Dear MOTHER: December 2009/January 2010

Readers’ letters about Joel Salatin, Treska Stein, colony collapse disorder, overpopulation and more.
Letters from our readers
December 2009/January 2010
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Reader Stephen Risker suggested industrial breeding practices as a cause for the honeybee decline after reading “Are Potent Pesticides Killing Our Honeybees?”
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A few readers had a beef with the size (2,600 square feet) of the home plan in You Can Build This Energy-efficient Solar Home. We don’t think the only option for the future is to demand that everyone live in small homes. Our goal is to bring you a range of options, from tiny homes such as the 480-square-footer featured in Making the Most of a Small Home, to the solar prairie home. Some readers can afford and build larger homes; we want to offer them designs that are as energy-efficient and green as possible.

Consuming less will help, but conservation alone isn’t going to get us where we need to go. We must adopt a broader, more positive vision of how to create a more sustainable future. Stay tuned for more about what we think that vision can be in our next issue, which will mark MOTHER’s 40th anniversary!


Salutes to Salatin and Stein

I just finished reading the August/September 2009 issue, and I loved it (as usual)! I especially loved Joel Salatin’s (Everything He Wants to Do is Illegal) and Treska Lydia Stein’s (My Introduction to Self-reliance) articles.

I am a young aspiring farmer, and I agree with Mr. Salatin that “overcoming the cultural prejudice against splinters and blisters” is a huge obstacle for the next generation of farmers. I loved what Ms. Stein shared about getting back the love she gives to her garden! These articles reminded me of The Greenhorns, a documentary about “America’s young farming community.”

Annie Gowan
Oakland, California

Reinvigorating Firsthand Report

I just finished Treska Lydia Stein’s My Introduction to Self-Reliance. Wow! This 13-year-old girl just reinvigorated my passion for my garden and self-reliance. It was very much needed. I spent yesterday in a bit of a bad mood because I let the pressures of my garden get to me. I’m doing it pretty much alone, and everything needs attention right now. I was canning and pickling into the wee hours and was a bit grumpy. Treska refocused me with her pure love of the plants and of the miracle of growing her own food.

Lisa Rizer
Fieldbrook, California


Honeybee Inbreeding?

Regarding Colony Collapse: Are Potent Pesticides Killing Honeybees?: An article in the October 2009 Discover magazine discusses this issue. It says, “The bees are succumbing to a long-ignored underlying condition: inbreeding. Decades of breeding practices meant to maximize pollinating efficiency have limited honeybees’ genetic diversity at a time when they need it most.” The author does not exclude pesticides and other causes, but does discuss the overlooked genetic aspect as a factor in the plight of the honeybee.

Stephen Risker
Archie, Missouri


Food Blog Rave

I was just reading through your Relish! blog and was very impressed. It gave me some good ideas (such as asparagus-ends soup, etc.). I thought the whole blog was excellent, very informative and interesting.

Donna Steinmetz
Portland, Oregon

You can follow all of our blogs by subscribing to our  free RSS feeds or  newsletters . — MOTHER


Doom and Gloom Propaganda

The pessimism rampant in MOTHER EARTH NEWS is why I’m not going to renew. It is replete with every doom and gloom propaganda piece that makes up the evening news. Taking care of the planet is great — baseless hysteria is not.

Mike Rilling
San Antonio, Texas


Plenty of Common Ground

Over the years I’ve picked up and thumbed through copies of MOTHER EARTH NEWS and, while I always found some interesting content, I was always turned off by the political rhetoric.

To my surprise, I read a recent issue cover-to-cover: I don’t know what happened, but the magazine has become something everyone can enjoy and benefit from. I subscribed today. Thanks for reducing the political rant. There is enough that divides us in America, and plenty of common ground when it isn’t drowned out.

Leon Gary, Jr.
Cashiers, North Carolina


A ‘Polite Earful’ to the EPA

I read your piece about herbicides in compost (Contaminated Compost: Coming Soon to a Store Near You by Barbara Pleasant) and immediately called Richard Keigwin at the Environmental Protection Agency about it. Much to my surprise, I got him in person. I gave him a polite earful about my concerns. I am an organic gardener and am extremely careful about what I put in my own compost pile.

The idea that compost might be harmful to the very gardens it’s supposed to be enhancing is just totally dismaying to me. If the public gets the idea that compost is no good, they’ll stop making efforts to put out their yard waste.

Keigwin said they’ve recently become aware of the problem and are looking into it. I sure hope so. We need to make a big fuss about this. I’ll find out who handles yard waste composting in my community and make sure they’re aware of your article. Thanks for your work.

Lois Grossman
Medford, Massachusetts


Extraordinary Peas

I want to tell you about my first experience eating black-eyed peas. They were extraordinarily fantastic, and they do not taste like the mature white, dried black-eyed pea. They have a taste all their own, and you don’t have to do a thing but pick ’em, shell ’em and cook ’em the same way as any pea. Be sure to use a little ham hock for seasoning.

The simple secret is that you pick the peas before they are completely mature. I would say just a little more than half mature, or while the pea is still a light green in the pod with a light purplish eye. They are still easy to shell at this stage. They are simply great!

We have not eaten any other peas since discovering black-eyes, because none can come close to their flavor. If you have never eaten any this way, you have to try them. They are yummy!

Oscar Saul
Bainbridge, Georgia


Taking Issue with Scam Advertisers

Why is MotherEarthNews.com providing advertising space to scams? “Make Solar Panels For Home” appears to be a scam just from looking at it, and doing a search on the Web confirmed this.

Eric Ogden
Alamorgordo, New Mexico

Like many other websites, our site includes some ads that are placed through third parties. (Ad revenue is one way we pay for all the free content we post.) We do our best to monitor these ads and screen out any scams. As with all advertising, you should do your homework before you decide to buy. If an offer seems too good to be true, then ... it’s probably too good to be true! — MOTHER


What If Supermarkets Shut Down?

I just want to say how much I love your magazine. Your articles are well-written and easy to understand.

Since I have been a subscriber (not even a year), my husband and I built a clothesline (The Convenient, Sturdy Outdoor Clothesline), built a compost bin, put a rainwater system in our organic garden, used biochar (Make Biochar — this Ancient Technique Will Improve Your Soil) in our garden, and several other things! The biochar works great! My plants were huge this year!

I also want to commend you for tackling some tough issues, such as population. It is scary to me that we have more people than our planet can sustain. It really scares me that if we took all the processed foods off the shelves, how many people would starve. If something happened and we had to rely on farming and hunting to survive, how many people would know what to do? I cannot believe that people are cancelling their subscriptions! Our planet is going to die if we as a people do not make some changes in the way we are living. Keep up your great work, and thank you, thank you!

Sara Hadley
Stacy, Minnesota


Counterpoints About Guineas

I wanted to add some insight to the plethora of raves about guinea fowl and all the wonders that they do (Safe Mosquito and Tick Control: Raise Chickens, Guineas or Ducks). They dig the most unbelievable trenches every day! Guineas are beyond loud and scream most of the day. I could speak endlessly about why getting guineas is a bad idea. Keeping ticks at bay is hardly a good enough reason to keep them. Chickens can do the same.

Rose Elliott
Weed, California

Read more about keeping guineas . — MOTHER


Local Lumber Advantages

It’s argued that small-scale logging and sawmill operations can’t compete with large businesses and Canadian imports. I disagree. The great advantage a small firm has is avoiding fuel costs — the logs (or processed lumber) don’t have to be trucked or railed 1,000 miles to the point of use.

The small logger, operating with equipment that is less disruptive of the land surface, and the small sawmill operator, using either band- or circular-saw equipment, can produce high-quality material from the forest and market it in their communities. This will promote sustainable forest management and ensure our watersheds, wildlife and forest scenes are properly protected. Lumberyards, are you listening? Support your local small operator!

Carl Unlaub
Dumas, Texas


Toughen Up, People!

There have been a number of controversial subjects covered in recent issues of the magazine, as the numerous letters of outrage attest. I also vehemently disagree with many of the opinions and conclusions that the editorialists make. I am not writing to cancel my subscription, quite the opposite. I will be renewing for another three years.

I am confident enough in my own beliefs and conclusions on the issues that I’m not threatened by articles that don’t fit my worldview. I am fully capable of turning the page on an article I don’t agree with, along with changing the channel on a television or a radio. I think people need to toughen up a little and relearn this skill.

I subscribe to MOTHER EARTH NEWS because I grew up with it (Thanks, Dad!) and to learn to be a more self-sufficient man.

Chris Ross
Leavenworth, Kansas


Semper Fi

After a many-years-long hiatus from reading MOTHER EARTH NEWS, I am back. And I must say that I am very happy with what I have been seeing. The content of the magazine is still valuable and interesting. Looking back over the issues, I see invigorated debate over issues such as population control and GMOs — well done.

As a former Marine and future Navy officer, I hope to bring increased environmental awareness and protection to our country’s military. The sacrifice of American lives to secure our gluttonous consumption needs to cease; MOTHER EARTH NEWS helps to teach us how. So keep up the great work, and Semper Fi.

Neil Anderson
Camp Pendleton, California


Readers continue to write in regarding the topic of overpopulation, as seen in the examples below. Read the original articles about this topic, Three Mountains We Must Climb and Planning for a Sustainable Human Future: Conservation, Population and Economy. — MOTHER

Off the Charts

I am not sure if you’ve turned into the pinnacle of hypocrisy, an environmental terrorist culture, or a terrorist organization against humanity and the capitalistic systems of this country that you have prospered in. I believe you’ve gone off the charts with your positions on social issues in your magazine.

Dan Koffler
Salem, Oregon

America’s Sheeple

I reach out to you with a heavy heart from a great sense of both sadness and frustration upon reading the August/September 2009 DEAR Mother letter entitled Humans Still Debating Humans. Sadly, I believe an ever-growing portion of our American “sheeple” is intellectually blind to the reality that surrounds them. When any species, including humankind, has overpopulated its living space, the side effects are mass migration, food and water shortages, destruction of environment, and deaths untold.

If you believe mankind is any different from any other species because we are so very intelligent, just remember we only have so much landmass and fresh water to live on. Simple arithmetic will show you the planet can only hold so many people and so many animals together. I feel very sorry for those of you who cannot see the tornado that faces mankind.

Toby Royal
Bushnell, Florida

God Will Provide

Do you think that God cannot provide all that is needed to sustain life no matter how many people there are? If so, you need to read the Bible and realize that God has unlimited resources and He will provide all our needs according to His riches and glory. Wake up people and stop the waste and the abuse!

Frederick Perry
Norfolk, Massachusetts

Ignoring Population Is Shortsighted

Continuing to grow and multiply at the rate we have been and not even discussing the critical issue of human population growth is certainly very shortsighted. Maintaining a sustainable population worldwide must happen. Otherwise, we will have food shortages, especially as we pave over our farmlands. We will have starvation, because we won’t be able to feed folks. We will have war over our resources, since we have been poisoning our environment. We will run out of oil.

Not talking about birth control and not educating everyone is criminal. It is not necessary anymore to have large families as it was in the past. We must control the human population and not go along with the religious philosophy that we must go forth and continuously multiply. Let’s use our heads, challenge our brains and come up with a solution for everyone. Let’s look at the whole picture. A sustainable population is key.

Carol Pellett
Anacortes, Washington


The Perils of Plastics

Your report on the health effects of plastic, Plastics: What’s Dangerous, What’s Not, has had a monumental impact on my life. Thank you forever for the serious enlightenment and new awareness. I am now talking to friends about this health threat. I will never again put plastic in my microwave oven.

Eve Otto
Woodstock, New York

Correction: In  Plastics: What’s Dangerous, What’s Not, the SC Johnson brand Saran Wrap was listed as an example of plastic wrap. While some plastic wraps contain BPA, according to SC Johnson, Saran Wrap does not. —  MOTHER 


Solar Prairie Home, Pro and Con

Energy-efficient, But Way Too Big

I was very irritated by your article on the solar prairie home plan, You Can Build This Energy-efficient Solar Home. Many of your articles are about how to get by on less, how to reduce the consumption that so marks our age. This article, touting an efficient 2,600-square-foot home, flies in the face of reduction! Just because it’s energy-efficient doesn’t mean it should be guilt-free!

Amanda Stiebel
Middletown, New York

Congratulations to the Designer

When the August/September 2009 issue came, I was really excited to see you had plans for a solar home. I’ve looked at literally hundreds of house plans, solar and otherwise. I thought if anyone could get it right, it would be MOTHER EARTH NEWS. Generally, I was not disappointed. That’s saying a lot, as I’m very critical of house plans.

This plan has a lot of good features. First and foremost, the garage is not front and center of the house (a pet peeve of mine). The relationship of the kitchen to the mudroom and garage is good, convenient for things coming into and going out of the house. And at last! The laundry room is near where 95 percent of the laundry comes from — the bedrooms!

I found it an interesting point to locate the kitchen on the northeast and coldest side of the house, using the kitchen stove to help heat the space. While there is a small pantry in the kitchen, I do think considerably more pantry space is required — all that canned and preserved food needs a space. Is there perhaps a basement plan that could be used as cold storage? (Yes, that option is on www.nk-greenplans.com . — MOTHER) 

The spaces are nice, generous but not over-large, and there’s a good balance of open space to defined space.

All in all, congratulations to the designer. While I would revise some things, I understand only too well how hard it is to get a plan that has everything you want and need.

Nancy Webster
Houston, Texas


All About Garlic

I really enjoyed the article Growing Garlic by Barbara Pleasant. It was very, very well-written and informative. Anything one needs to know about garlic is right there in those two pages. I also loved the illustrations by Keith Ward. Wonderful work, guys!

Haley Turner
Moultrie, Georgia

Drifting Thoughts on the Prairie: A Letter from a Young Farmer

Ever since I moved back to my family’s farm in 2005, I’ve been trying to understand where we’re headed in agriculture and why. Needless to say, the more I see out the tractor window, the more confused I become. The vision of our industry is as clear as West Texas skies in a spring sandstorm. The Earth becomes nothing more than a brown haze, consuming our sense of direction.

We have such a huge impact on all living creatures — farmers, that is — including one another. We’re more than just the bridge between humanity and food. We are more than just neighbors. We are flesh and bone guardian angels of the soil, protectors of life. We are here to ensure the survival of agriculture and preserve Nature’s delicate cycle which keeps everything spinning round. We are valuable allies when we want to be.

It takes all walks of life for crops to evolve from tiny seeds to fully mature plants. From bees and flies to microscopic bacteria in the soil, we have billions of helpers along the way. As fellow farmers, we also must be tentative to not only our own crops but also our neighbors’ crops just across the turnin’ row.

Yet it is apparent we are hell-bent on decimating the purity in Nature and even our personal relationships because of our adopted-style of chemical farming. And all of this madness in the name of money? Crazy but true.

In the past three years, I've both heard of and witnessed more drifting problems from genetically-modified farming than ever in our farming community. In a frenzy to control weeds without a plow, Roundup farmers scurry across their land in panicked fashion with crop dusters and colossal spray rigs pumping out poison like vengeful venom machines. Here in West Texas, the wind seldom rests and carries upon its breezes those tiny particles of poison into neighboring fields, homes, and gardens. This drift on conventional crops sickens the plant to such a degree, preventing the plants from producing its full potential. Organic food crops curl up into a fetal position, setting tiny fruit (if any at all) rather than large, healthy produce.

My garden was killed by my neighbor early this summer as Helena Chemical Company pumped Roundup across his cotton crop. My tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, corn, and garlic withered to nothing. Even after attaining tissue samples from a laboratory (a $30 cost), Helena Chemical representatives informed me they planned to do nothing to compensate me for my food or time. Instead, they wanted to blame a flying service putting out Roundup more than half a mile away on another neighbor’s field. And this is how the game is played in modern agriculture. It boils down to accounting with no accountability. And my neighbor (whom I’ve known my entire life) took the side of Helena, insisting they could not have drifted because he was there to watch it. (Even though they sprayed 3yards from my garden.)

We have been conned into this rigged game of commercial agriculture ruled by corporations designed to take as much money as possible from us. They neither have our best interests at heart nor that of our soil, water, or air. Yet year after year, we contribute billions of our hard-earned dollars to companies like Monsanto, DuPont, Dow Chemical, Bayer Crop Science, and other deviant corporations focused solely on profits.

To the occasional passerby, fields appear normal and weed free. But it is what we can't see that is killing our industry, the American farmer, and everything else around us. Genetically-modified crops dominate the landscape like neighborhood bullies on a late-evening street corner. Trouble is bound to happen before sunrise. Weed issues are treated with cancerous herbicides such as Roundup, atrazine and other modern forms of 2-4D, Agent Orange, etc. Insects, of course, are also treated with the latest version of poison rather than a healthy crop rotation and organic fertilizers. We’ve gotten so far off track; we don’t even know where the train is supposed to run anymore. I’m not sure if we even listen for the whistle.

The concept of “get big or die” has created such a monster American farming now resembles the physique of a steroid-infested body builder with a pea-sized brain rather than a fine-tuned, hard-working athlete with a keen mind. We’ve beefed up family farms to such a degree they resemble the overfed, malnourished livestock of factory farms.

As commercial farmers, we’ve traded in our title as stewards in exchange for producers so we might gain more paper money per acre each year and hang on to another season of debt-ridden life. We’re stuck in an eternal one-year plan centered around a cleverly-modern recipe with venom as the key ingredient. Pleased as pudding, we pump this poison as fast as possible across our farms, treating our long-term problems with short-term ideas. Focused on appearance rather than health, we scurry across rural Earth like toxic cosmetologists hoping to collect as much money as possible before closing time.

Instead of thinking our weed and insect issues could actually be derived from unhealthy soil, we dare not listen to rational reasoning. Distracted by a long list of titanic annual payments, we haven’t the time to build our soil with organic matter and nutrients. We only want to get rid of the problems right now — consequences be damned. Do we want to solve our problems or transform them into uncontrollable monsters, passing them off to our children like some diabolical family heirloom? With all the talk of global warming or climate change, we need to look no further than our daily contributions of poison to a planet already overwhelmed with decades of gluttony and greed.

When I returned home to my family’s farm, I wasn’t exactly sure if I was ready or not to become a farmer again. More than a decade had passed since I last worked the Earth on a regular basis. Much had changed. What I had not forgotten was unfamiliar. Yet, deep down I knew the farm was exactly where I needed to be.

After a year of getting my feet wet, the connection between the Earth and myself grew strong. Accepting my return, I knew I’d made the right decision to come back home. Many challenges lied ahead, and I welcomed them with open arms — learning as much I could on a daily basis about plants and their relationship to the soil, about our soil and its relationship to insect issues, and about the farmer and our relationship with Nature. The more I learn, the more determined I am to be a true steward of the soil, a flesh and bone guardian angel of the Earth. It is an uphill battle I am fully capable of surviving.

No matter how many times we get kicked in the teeth when changing agriculture for the better, we cannot rest on our oars. Motivation must come from within. Not from some outside source. Let us not depend on government who weakens us with dependence. Let us not rely on the corporations who rob us of our profits. Let us not blame “the system” designed to crater our revolution. Let us not pass off our own transgressions on others when we are perfectly capable of change for the better. No matter what sales pitch we are fed at a free lunch, we are better than this. We must be better than we have been. Evolution is often a wonderful deed performed by the most intelligent of creatures.

So long as one profits financially from a crime, it is difficult to consider the act so horribly wrong. While refusing to believe the inconvenient consequences of our actions, reality is often too cruel to accept. Perhaps we don’t perceive something as a problem until it directly affects us in a negative fashion. Let us not be an industry blinded by our profits because our crimes against Nature are obvious whether we admit it to ourselves or not.

For those who read this publication regularly, I do not mean to preach to the choir, but this message is intended for the attentive suits in the first row all the way to the snickering teenagers in the back pew. This message is also for myself to never forget what I strive to be as a farmer. I do not write these words to depress or degrade my fellow farmer. On the contrary, I write these words because they are the painful truth. Isn’t that what is supposed to set us free or at least restore these brown skies back to blue?

Eric Herm
Ackerly, Texas

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