Mother Earth News Blogs > Homesteading and Livestock

Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.


It's funny how things come around again and again.  My grandmother and mom always said that, but I was a teenager when I heard them say it so I just rolled my eyes and thought to myself, “Why do they keep saying that?”   They were speaking specifically about fashions, but I have noticed that we have come full circle in health foods and the push to save the earth, or not, as the case may be.

They were certainly right about things circling around when it comes to fashion.  It seems that fashion comes in twenty to forty year cycles.  Of course everything that cycles back around isn’t identical to the previous cycle, but it is close enough to be able to say one is a copy.  I didn’t really give it that much thought until our youngest daughter was in high school.  We went shopping and she was looking at low-cut jeans and very revealing halter tops.  As we were looking and I was thinking about how revealing they were, I said, “Wow.  These are back in?  I had some of these pants when I was a teenager but we called them hip-huggers.  And these blouses are exactly like the ones we wore in high school.”  I saw her roll her eyes and almost slam the clothes back onto the rack.  The light bulb went off in my head!  I had stumbled across a few phrases that appeared to be more successful at getting less skin exposed on my young daughter than all my threats and all the yelling and pleading I had been doing for the last half year!

Coming around again is an awareness of the food we eat.  There was a huge push toward what everyone called “health foods” in the 1970's.  Back then my friends and I were making our own yogurt, making and selling natural candy bars, and growing and using sprouts on everything, to name just a few things popular back then.  Many people in the 1970’s were trying to make their way back to healthier options after America’s acceptance of processed and convenient foods through the 50's and 60's, thanks in part to the race to the moon.  But that old phrase “health food” certainly does not mean the same thing today as it did back then.  It seemed that then health foods were a certain type of good prepared in a certain way (or not), and they weren’t always tasty.  I remember eating a soybean burrito served by a very back-to-the-earth friend.  Those soybeans weren’t cooked long enough and so made it a very crunchy burrito.  It felt like little pebbles in my food!  I ate to be polite, but needless to say I left and went straight to get a ‘real’ burrito!

History shows us that as most of America shifted away from an agrarian society after World War II that many Americans were happy and even relieved to be able to shop in the big-box grocery stores.  Americans were pleased that they could buy goods at reasonable prices from all over the country and the world, and not be limited to local seasonal goods.  This accounts for large grocery stores’ exponential growth in the last forty years.  Suddenly, it seems, in mid winter we could get plums from Chile, artichokes from Mexico, and cheap shrimp from Thailand.  Instead of three choices for one item, we had six or ten!  And I won’t even bother going into the explosion of the number and variety of fast food drive-through restaurants in the last thirty years.

But here we are, more than forty years later, and people are marching in droves to return to a healthier diet, even going so far as to insist on local farm-fresh products.  The newest catch phrase is “From farm to fork,” as if that concept is a new one.  For the latest generation, it is.  Many people these days are much happier supporting local farms, or at the very least, American, rather than foreign, farmers.  American consumers are starting to realize that foreign farmers do not necessarily have the same degree of vigilance when growing and exporting their goods.  And, really, why should those foreign farmers be concerned?  They can spray their crops to control pests and weeds with chemicals that our farmers are not allowed to use, ship their goods to us, and we pay for and gobble up their products!  And we could talk for days about the fact that these imports run into billions of dollars that American consumers have sent out of the country by buying this foreign food, forcing many American farmers out of business.

I realize that these are big ideas conveyed here in very simplistic terms.  But before we debate every facet of pesticides, most-favored-nation lax import rules, chemicals, and all things farming (because I can feel some of you getting antsy to argue!), for the sake of keeping this in a format that is short enough to print, I must boil it down to the basics, and the basics almost always sound too simplistic.

Also back on our radar screen is the state of our earth.  So many of us take for granted sayings like “Save the Earth,” “Recycle,” and “Save our Oceans,” because we have been hearing them for decades.  But they were cutting edge and forward thinking sayings in the 1970’s, and many products, processes, and publications rose out of that dynamic time.  The birth of the magazine Mother Earth News stands in the forefront of those because of their monthly publication to help us help ourselves.   But, for many, those sayings became that pile of clothes in our room that needs to be hung up:  at first it grows because we put off doing the hanging but throw more on it, then we see it so often that we start ignoring it, and eventually we don’t see it at all.  These phrases, and others like them, have been rattling around in our heads for over forty years.  But recently they have been taken out, dusted off, updated, and backed by evidence that they were not just Chicken Little crying that the sky was falling!

I remember a debate in my English class in high school about the blossoming development of our little town.  Some in the class were arguing for the continued development and expansion across all the farmland and orange groves in our area, while others were adamant that Joni Mitchell’s song “Paved Paradise” was indeed becoming a reality.  I remember one girl who had had enough of the conversation and actually yelled, “You are being ridiculous!  Things will never get as built up as you are saying.  That’s just dumb!”  Well, I have so say that you will hear, at reunions, “You almost don’t recognize our little town anymore.  It’s grown so much and there aren’t any orange groves left!  It’s all houses as far as you can see.” 

This reawakening and seeming commitment to taking the state of our earth seriously is encouraging. The sobering realization that we all need to help the earth sustain us for another several millenia has finally hit mainstream society and is not considered just a quirky idea that a bunch of college kids came up with anymore.  To put it in very simple terms:  if a parent witnessed their child kicking and poisoning a puppy, wouldn’t they put a stop to it and save that puppy?  Instead of relying on the Earth to be the strong and ever-present parent, we really should be treating it like a little puppy and help take care of it, making sure it is safe and unpoisoned, so that it can grow old.  Our failure to do so is certain suicide.  It is just a matter of timing:  will we kill ourselves sooner or later?

Maura White grew up on the Pacific Coast in a sleepy beach town and has lived all over the country, as well as in Asia. What a change it was for her to move out to the country and she uses humor to help her make the adjustment. She and her husband are working to make their farm, Double Star Bar Farms, a successful family farm. She keeps busy with her stained glass business, which you can check out at You can read more of her stories at She keeps saying “You can take the girl away from the ocean, but you can’t take the ocean out of the girl!”  Copyright © 2011, Maura White.  All rights reserved.