewers

I’m not a big fan of many of the mega-corporations mentioned in this article, but I don’t like the idea of increased government involvement either, because I don’t trust the government’s judgment. The best way to voice our concern is to control these companies’ sources of income. — Justin Love 

It’s amazing how powerful we can be when we vote with our wallets. I’ve started contacting companies to request a list of ingredients in a product. I’m informing them that if they can’t — or won’t — give me this transparency, then I’ll just take them off my list of companies to buy from. — Misty Fields

Purchasing power — where and how we spend our money — is a consumer’s true influence. Companies will follow the money, even if they don’t believe in the mission. But we have to be vigilant, and not confuse each other by labeling products with fluffy terms, such as “natural,” that don’t have any true meaning. — Elizabeth Nannini 

How we spend our money is the only way to influence the marketplace. The power of individuals to support the kind of food industry they want is much larger than most believe. — Denece Vincent

A lot of people seem to think a big mystery machine is behind each corporation, and that it’s some entity that puppets us to do as it wants. Yes, marketing techniques can sway us one way or another, but, in reality, the consumer is the puppeteer. We dictate what companies produce and sell, because, in the end, if we’re not buying, they’re not profiting. Our money is influential and can make a huge difference. Deciding what direction our food system goes is up to us, the consumers. — Ali Hammons 

Fighting for Food Freedom in Florida

Today, I received a letter from my homeowners association (HOA) stating that “the garden that’s in the front of the house must be moved to the rear of the home, and the landscape returned to its original condition as per the documents of the association.” 

The garden in question is a vegetable garden I started four or five years ago and expanded two years ago. I grow peppers, herbs, tomatoes, cabbage and lettuce. The garden is lined with flowers to attract bees and butterflies, and to make it more attractive. Our HOA documents do not prohibit me from having a vegetable garden, nor do they dictate which plants I can grow or how my front yard’s landscaping should look, except to require that it be kept up. Local regulations don’t prohibit me from growing vegetables, either. My backyard is neither large enough nor sunny enough to grow vegetables, so moving my vegetable garden there isn’t an option.

I particularly love the “return to the original condition” part of the notice. Association documents don’t specify what the original condition of the front yard was, nor is there any consistency in the neighborhood. Some people have rock gardens and others have flowers. Some neighbors have shrubs and others have nothing but grass.

I plan to fight the homeowners association. If I need to fight for legislation that protects my right to use my property as I see fit, then I shall do that, too. 

Darrell Brock
Coconut Creek, Florida 

Thanks for writing, Darrell, and good for you! To learn more about this issue, see Fight for Your Right to Grow Food. — MOTHER EARTH NEWS

An A-pee-ling Nitrogen Fix

In the article Do Compost Accelerators Work? (Ask Our Experts, April/May 2015), the author recommended adding nitrogen to a compost pile to accelerate the pile’s decomposition. The free sources of nitrogen mentioned, however, aren’t always available. I do know of one source of nitrogen that’s always available and free — urine. Peeing in a container and then pouring it onto a compost pile will help the compost finish faster, and will also save water by reducing the number of toilet flushes. 

Kirk Miller
Richardson, Texas 

A Treasured Publication

I just got my June/July 2015 issue. I’m only halfway through reading it, but I’m near tears of gratitude that this treasure still exists (especially after Rodale made the disastrous decision to dump Organic Gardening magazine). Keep up the essential, great work, MOTHER! 

Valerie Lord
Malta, New York

Realistic Expectations

Steve Maxwell’s February/March 2015 article The Most Important Self-Reliance Skill Ever is spot on. It’s so rewarding to spend time in my garden, cook from scratch, and do as much for myself as I can. After a full day’s work, I am more than ready for bed. I wake up early — too early for some people. I have to cook my own meals and plant my garden on time if I want to eat. 

Thank you for validating the way self-reliance really works. Some people may not make these life choices, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. The satisfaction of knowing I can — and am able to — pass this lifestyle on to my three daughters speaks for itself.

If a job is truly satisfying, it never seems like work. Relaxing comes after a full day, with a cup of tea and a copy of Mother Earth News to read while I’m curled up in bed with my dog. Thank you for a wonderful magazine and for the writers who make it a joy to read. 

Carolin Martens
Windsor, Ontario 

Shame on Smoking Ad

I was utterly disappointed when I began reading the April/May 2015 issue and found an advertisement for Natural American Spirit tobacco. How can a magazine that promotes healthy living and sustainable existence think it’s OK to have an ad for one of the largest preventable causes of disease in our society? While I understand advertisements are necessary to finance the production of the magazine, I believe a terrible line has been crossed. Shame on you, MOTHER EARTH NEWS. 

Catherine Lalonde
Dawson City, Yukon

A+ Customer Service

I have to give a shout-out to MOTHER EARTH NEWS’ customer support! My June issue was damaged in the mail, so I emailed your support team for a new copy. Bam! Within 30 minutes you had replied with a friendly email saying a new copy was being sent to me. Now that’s good customer service! 

Valerie Shoopman
Belton, Missouri 

The Kogi Tribe:Teaching by Example 

I am aware that your magazine is primarily focused on gardening, natural health, renewable energy, green building, etc., and tends not to delve too deeply into spiritual topics. I respect that position, and I gather it’s because your intention is to appeal to a wide audience that shares a common goal of living harmoniously on the planet. However, I deeply identify with the founder of the magazine, John Shuttleworth, in his quote, “I think that we live in an unbelievably marvelous Garden of Eden. We’re surrounded by miraculous life-forms almost without number that are kept alive by a mysteriously interwoven, self-replenishing support system that — even with all of our scientific ‘breakthroughs’ — we still don’t understand.”

I feel there is actually a crossover that needs to be addressed, and I can’t seem to stop thinking that your magazine has the potential to do this. What I am referring to, in part, is indigenous wisdom, and the potential we have to learn from surviving cultures that still live according to what they refer to as the “Great Mother’s” original rules and codes. I have written an article about a particular tribe that embodies this mindset, the Kogi, who live deep in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in northern Colombia. Here’s the link to my article, which originally appeared in Pathways magazine, for you to share with your readers. 

Michael Brasunas
Asheville, North Carolina

Competing Against ‘Frankenfood’

Thanks to Shelley Stonebrook for her great article Money Spent on Food: Lower in U.S. Than Any Other Country (Green Gazette, June/July 2015). Let’s not forget that the cost differential between “cheap,” mass-produced food and food made with higher-quality, organic ingredients is artificially large because of the financial subsidies the government grants to big producers. Pull the plug on these economic monstrosities, and better-quality food won’t have to compete nearly as hard as it does now against the Frankenstein-like food system. 

Chad Nelson
Providence, Rhode Island

Home Depot Deception

I read that Home Depot was phasing out the use of bee-killing pesticides, such as neonicotinoids, on its nursery plants, and that it would require labels on any plants that still contained them. Last week, I was at Home Depot and saw a heather plant I wanted to purchase. I looked for a neonicotinoid label and found none, so, based on what I’d read, I assumed this plant was pesticide-free. 

When I got home and unpotted the plant, however, the neonicotinoid label was in the pot under all the soil. I got online to research this hidden label, and I noticed that in the online comments for your article Neonicotinoid Insecticides: Are Your Nursery Plants Being Treated With Bee-Killing Chemicals? (Green Gazette, February/March 2014), a few of your readers had similar experiences.

At the store, Home Depot employees told me they have no control over these labels, so I called customer service representatives, who told me there’s no policy about pesticide labeling. I filed a complaint with Maine consumer protection, but haven’t heard back yet. The Portland Press Herald covered my story, and you can read more details of the case.

By the way, I still have the plant, but it contaminated my organic soil. 

Pam Jones
Kennebunk, Maine 

Distribution of Wealth 

I read and took to heart your article Active Ingredient in Roundup Herbicide Is Probably Carcinogenic (News from Mother, June/July 2015). Most people recognize that organic foods (and strict labeling) are the way to go, but affordability is a real issue for most. The usual remedy is to suggest that farmers be pressed to lower their prices through greater efficiencies, but why not tackle it from the other end?

If we took away the excess dollars from sports figures, CEOs, stock traders and politicians; if we encouraged trade unions instead of hindering them; and if we redistributed excess money to the rest of us (instead of buying bombs to terrorize foreigners, and assault rifles and tasers to terrorize our own citizens), then everyone could afford to buy organic foods, and organic farmers wouldn’t be facing stressful financial breakdowns. 

Pat Gibbs
Maple Ridge, British Columbia 

Loving Country Lore

I really enjoy the Country Lore department. Though I always appreciate and value the entire magazine’s content, this “top tips” section gives me instant, positive gratification. You know, some of the magazine’s articles are a little heavy, with some doom and gloom, so it’s nice to wrap it all up with a helpful hint or two. 

Brooke Lindler
Fountain Inn, South Carolina 

Peppermint Oil vs. Fire Ants

In response to the article Which Homemade Insecticides Work Best? (Ask Our Experts, June/July 2015) — I was told by a man who worked with the Louisiana State University College of Agriculture that his Alabama-based blueberry farm, which is home to more than 100 bushes, doesn’t have fire ants because, each spring, he sprays the ground with 1 ounce of peppermint essential oil diluted in 1 gallon of water. I asked, “Does it kill them?” He said, “I don’t know if it kills them or just makes them leave!” I have since used this to locally treat fire ant mounds, and he’s right — the ants either abandon the mound or die. 

Julia Norris
Coker, Alabama

A Swamp Cooler in Texas

The article Try a New, Improved Swamp Cooler (Green Gazette, June/July 2015) reminded me that we had a swamp cooler on top of a trailer house, which we lived in during the oil boom years in West Texas. I remember my mama climbing on top of the trailer to put ice cubes in the thing. It worked wonderfully!

Carmen Norwood
via Facebook

Happy New Reader

I was introduced to MOTHER EARTH NEWS a few months ago. When the new issue shows up in the mail, I read it cover to cover, and then I read and reread articles until the next one arrives. Being relatively new to having my own planting area, I enjoyed Lloyd Kahn’s article Most Useful Tools for a Half-Acre Homestead in the June/July 2015 issue. It contained some really good ideas, including a unique chicken coop design and tips for raised garden beds. Kahn recommends constructing everything relatively inexpensively or from scrap parts. The whole magazine is filled with tips that are pure gold. Keep ’em coming, MOTHER!

John Beliveau
Portland, Maine

Quill You ID This Critter?

The June/July 2015 issue was most enjoyable, but I couldn’t figure out what kind of animal was featured in your EarthWords department on Page 96!

Betty Harwood
Roseburg, Oregon

Betty, the animal featured on the page is a young porcupine; it’s nibbling on an iris flower. — MOTHER EARTH NEWS

MOTHER’s Wish List

Visit our community Facebook pages. We’ve created Facebook pages for each of the 50 states and 10 Canadian provinces. Our goal is for those of you who use Facebook to “like” your state’s page in order to share local news and network with your neighbors.

State Facebook page managers. We’re recruiting volunteers to help run our community Facebook pages. We’re looking for managers who are well-acquainted with how to use Facebook, and are tuned into their local gardening, homesteading or environmental scenes. If you would like to help, email us with the subject line “Community Facebook Manager.”

Pastured meat testing. MOTHER EARTH NEWS is coordinating a project to test omega-3 fatty acid levels in pastured meat, eggs and dairy products. If you raise pastured animals, you can sign up for a 20 percent discount to have your products tested.