Dear MOTHER: June/July 2010

Reader letters about creating a sustainable society, homestead dreams, garden planning, MAX and more.
Letters from our readers
June/July 2010
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Accidental cross-pollination led to some fun, funky hybrids — and reader Alison Sheafor-Joy is delighted with her goofy gourds.
ALISON SHEAFOR-JOY
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We received a heartening collection of thoughtful, positive reader letters in response to Creating a Sustainable Society: Four Questions We Should Ask , written by MOTHER’s publisher, Bryan Welch. The idea that creating a sustainable society can — and must — be a work of repeatable beauty, abundance and fairness, rather than a path of fear and forced asceticism, clearly resonated with you as much as it did with us. It also opened up a constructive dialogue, as readers with a range of opinions all shared respectful feedback. Not only was this refreshing, but it illuminated the power of these ideas as common ground from which we can all work together to build the best possible future.

We’ve printed a few of the letters below. You can find more in the comments section of the article. We’d love for you to join the discussion by posting your own comment to that article. — MOTHER


Be Mindful

The overall message of the need for a positive vision in Bryan Welch’s Creating a Sustainable Society: Four Questions We Should Ask resonated with me. I think that we must not completely discount, however, that some people may only be motivated to make fundamental changes to their behavior through fear of loss. We need to both strive for abundance and beauty and be mindful of what is likely to befall us all if we don’t change our current ways.

Heather Martin
Lincoln, California

Meaningful Transformation

I wholeheartedly agree with Bryan Welch’s emphasis on inspiration and beauty. Certainly, we need to be aware of the depths of the ecological and social crises we face, but guilt and fear will never prove to be sufficient motivation for the radical changes that are required in the way we live. Love, beauty, creativity and joy must be at the heart of meaningful transformation.

Mark Hathaway
Iowa City, Iowa

Collective Commitment

I love Bryan Welch’s approach to our mission to create sustainability. So often we hear naysayers pooh-poohing all the latest ideas and suggestions as impossible, impractical and naive. Welch, and all the writers of MOTHER EARTH NEWS, put the true issue in focus. We need to collectively commit to changing not just our light bulbs, but our way of thinking and our levels of consumption.

Yes, it’s important to share food production knowledge with struggling nations, but we shouldn’t teach them to overconsume as we do. We have seen that’s not sustainable, responsible or Earth-focused.

Tina Hurlbert
Durham, Connecticut

A Different Kind of Pick-Me-Up

This might sound corny, but it’s the truth — I use your magazine to bring me out of unhappy times. I’m working to get 27 acres in Nova Scotia and open a retreat. It’s taking time, of course, but if I get down, all I need to do is pick up one of your issues and I’m good to go.

Juanita Sullivan
Yarmouth, Nova Scotia

The Homestead Dream Lives On

I used to read my father’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS whenever I could get my hands on it. We lived on a small farm where he turned what I was reading into reality. It’s where my dreams of homesteading came into being.

As an adult with mobility problems, I’m still trying to figure out how to get some things done, but I am blessed with a creative husband. He’s made drip lines for the hanging tomato plants and plans for raised platform beds. We live on a small lot in suburbia and can’t have farm animals, but we’re holding tight to our dream of a small piece of rural land where we can do more to lower our carbon footprint. When the dream is hard to hold on to, I turn to MOTHER EARTH NEWS. The focus returns and my dream lives on.

Kim Macomber
Tigard, Oregon

Am I a Homesteader?

I’ve been reading homesteading articles in magazines for 40 years, dreaming of living a sustainable life.

Last year I retired to a small town in Arizona. Now, with a fixed income and a homestead dream, how do I improve my lot in life?

I built a raised garden and filled it with fine soil removed from a nursery’s trash pile. I love the fresh veggies and reduced food bill. The savings go into making my home as green and efficient as possible — new windows, roof and low-VOC paint.

Am I a homesteader? Maybe not by most people’s standards, but I’ve reduced my living costs, helped the environment, improved my home and the quality of my food, and stayed active doing it.

There are more things that elderly families can do to invest in the future without taxing their incomes. I intend to learn to bake bread and preserve extra produce. And when I bought my home, I put 10 percent down and avoided mortgage insurance, which can save hundreds of dollars a year.

Yes, I am a homesteader! I am doing what I can with what I have in order to live a better life and to protect the environment.

Larry Snyder
Wilcox, Arizona

Please share your homesteading and living-on-less tips by posting a comment on our  Preparing to Go Back to the Land page. — MOTHER

Sustainable In the Suburbs

MOTHER EARTH NEWS has been my source for learning how to live sustainably in the suburbs. I’ve learned how to bake bread, grow better tomatoes and use solar panels. The more we can learn to be independent from city utilities and grocery stores, the better.

Stephanie McKechnie
Panama City Beach, Florida

Hog Wild for This Roaster

The article by Carol Watkins, How to Build a Hog Roaster , inspired me to construct my own cooker and do my first pig roast. That was in 1984. Pig roast catering is now my profession. I have since built 16 roasters and grills. I have chalked up over 1,500 pig roasts and parties since then. I’d like to thank Carol Watkins for bragging up her dad. I’d like to thank you for printing the article back then. It was really good to see it on MotherEarthNews.com.

Edward Pfaffel
Medina, Ohio

Europeans Wise to Wood Heat

Advanced wood combustion is being pursued aggressively in Europe but is lagging in the United States. Hundreds of wood boilers run small-scale combined heat and power plants in towns across central Europe. In northern Austria, more than 40 percent of municipal buildings use wood heat. They even require fossil fuel companies to heat their buildings with wood!

Nowhere is it more obvious that the United States is far behind Europe in using wood efficiently and cleanly than in the spread of outdoor wood boilers (aka hydronic heaters) that are heavily advertised in your magazine. Most outdoor wood boilers are so polluting that some states are working to ban them. I hope none of your readers confuse advanced wood combustion with outdoor wood boilers .

John Ackerly
Takoma Park, Maryland

The EPA is working to resolve this issue. Check out the list of  EPA-certified boilers  here. Also see our article,  Is Wood Heating Right for You? — MOTHER

Global Warming Cult?

I am concerned that the blind acceptance of anthropological global warming is damaging to MOTHER’s overall mission of conservation. There is no general acceptance of this idea. In fact, it is more of a cult following. Most contemporary research points to the sun’s energy output and other factors beyond man’s control. Progressive environmentalists pursue the carbon dioxide theory with religious fervor, but there is no evidence to support the theory. MOTHER should stand for the truth.

Richard Rein
Port Ludlow, Washington

For Us, It's Essential

This is the one magazine my husband and I refuse to give up. We are retired and sometimes run a little short on money, but are never too short for MOTHER EARTH NEWS. Thanks for an honest and factual magazine.

Mary Frazier
Pearland, Texas

From Udder to Butter

When my sisters and I told a friend about the raw milk we buy, she encouraged us to make butter with the cream. It sounded appealing, especially because of all the nutrients in butter made from the milk of grass-fed cows. That night, I opened the June/July 2009 issue of MOTHER EARTH NEWS and found easy and illustrated instructions for making butter in How to Make Butter and Buttermilk .

This method is so simple and fast! Thanks for the encouragement and the easy instructions right when I needed them.

Joanna Grove
Reston, Virginia

Perfect Whole-Wheat Bread!

Thank you for the article Healthy No-Knead Bread Recipes . It was just what I needed to get back into bread making. I had become totally discouraged with the “hockey pucks” that came out when I tried to use more than 50 percent whole-wheat in the past. I bought the book and have tried several different recipes. I can now turn out 100 percent whole-wheat perfectly! Count me as a convert. I have been spreading the word.

John Shonle
Amherst, New Hampshire

More on Low-Cost Tractors

Regarding the low-cost used tractor discussion , I could get a new, 40-ish horsepower diesel with loader for about $20,000 (with warranty). As for $7,000 for a used IH gas tractor with loader, you can get a much better tractor with more power for the same money — look at old Ford and John Deere diesels. I bought a ’63 Massey model 65 Dieselmatic — 4-cylinder diesel with 50 horsepower, live power takeoff, power steering and differential lock — for $1,900. I have to do some wiring and rear-axle work, but for less than $3,000, I’ll have a formidable tractor that will handle just about anything I want to do.

Joseph Kordinak
Jollyville, Texas

Delicious Patience Dock

I received a packet of patience dock seed from MOTHER EARTH NEWS a couple of years ago. The first (early spring) planting didn’t do too well, but this year I have beautiful plants about 8 inches tall. I make a wonderful orzo pasta dish with the patience dock, some wintered-over collards, and grated Parmesan cheese and butter.

Linda Goetz Fradley
Brevard, North Carolina

Clean Diesel Is a Crock

There is no more “clean diesel” than there is “clean coal.” They don’t exist. Just look up “asthma diesel fumes” to see the truth. Petrodiesel fumes contain more than 40 cancer-causing chemicals, including deadly dioxin. You really need to do some serious homework on this issue.

Audrey Collins
Anchorage, Alaska

Nothing's Warmer Than Wool!

This is our cat Oliver sitting on the back of Ada. Ada is really old, and I’m sure she’s got sheep dementia. The barn cats take full advantage: When it’s cold out, they lie on her for warmth. The other sheep don’t put up with it, but Ada either likes it or doesn’t realize the cat is there. She is deaf and nearly blind.

Kathy Sletto
Alexandria, Minnesota

Population In Pictures

The February/March 2010 issue was terrific. Thank you for featuring a couple who appears to be childless in your Firsthand Report Off the Grid and Thriving! Population growth drives the challenges facing us, as so powerfully stated in Lester Brown’s article, The Race Between Tipping Points: Can We Save Our Civilization?

Kristin Belko
Lander, Wyoming

A Wonderful Rediscovery

I found back issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS at our local library’s book sale and grabbed every one. I hadn’t thought of this magazine in years! I’ve bookmarked so many pages, I can’t even begin to count. And the website has been invaluable as well.

Since then, I’ve baked bread for the first time in years, and we’re going to try making beer, wine, cider and mead. We also have plans for a small garden, a greenhouse, and someday, solar power and wind power. If our yard proves not to be a good garden site, we’ll look at starting a community garden in a sunnier part of town. It seems there used to be one, but it fell into disuse.

Sherrie Wilson
Silver Plume, Colorado

Goofy Gourds

I thought you would like to see a photo of these beauties. A nearby farmer grew these by accident. Somehow, his pumpkins and gourds cross-bred. His seed guy was amazed and wanted him to save the seeds. Instead, the farmer sold them and I was lucky to get these gorgeous gems for Halloween decorations.

The flesh is soft and thick like a pumpkin, but the outer coating is fairly hard. The various colored warts are charming as can be. I’m in love, and hope I can grow some this coming year from the seeds I saved.

Alison Sheafor-Joy
Arlington, Washington

Updated Solar Education Info

Upon reading about San Juan College’s solar energy programs in How to Start a Solar Career , I contacted the school to confirm the unheard-of price of tuition quoted in the article ($480/ semester for out-of-state students), and was quoted a rate of more than $4,000 for a one-year certificate.

Robin Bariel
White Water, Kansas

We checked back with San Juan College and learned the school announced a tuition increase shortly after we went to press. — MOTHER


Sharp Criticisms of Max

I have been an automotive powertrain engineer for more than 20 years. I can tell you with some authority that the MAX project ( Our DIY Car: The Quest for 100 MPG ) is nothing but a high school experiment. You have to ask: 1) Does it meet all regulations from the myriad of safety and environmental regulatory agencies? 2) Is it safe? 3) Is it saleable — does anyone besides a select few want to buy it?

The Kubota diesel engine MAX uses doesn’t meet emissions standards for cars. Does MAX have the mandated air bags? Can it sustain a 15-mph crash? What about protection for rollover, side impacts and rear-end collisions? There are no bumpers. I see the fuel tank hanging off the back. What happens when a truck rear-ends MAX? Correcting all these issues adds weight and cost to a vehicle that can be sold in the United States.

The author says that MAX goes from zero to 60 mph in 20 seconds. That means pulling out of Burger King and getting to the 45 mph speed limit will take about 15 seconds and 520 feet. That’s a long time and not a safe way to get into even moderate traffic flow. It’s not performance; it’s safety. Good traction and stability in all types of weather are also necessities.

The MAX project should be shown for what it is — a vehicle that may achieve 100 mpg, but does so by rejecting all regulations on emissions and safety. MAX is a one-off experiment that in no way compares to an actual modern-day vehicle.

Richard Kacel
Waterford, Michigan

Jack McCornack, creator of MAX, responds:

Richard, I agree with many of your observations, but only halfway agree with your conclusions. For example, what’s so great about an “actual modern-day vehicle”? And what’s so bad about a “high school experiment”?

MAX is designed so it can be built by high school students and other amateur doit- yourselfers. Does MAX meet government regulations? You bet! Lucky for us, the government regulations for a car you build yourself are not as strict as the regulations for production cars. For example, air bags are not mandated on home-built cars. They wouldn’t be mandated on production cars either if everybody wore five-point racing harnesses like those in MAX.

I’d say MAX gets a nod on all safety issues except side impact protection, and we’re working on that. And MAX has superb stability, rollover resistance and braking capability without needing stability control, traction control or antilock brakes to make up for design deficiencies.

What would happen if a truck were to rear-end MAX? The fuel tank didn’t rupture when I was rear-ended several months ago because (even though it’s visible) it’s protected by a tubular steel structure.

I wouldn’t call MAX a modern-day vehicle; it’s more like a newly built 50-year-old vehicle. MAX is slow, but not dangerously slow. I will admit that I wait for big gaps between cars before I pull out in traffic.

I doubt that MAX scares Detroit, but it might help show there is a market for a small, efficient, no-frills, inexpensive automobile, conceived that way from the getgo — perhaps a small market, but a market worth serving.

Read Richard and Jack’s  full discussion of MAX here. — MOTHER


Two Tips For Easy Garden Planning

Kudos for the Maintain Healthy Garden Soil with Crop Rotations article. For planning that’s much more efficient than using graph paper, try using a spreadsheet program such as Excel. You can change the grid to quarter-inch squares and scale them to the size of your garden with the scale of one square = 1 foot. Merging the cells to represent rows gives you an excellent tool that has the flexibility to plan, alter and design the garden using companion planting and crop rotation ideas before you even break ground for the year.

The next year, copy the plan to a new worksheet, and you can move things around based on the previous year/ season. I also use it to keep track of germination rates, seed sources, harvests, variety performance, rainfall rates, fertilizer blends and potential harvest dates. Planning like this also is a great way to burn time in the nongrowing months to get it just right for the season.

David Everhart
Jacksonville, North Carolina

For those interested in garden planning tools, we are offering a great new Garden Planner that does all the things David mentions, and even calculates your planting dates by using your ZIP code to determine your average frost dates. — MOTHER


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