Mother Earth News Blogs >

Homesteading and Livestock
Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

Acorn Fed Pigs

Acorns in the fall

Fall is here and the acorns are falling! On our little farm we are plentiful in both White and Live Oak trees. Every fall the acorns rain down on us and I spend hours collecting by hand or as of last year, collecting with this quick and fun nut gatherer or I pay our farm kid {and often friends kids' too} to collect acorns by the 5 gallon buckets. Why would you ever want so many acorns? Acorn fed pork...that is why!

A famous and possibly the highest quality ham in the world is known as 'jamón ibérico' or Iberico Ham. Coming from Portugal and Spain it is known for the pigs having a nearly acorn exclusive diet. A diet of acorns can lead to a very well marbled and deep red meat, try to forget the marketing phrase of pork being 'the other white meat'...pork should not be white, it should be vibrant and red. If a pig is acorn-fed, it is likely that they are raised on pasture or in the woods and foraging for their own acorns, a practice known as pannage.  They may also be supplemented with extra acorns as we do here at Flicker Farm. Having the ability to express their piggyness in the form of foraging, rooting, sunbathing, and running also leads to a much healthier meat than that of a pig confined to a concrete stall.

An acorn heavy diet has been shown to lend itself to pig fat that is high in unsaturated fat, high in omega 3's and high in oleic acid.  This pork fat nutritional profile is very similar to that of olive oil, and the Spanish often to refer acorn fed pork as "olive oil on four hooves". Isn't that interesting? For so long pork fat, or lard, has been villainized. But if the pig is raised in a natural outdoor environment, lard falls into the health food group alongside olive oil. For more on healthy pastured lard, you can read my lard article here.

 Pannage Pork in Pasture

Other benefits of acorns in a pigs diet include it being a sustainable food source. As long as you have live oak trees, you will get acorns falling every fall. They are also free! You only need to invest your time in the collection. Acorns are also low in sugar, high in minerals, vitamins and fiber. Depending on the oak tree variety, the acorns may have high levels of tannins. Tannins themselves may have a bitter flavor, but the pigs sure do not mind and the bitterness does not come through in the pork.

So how does the average person get their hands on acorn fed pigs? You'll likely need to befriend your local pig farmer or high quality butcher for such a delicacy. You can also buy online direct from certain farms. If you have the ability to buy local pork direct from a farmer, ask them about their feeding program and if acorns are part of it. Even better, bring them a bucket of acorns and watch the pigs go nuts!

Nicole Wilkey transitioned from a corporate job to small-scale farmer in 2015. Since then she has run the California based Flicker Farm to accommodate meat pigs, mini Juliana pigs, pasture based poultry and sells goats milk soap and lotion on Etsy. Connect with Nicole on Instagram and Facebook.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Shifting Focus To Urban Homesteading

urban garden 

Some of the plants we got as a housewarming gift.

After a lengthy break and a house move, I am back to blogging and plan to focus on stuff such as urban homesteading, sustainable living and cultivating a community. 

During the 10 years we lived on a plot of land in a rural area, my goal was always to look out for a more remote place with more land, which would allow us to do more in terms of homesteading and especially keeping livestock. Needless to say, when life took a sharp turn and we found ourselves preparing to move to a town, I was deeply depressed. 

It felt like the shattering of a dream and, in a sense, like a total failure. I kept replaying scenarios in my head, thinking that maybe we should have done more, sacrificed more, tried harder. 

Nevertheless, I knew that homesteading and sustainability are not just for those who can do remote off-grid living. It's more about mindset than circumstances. And so I started to look into urban homesteading, and discovered inspiring examples of food production people have managed in tiny spaces. Container gardening, vertical gardening, urban chickens, community plots and other cool projects made me ashamed of doing so little with what we have had until now. Rather than needing more land, it transpired, we just needed to make better use of it!

We are fortunate enough to have a house with its own lot, but upon our arrival I suffered another disappointment: I knew that the previous owner loved concrete a little too much, but I did not realize that he literally smothered all of the yard with concrete and tiles, leaving no blade of grass. I looked at that great big grey slab and just wanted to cry. 

Container gardening is a solution many people successfully implement, but there was also a small plot of land next to our lot that has served, until now, as something like an unofficial junk yard. We looked with greedy eyes at this unkempt, overgrown bit of earth, seeing in our vision neat rows of vegetables and a chicken coop and run. 

We applied for permission to use that empty plot. We were prepared for bureaucracy, but there was no problem whatsoever - the city council was thrilled to grant us permission and even agreed to help with disposing of some of the heavier junk. 

Life has been busy, and it isn't easy to get things done with four kids and a maze of boxes, but we still managed to start working on some projects. I began weeding, pruning and raking leaves. Our friends gave us a bunch of plants as a housewarming gift, and we've brought some from our old home, so I've started planting a herb garden. My husband set up his outdoor fish tank and collected a pile of scrapwood for the chicken coop. Luckily, people all around keep poultry and I hear roosters crowing every day, so we're very fortunate in that account - it's unlikely our little coop will bother anyone, as long as we are considerate and take care to be good neighbors. 

I look forward to recording our next steps in this journey. This, it turns out, is not the end of our homesteading adventure - it's just another stage.

Anna Twitto’s academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna, her husband and their four children live on the outskirts of a small town in northern Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Anna's books are on her Author PageConnect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects on her blogRead all Anna's Mother Earth News posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Should You Let Your Chickens Free Range?

 Free Range Hens

When you first get chickens you will need to decide where you’re going to keep them. This will mean you have to think about the various ranging options. There are numerous choices including:

Complete free range

Keeping them in a secure run

Supervised ranging

A combination of the above

Let me say here before we continue, this isn’t a conversation about keeping them in cages inside; this should never be done.

In this article we will look at the pros and cons of letting your chickens have complete free range before suggesting alternatives to free ranging.

The Benefits of Letting Your Chickens Free Range

Letting your chickens free range gives them much more space to roam around and generally keeps them happier. They will spend most of their time roaming around finding little tidbits that they can eat. The main benefit of this is it helps reduce anti-social flock behavior such as bullying and pecking. This is because the chickens are stimulated and have something to do.

Another benefit of letting them roam is that they will find a surprising amount of food when scavenging, meaning your feed bill will likely reduce.

The Drawbacks of Letting Your Chickens Free Range

In my experience there are two main disadvantages with letting your chickens free range. The first is that when your chickens are ranging far away from the coop they tend to lay eggs all over the place and forget about their nesting boxes. This can turn collecting eggs into a treasure hunt!

The second, and far more serious risk, is the threat of a predator attacking your flock. The heartbreak at having lost a flock due to predators attacking them whilst they were free ranging is difficult to put into words.

Viable Alternatives to Free Ranging

My personal preference is supervised ranging. This means when I’m away from the house they are in a large pen (1/2 acre) and can free roam safely there. And when I’m at home I open the pen up and they are free to roam wherever they please.

However I realize that not everybody has time to oversee their hens ranging, especially if they need to work or spend most of their daytime away from home.

There are certain things, however, that can be used to help and ‘automate’ this though. If you are looking to make things as safe as possible you could consider getting an automatic coop door and motion sensor lighting. I’ve found this combination to be very effective when it comes to preventing predators attacking my chickens.


As with most things chicken keeping, it’s a personal preference whether you let your girls have complete free roam, supervised roaming, pen only access, or some combination.

Having lost several hens through predator attacks I can tell you first hand that it is absolutely devastating. This is why I now use the safer option of supervised ranging and offer them a large penned area during the times I’m not there to supervise. As a final note if you are building a pen for your chickens make sure to use hardware cloth, not chicken wire. Hardware cloth is much stronger and will do a better job of preventing attacks.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Achieving A Dream Of Remote Homesteading


Many have dreams of where or what they want to be in the future. I can trace mine back to when I was in the first grade. I would daydream of living in a remote wooded area, and then when I learned to read I read about pioneers and adventurers who tamed the west it became more of a dream and a goal. The freedom they had in roaming the wilderness just fueled my dream of one day getting out of the noisy city and living in the woods. I grew up and have lived most of my life in large cities. Most dreams fade or are supplanted as we experience life and responsibilities but my dream lingered in the back of my mind as I forged a career and raised a family. I loved the outdoors and felt a certain freedom being outside in the woods, mountains or on a body of water. Sometimes a dream can be pushed aside by reality or distractions but if it is a real dream it will still be there if the opportunity arises.

Dreams Becoming Reality

Several years prior to retirement I began thinking about what I would do when I did retire. I had an opportunity to buy some mountain land that was mostly remote at a very good price and I jumped on the opportunity. A dream that had been dormant for many years suddenly became more vivid and a possibility. Carol and I talked about it and suddenly I had someone who was willing to participate in that long held dream. Her excellent financial skills made it more and more an actual reality.  We formulated a plan and stuck to it and as the time to retire neared we were well on our way to making that dream a reality.

The Plan

The first thing we did is keep a daily log of each expenditure and after two weeks we sat down and  reviewed exactly where our money was going. We cut out movies, eating out as much and small items that we didn’t even realize that we had been spending money on. As our savings began to grow we soon realized that this dream was a distinct possibility after all. We began to see where we had been wasting a lot of money on things we did not need. We made some course corrections and did eat out and attend movies but not as regularly as we had been doing. We actually worked in a couple vacations to the Virgin Islands and mountains of N. Carolina but we  still managed to put away money toward our goal. We took a long range approach to the achievement of our goal and put aside instant gratification.

Slow And Steady Progress

We doubled down on our land payments and managed to pay it off early which gave us more money to set aside for our future retirement home in the mountains. After a while we began looking for a contractor who would build us a shell house where we could finish it ourselves over several vacations. We found a builder and we used savings to pay for the construction in three spaced out payments. We now had a fully dried in home and needed to handle the remainder over several years of vacation time. We studied electrical and plumbing techniques and one summer did our electrical run. We hired an electrician to tidy up any mistakes we made along the way. We then did our plumbing which was not as hard as anticipated.

Final Preparations

With the electrical inspected and approved and the plumbing in it was time to finish the interior walls, flooring, fixture installation, and get the house ready for occupancy. Once that was done which took a few more years we decided on a retirement date and took the big plunge. The first few years were financially difficult but then it evened out thanks to my frugal wife and we were fully living our dream. It is important to have a long range plan and stick to it. Our plan worked for us but depending on individual circumstances a plan needs to developed individually.

Life In The Mountains

Life in the mountains and living remotely has been better than we ever expected. Until recently we had a couple remote neighbors but due to a wildfire ours was the only home on our road that survived. One neighbor most likely won’t rebuild and another has already initiated rebuilding. Our neighbors are and have been mostly the animals such as deer, elk, coyotes, bobcat, bear and occasionally a mountain lion. In our 21+ years we have found them to be respectful and good neighbors; in fact better neighbors than their human counterparts in most instances. Much of what we have read concerning wild animals has proved to be untrue - at least in our case. We are a 30 minute drive to the nearest small town which has less than 300 inhabitants. The next town is just over 7,000 people and it is an hours drive one way.


Irrespective of your dream we have proven that it can be achieved if you plan well in advance and stay focused and be patient. When I sat in that classroom many years ago dreaming of living in the woods I hoped it would one day be a reality but knew there was a lot of life to live first. I spent several years in the military, raised a family, forged a career and then a second family. The dream lingered but for a long time it seemed far away. When a window of opportunity opened, we took advantage of it and have not looked back since. We love our lifestyle and wouldn’t live any other way. In conclusion, if you have a deep seated dream even though it may seem a long way off or you don’t see a path to that dream, don’t give up. Plan well ahead and stay focused and you too may realize and live your dream one day.

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and their life in a small mountain cabin they heat with a wood stove with their three dogs, check out their blog site

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Join a Virtual Book Club for Homesteaders!

Homesteaders' Book Club

The journey toward self-sufficiency is loaded with opportunities for learning – whether you’re raising animals for the first time, figuring out how to grow all the vegetables you need for a year, or deciding whether to install solar panels. 

But self-sufficiency doesn’t have to mean going it alone.  Over the course of the last year, I have met and connected with thousands of other homesteaders, gardeners, and folks dedicated to sustainable living over social media.  This community tends to be incredibly supportive, which is refreshing when it comes to social media.  They also love learning from each other.

In that spirit, and in collaboration with some excellent partners, I am incredibly excited to invite you to join our Homesteaders’ Book Club!  This virtual book club is hosted through a Facebook Group and invites those who are interested in self-sufficiency – no matter where they are on the journey – to join in reading a related book during each season of the year.

Each season’s read is sponsored by a partnering publisher, some of whom I’ve met through my great relationship with Mother Earth News.  The summer 2018 book group was sponsored by Chelsea Green Publishing and we focused on frugal living.  We read The Art of Frugal Hedonism and book group members were immediately taken by the creative and alternative ideas contained within its pages.

There are so many great homesteading books out there – here’s your chance to read them along with others and discuss what you are learning in a supportive online environment!

Fall 2018 Homesteaders’ Book Club

This Fall, we’re focusing on our book group on the journey toward self-sufficiency – what is it like to become a homesteader and what are the different paths that people take?  In partnership with Storey Publishing, we’re choosing between three exciting books that are part memoir, part how-to:

Made from Scratch: Discovering the Pleasures of a Handmade Life by Jenna Woginrich

One-Woman Farm: My Life Shared with Sheep, Pigs, Chickens, Goats, and a Fine Fiddle by Jenna Woginrich

The Good Life Lab: Radical Experiments in Hands-On Living by Wendy Jehanara Tremayne

You can read quick summaries of these books on The Happy Hive’s Blog.  We invite book club members to vote on the book we’ll read together, and our publisher partner sends a free copy to one lucky book club member!  We start reading in October.

Come Learn with Us!

To join the Homesteaders’ Book Club, simply request membership in the Facebook Group.  From there, look for the pinned announcement to vote on our current book, and keep in touch to join future reading adventures!

Once we choose the book, you just need to get your hands on a copy (unless you’re our prize winner!) and start reading.  During the designated reading month, we’ll post regular discussion prompts so that you can engage with other interested readers and meet people from around the world who share similar interests.

Hope to see you soon, and best wishes on your journey to self-sufficiency!

Carrie Williams Howe is an educational leader by day and an aspiring homesteader by night and weekend.  Based in Vermont, she blogs about her family’s homesteading adventures at The Happy Hive.  Connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, or Pinterest.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Book Review: 'Start Your Farm' by Forrest Pritchard and Ellen Polishuk


When Forrest Pritchard and Ellen Polishuk set out to write a book about becoming a farmer, they didn’t want to write an instruction manual for growing vegetables or raising livestock (because plenty of great ones already exist).  They also didn’t want to write a book about starting or running a business (there’s already some great stuff in that category too).  They wanted to write, in their words “a hybrid of multiple seemingly diverse elements: agricultural insight, business acumen, and self-help wisdom.”

You might think that covering that many angles in a single book would be difficult, and it is, but Pritchard and Poishuk have pulled it off.  And they haven’t just done it by the skin of their teeth, they’ve done it with skill and depth that make this book a must have for anyone beginning or digging deeper into a farming career.

Start your Farm: The Authoritative Guide to Becoming a Sustainable 21st Century Farmer is just what the title says it is – an authoritative guide.  But “guide” seems like too light a word for the richness contained within the pages of this book.  It is a personal and deeply meaningful text written by two authors who are themselves farmers. They are also scholars of sustainability and agriculture, with complex academic and practical understanding of those concepts. 

Have you ever been to a seminar or a workshop with someone and thought to yourself, “wow, I need to absorb everything that this person is saying”?  I imagine that’s what an audience member might think listening to one of these authors speak.  This book is what that audience member is looking for – an open window into the wisdom, experience, and honesty that these two professionals and colleagues can offer.  It’s like they thought to themselves, “let me think of every single honest thing I would want to tell a new farmer and let’s lay it all out there.”

The text ranges from the practical to the philosophical and everywhere in between.  At times, it can feel overwhelming – like when discussing the commodity system or the difficulty of finding affordable farmland.  Pritchard and Polishuk don’t shy away from the tough topics or potential failures.  But that’s really the point of this book – they wouldn’t feel right keeping these things from you, as much as they want you to succeed.  And somehow, despite the heaviness that is present on the pages, they continually bring you back to on of their fundamental tenets: “always view problems through a lens of opportunity.”

In fact, it is the sections that balance challenge and opportunity that are the highlight of this book – the sections in which they lay out all of the difficulties you could run into but then, like a trusted mentor, convey their belief that you will overcome these difficulties even if you fail occasionally.  They then proceed to give you a bunch of ideas for how to succeed – ideas that took them years of experience and trial and error to learn. 

For example, their chapters on taking your product to market begin with an overview of the commodity system because, even if you aren’t actively a part of it, you should still know how it works because it can affect you in one way or another.  They then dive into an exploration of alternative markets, relating back to their belief in the value of small-scale agriculture – with some very practical suggestions.  But in the end, they remind you that what is right for one farmer might not be what is right for you, and invite you to reflect on what makes the most sense in your situation.  In one short section you get an economics lesson, some very practical marketing advice, and some encouragement to continue your own reflection on your journey. 

I couldn’t agree more with the description on the back of the book – “Making this dream a reality is not for the faint of heart…”.  This book is not for the faint of heart either, but if you are serious about becoming a farmer you deserve every resource possible to help you on that worthy journey.  The more honest and resourceful those resources are, the better.  Pritchard and Polishuk are behind you, they just want you to be prepared for the uphill battles, because the potential rewards (for you and for our society in general) are huge.

In short, I feel like the best response that any serious reader and farmer would have to this book is “thank you.”  Thank you to Forrest Pritchard and Ellen Polishuk for being willing to share almost everything you have learned and for laying it all out there with such depth, honesty, and trust.  It’s not often you feel like an author is serving the reader in such a convincing manner, but this book conveys just that – a sincere desire to be of service in a field that can be tough to survive. 

Carrie Williams Howe is a blogger aThe Happy Hive Homestead.  She is the Executive Director of an educational nonprofit by day, and parent and aspiring homesteader by night and on weekends. She lives in Williston,Vermont, with her husband, two young children, and a rambunctious border collie. Carrie has a PhD in educational leadership and is passionate about learning collaboratively. Connect with Carrie on The Happy Hive Facebook page. Read all of Carrie’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

A Pioneer in Self-Reliant Living and Teaching: Prudence Boczarski


Recently, Prudence Boczarski was at the Highland Park farmers market showing school children how to raise worms in one’s backyard.  Boczarski and her co-worker were cutting strips of old newspaper and putting it into a large bucket with the worms.  “Worms love to devour the OLD newspaper,” said Boczarski with a  smile as all the children peered into the bucket.  “They turn all this into good soil,” she said.

Boczarski was representing her natural bakery business and the non-profit she’s represented for the past 40 years. The focus of the non-profit, WTI, is – among other things – to show city-dwellers how to live better with less, including using earthworms to help grow our food. 

At the farmers market booth, plants are sold that are propagated from parent plants growing at the non-profit’s nearby headquarters, all growing in recycled containers.  These plants include medicinal plants such as Aloe vera and Peruvian mint, foods such as nopales and nasturtium, and air-cleaners such as spider plant.

Boczarski has been active in self-reliance living and education even before this lifestyle gained its current popularity.

In the late 1970s, she was featured in the Pasadena Star News for her “roving sewer” business where she did low-cost sewing repairs door to door.  Her specialty was advising her clients on the appropriate fabrics for “survival clothing,” and avoiding fabrics that don’t “breathe” as much as possible.

In the mid-1980s, she was featured in the Los Angeles Weekly when she lived in a small shed in Los Angeles for six months without electricity, demonstrating the skills needed to live in the aftermath of an earthquake.  She used lanterns, cooked on an outdoor stove, and washed her clothes by hand.

Boczarski has organized or participated in hundreds of educational field trips, classes, and lectures to teach self-reliance. More recently, with her work with WTI, she has developed a lecture series – soon to be a book – outlining some of the basics of sound nutrition to help eliminate the clutter of confusion on this topic.

“You’d be surprised how much contradictory information is out there,” said Boczarski, “and people don’t seem to be getting any healthier.”  Her book is tentatively titled “17 Ways That Vastly Improve Daily Nutrition (and Physical-Mental Health),” and will include such things as good vs. bad sugars, the oils that sustain, animal vs. vegetable proteins, and much more. Besides working on this book, she gives lectures on the topic upon request.

“If you don’t maintain good health,” she explained, “you simply cannot do all those things that you want to, and need to, do every day.”

Retired from the L.A. Unified School District, Boczarski serves as President of the non-profit, organizing their various educational outreach efforts, and publishing. The organization goes back over 40 years, with a complex spectrum of ways that everyone can be a part of the solutions to our society’s diverse and most serious problems including pollution and over-population.

For more information, Boczarski can be reached at or check the website at

Nyerges is an teacher of self-reliance skills, who has written many books on the subject. For further information, go to

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 64% Off the Cover Price

Money-Saving Tips in Every Issue!

Mother Earth NewsAt MOTHER EARTH NEWS, we are dedicated to conserving our planet's natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. You'll find tips for slashing heating bills, growing fresh, natural produce at home, and more. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.95 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.95 for 6 issues.

Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
International Subscribers - Click Here
Canadian subscriptions: 1 year (includes postage & GST).

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter flipboard
Free Product Information Classifieds