Dear MOTHER: April/May 2010

1 / 6
Rachael and John Schafer built their pretty home using timber harvested from their own land.
2 / 6
What does it cost to start a self-sustaining homestead? Several readers posed this question.
3 / 6
Reverand Jacqueline Zaleski Mackenzie is citing Rosalind Creasy’s article “Grow $700 of Food in 100 Square Feet” in her dissertation as an example of what can be done to help those in extreme poverty.
4 / 6
Drying clothes outside is just one way that Elaine Golladay and her family have cut back on energy and water use at their home.
5 / 6
Reader Danny Ray suggests a federal tax on electricity, funds from which could be used to offer a monetary incentive for alternative energy options to homeowners, as one way to create increased renewable energy use, create jobs, and add to home values.
6 / 6
While white roofs may help home owners save energy in some parts of the United States, reader Christopher Hoyle says they aren’t effective for energy savings in every region.

<p>Last issue’s Firsthand Report, <a href=””>Off the Grid and Thriving!</a>, prompted several readers to ask how much money it takes to go “back to the land” and start up a homestead. The answer, of course, depends on many variables, but there are several steps anyone can take to keep the upfront cash requirements, or mortgage payments, to a minimum. We’re working on an article for our August/September 2010 issue that will explore debt-free living and ways to “live on less,” and we invite those of you who have already established homesteads to post reports about steps you took to save money, as well as share advice for beginners on ways they can keep their building and start-up costs to a minimum.</p>
<p>Post your comments to <a href=””>Preparing to Go Back to the Land</a>. We’ll send a free copy of Lloyd Kahn’s <a href=”” target=”_blank”>Home Work: Handbuilt Shelter</a> to everyone whose reports we use in the August article.</p>
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<h3>How Much to Get Started?</h3>
<p>What does it cost to start an off-the-grid, self-sustaining homesteading life? My husband and I are currently debt-free and we’re saving money to buy land and live such a life, but it seems that anything over 1 acre is out of our price range. We plan to run our own business (not much income expected for the first few years or so), and I would like to sell produce and eggs from the homestead — but the question remains, how much do we need to get started?</p>
<h5>Lorna Rouleau<br />
Dubai, United Arab Emirates</h5>
<h3>Work Ethic Not Enough?</h3>
<p>In order to live off the grid, you need to be able to buy your land and still have enough income to buy what you want. A good work ethic may not be enough by today’s standards. What is the dollar amount needed to begin an off-grid life?</p>
<h5>Roy Fritz<br />
Butte, Montana</h5>
<h3>Thrilled to Homestead, at Last</h3>
<p>I just retired and put a deposit on 6 acres of country property in Connecticut with a pond in the backyard. I can’t stop crying, I’m so happy. I move in soon. I still love you after all these years.</p>
<h5>Madelyn Vanacore<br />
Sterling, Connecticut</h5>
<h3>23 and Mortgage-Free!</h3>
<p>Just a quick note to say thank you for your magazine and all the great advice in it. The greatest advice and encouragement I’ve gotten from you is the idea of building a home mortgage-free.</p>
<p>I am 23 years old and I built my own home, mortgage-free. I started construction at the age of 19 on a 900-square-foot, story-and-a-half home. I spent almost five years on the construction, just weekends and evenings. I had some help from friends but did more than 75 percent of the work myself. Some work I hired subcontractors for, such as plumbing, insulation, taping and carpeting. I built the cabinets and installed the septic system myself. Almost every job I have had has been construction related, and that experience helped tremendously.</p>
<p>The construction of my house took longer than I had planned, but the reward of having no mortgage was well worth the time invested.</p>
<h5>Abraham Vogt<br />
Warrenton, Missouri</h5>
<h3>Loan Lament</h3>
<p>My husband and I are in our mid-20s. The thing preventing us from buying our dream farm is the lack of options for loans. In order to get a small down payment loan for land, there must be a house present on the land that is 70 percent or more of the value of the land.</p>
<p>We would rather buy more land with a small, meager house on it or build our own house! Unfortunately, as expensive as acreage is, even with all our scrimping and savings, it will be some time before we are able to afford the 40 percent down payment that would be required without an existing house on the land.</p>
<h5>Keely Johnson<br />
Eudora, Kansas</h5>
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<h3>Remembering to Enjoy Life</h3>
<p>Bryan Welch’s <a href=”” target=”_self”>Creating a Sustainable Society: Four Questions We Should Ask</a> was one of the best pieces I’ve read in a long time.</p>
<p>Too often I find myself surrounded by people like the first friend Mr. Welch describes. I call these the “no fun allowed” people. It seems these days there is an oversupply of people who are so concerned with what they feel they should be doing that they forget to enjoy what they are doing. And unfortunately, they’re not willing to keep their concerns to themselves. To paraphrase H.L. Mencken, these folks are haunted by the fear that someone somewhere may be having fun.</p>
<p>No one wants to follow tedious, humorless and judgmental people. Anywhere.</p>
<h5>Larry Roth<br />
Kansas City, Missouri</h5>
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<h3>Armed and Ready</h3>
<p>In 1992, I made a decision to move to a rural area to escape the chaos and turmoil of a rapidly deteriorating city life. I had virtually no experience with homesteading or farm life, but I knew deep within my soul that this change was essential for my well-being. I acquired a small ranch house on a 1 1/4-acre lot bordering 88 acres of protected wetlands.</p>
<p>I wish I could remember the circumstances regarding my first exposure to MOTHER EARTH NEWS, but suffice it to say it was like manna from heaven. Finally on my own land, I had a guide for this uncharted territory. Armed with my new subscription, I tilled the soil, grew an organic garden, collected rainwater, pruned trees and constructed a cold frame, greenhouse, chicken coop, storage sheds, etc. I then began growing and drying shiitake mushrooms. With time, I installed several beehives as well — all under the tutelage of MOTHER EARTH NEWS.</p>
<p>My life has been more fulfilling now that I have found my place. MOTHER has been by my side ever since and always will be — that is why <em>I love my MOTHER</em>!</p>
<h5>Anthony Santamaria<br />
Jackson, New Jersey</h5>
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<h3>New MOTHER Better Than Old MOTHER</h3>
<p>I am a faithful reader of your magazine (it’s my favorite). I always find something I can use in every issue. Recently, I purchased 20 old copies of MOTHER EARTH NEWS from the early 1970s to 1980s. What a find! Although I am enjoying reading these, I have to admit you are much better now. You offer a more balanced view of self-reliance, while still remaining true to your original message.</p>
<h5>Janet Gardner<br />
Hendersonville, North Carolina</h5>
<h3>Back to Basics</h3>
<p>I have enjoyed both MOTHER EARTH NEWS and <a href=”” target=”_blank”>Grit</a>. They have inspired me and reminded me of the need to return to the basics. In this present economy, we need to realize how important this idea is. We need to be as self-sufficient as possible because of the economy and the quality of mass-produced food, and the attendant contamination and nutritional issues. As far as complaining about advertisers or articles, we have the ability to pass up what is not to our liking. We need to be ready to reach out and help each other. Thanks for helping me change my focus.</p>
<h5>Mary J. Gilmore<br />
Midwest City, Oklahoma</h5>
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<h3>Success with a Low-Tunnel Greenhouse</h3>
<p>A couple months ago, my dad gave me a copy of MOTHER EARTH NEWS to read. He showed me an article about <a href=””>low-tunnel greenhouses</a> and suggested that I give it a try. We gathered all the necessary materials from the family farm and I was able to construct my own low-tunnel greenhouse in little time.</p>
<p>Luckily, I inherited Dad’s green thumb as well as his passion for gardening. Despite days with high winds, temperatures below 32 degrees Fahrenheit and a recent heavy snowfall, my plants are alive and well in the greenhouse.</p>
<h5>Joseph Armstrong<br />
Bridgeport, Ohio</h5>
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<h3>Recommending Ruth Stout</h3>
<p>You can save time and money on your garden by using the <a href=””>Ruth Stout No-Work Method</a>. Use old hay, leaves, grass or wood chips to mulch year-round to keep moisture, prevent weeds/bugs, and plant without tilling or digging up the ground. Use hay to keep potatoes, carrots, beets, etc., in the ground for retrieval all winter long. Ruth Stout was a clever woman.</p>
<h5>Ken Walker<br />
Glenrock, Wyoming</h5>
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<h3>The Future of Food</h3>
<p>In response to your article <a href=””>Roundup Kills More Than Weeds</a>, you should be aware of a documentary film <a href=”” target=”_blank”>The Future of Food</a>. It describes how the Monsanto Corp. appears to be very aware of the many detrimental effects of many of its products, and how, in order to circumvent any possible negative legislation against these products, many of Monsanto’s top people occupy strategic positions in the U.S. government.</p>
<h5>Louis Diedricks<br />
Yonkers, New York</h5>
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<h3>Do-It-Yourself Solar Install</h3>
<p>It’s great to see articles on the ever-declining cost of solar photovoltaics, such as <a href=””>The Promise of Thin-Film Solar</a>. Coupled with generous rebate programs and tax incentives, solar electric generation should be growing by leaps and bounds.</p>
<p>A major part of the equation that is counteracting this increased affordability, however, is the requirement (at least in New York state) that a select group of professional installers be utilized to qualify for the state rebate.</p>
<p>Anyone who can operate a ladder and do simple wiring can install his/her own PV system with a little guidance. To be sure, any solar-electric system, especially grid-tied, needs to be rigorously inspected for obvious safety reasons.</p>
<p>For scarce solar incentive dollars to really make a significant contribution toward the widespread adoption of this technology, there ought to be a provision for competent DIYers to qualify for at least partial rebates. And there needs to be a cap on the profits professional installers can gobble up from the public trough.</p>
<h5>Edmund Haffmans<br />
Accord, New York</h5>
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<h3>Every Kindness Counts</h3>
<p>Balanced as we are on an evolutionary knife-edge, the actions of each one of us can have repercussions beyond our capacity to imagine. We do not understand how the insights of one might affect the critical mass of the whole. But we do not stand alone. We are all interlinked — all are one.</p>
<p>This is the convergent message of both science and spirituality. So each time we make a choice that puts self ahead of others, each time we withhold a word of compassion for a troubled friend, we shift the balance, albeit slightly, toward a chaotic society. By contrast, each time we smile at someone on the street, each time we extend a caring hand to a fellow traveler in distress, we move — all of us — toward that light which illuminates the moment with love.</p>
<h5>Ron Lowe<br />
Santa Monica, California</h5>
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<h3>Finding a Friend</h3>
<p>I have been subscribing to MOTHER EARTH NEWS for one year and just received another issue. Excellent material, as usual. I feel like I have found a lost friend and a community that I can relate to. I really enjoy the informative articles and the opportunity to learn new techniques and discover new points of view. I also like to read the subscriber comments.</p>
<p>My first issue of MOTHER EARTH NEWS was the December 2008/January 2009 issue. It contained the article <a href=””>Three Mountains We Must Climb</a>, which discussed three obstacles that humanity has to face: overpopulation, creating a sustainable world economy and weaning ourselves off of fossil fuels. I thought the article was a much-needed wake-up call for all.</p>
<p>Overpopulation is the root of all of humanity’s problems, and family size needs to be limited to two children, one child or no children for a sustainable future. Some of our brothers and sisters disagree with that because of religious ideals and a belief that God will fix it. I am here to tell you that is pure and utter ignorance. We procreate and we need to challenge our belief that it is OK to have as many children as we want to. Human population doubles approximately every 40 to 45 years. In 1900, human population was 1.6 billion, and now human population is pushing 6.5 billion. You do the math and tell me: What kind of future is your child or grandchild going to have? In all honesty, I would love to have a boy and a girl, but I know too much. I cannot bring them into an overpopulated, overpolluted, overexploited, war-torn planet in good conscience. Thank you to everyone at MOTHER EARTH NEWS for doing a great job!</p>
<h5>Christopher Calkins<br />
Gig Harbor, Washington</h5>
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<h3>’Truly Inspired'</h3>
<p>I would like you to know how much your magazine has enlightened me. Before my subscription, I never knew what off-grid was, or homesteading. Wow, I am so grateful for this information. Now I have to get to work on all this. I am truly inspired! Thank you!</p>
<h5>Sandy Ryan<br />
Fort Mill, South Carolina</h5>
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<h3>Happy 40th Anniversary</h3>
<p>MOTHER EARTH NEWS didn’t change my life — it has been my life. In the early 1970s, my friends and I would sit around and talk about the place we would all buy together to live in the country. We talked about raising our own food, sharing our incomes and our dreams.</p>
<p>Forty years later, my husband and I have a small house and sell vegetables at the local farmers market. We keep a few chickens for our own eggs, and any extra we occasionally sell to friends. We heat entirely with wood. We live in an earth-bermed home.</p>
<p>We live a simple life. We have no children, by choice. We eat mostly what we produce.</p>
<p>MOTHER EARTH NEWS has been with me the whole way. I learned to live simply and sustainably, and to love the Earth through the passages throughout your magazine. You never preached what one “should” or “shouldn’t” believe or do. You simply stated it and passed along the information to us to pick and choose as we saw fit. Some may not agree on issues you discuss (population, global warming, political agendas, etc.), but most of us do. Every issue of MOTHER EARTH NEWS keeps me thoughtful of how to continue living simply so that others may simply live.</p>
<h5>Jan Dawson<br />
Bellefontaine, Ohio</h5>
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<h3>Our Handmade Home</h3>
<p>We live in the Adirondack Mountains of New York. Our off-the-grid, timber-frame house (see <a href=”″ target=”_self”>Image Gallery</a>) was built using timber harvested from our land and cut on our portable sawmill. There is obviously much to tell, but as readers of your publication influenced by numerous articles, we thought you would be interested in what is, in part, a byproduct of your wonderful magazine. Thank you for inspiring us.</p>
<h5>Rachael and John Shafer<br />
Chesterton, New York</h5>
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<h3>Gardening to Fight Poverty</h3>
<p>In my doctoral dissertation, I am citing your article <a href=””>Grow $700 of Food in 100 Square Feet!</a> as an example of what can be done to help those in extreme poverty. Because my field is special education and most rural parents have no access to resources to help their special-needs children, they watch what I am doing and copy me or ask questions. I am raising rabbits for food and growing an organic garden.</p>
<h5>Rev. Jacqueline Zaleski Mackenzie, EdS, MS<br />
Rancho Cajones, Cajones, Guanajuato, Mexico</h5>
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<h3>Doubtful About White Roofs</h3>
<p>As a former architect and vice president of a commercial roofing company that installed both white and black membranes, I think that <a href=”” target=”_self”>white roofing</a> does <em>not</em> make sense for the majority of the country. While a white roof may prove a real benefit if you live in southern Florida, Texas, Arizona or California, the rest of the country just isn’t hot enough long enough.</p>
<p>While it is true that white roofing will help some, it is not quite the panacea that the government is making it out to be.</p>
<h5>Christopher Hoyle<br />
Covington, Kentucky</h5>
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<h3>An Energy Transformation</h3>
<p>Americans pay less for electricity than other countries. The planet is in trouble, and we need to reduce greenhouse gasses. We need to create jobs in America. The federal government could do this: Levy a federal tax on electricity, then use the funds to offer monetary incentives similar to those in California on solar panels, thermal hot water heaters and other alternative energy options.</p>
<p>It seems to me this would provide an unprecedented surge in private sector jobs. As homeowners all over the country invested in solar, solar thermal, and even wind, folks in the information technology sector could help move us toward “distributed generation,” something that people in the know have been recommending for years. A beneficial byproduct of this process would be the appreciation in home values, but most importantly, the creation of millions of jobs.</p>
<p>This seems like such a win/win to me and even seems like it would be politically popular. By the way, if more people read and believed in MOTHER EARTH NEWS the way I do, there would be a lot more hope for our future.</p>
<h5>Danny Ray<br />
Broken Arrow, Oklahoma</h5>
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<h3>Not Too Hard to Save Energy and Money</h3>
<p>Several months ago, I decided to make an effort to reduce our energy usage. I am on the average bill plan with Duke Energy and there are yearly “settle ups.” I recently had my monthly payment reduced by $25/month and I got a $316 check back because I didn’t use as much energy as the year before. How did I do this? It wasn’t hard.</p>
<p>My family lives in a typical suburban, two-story brick home with old air conditioning and heating units that I am certain are not efficient. The windows are OK: Air doesn’t blast through them, but there are plenty of leaks. I work at home, as does my husband part time, so we can’t turn everything off during the day. I have two kids living at home, and try though I might, they are not great about turning off lights behind them.</p>
<p>First, I made a conscious effort to turn off every light that wasn’t in use. I converted some lights to fluorescent, but not all.</p>
<p>Second, I turned off the central air probably a month earlier than anyone else in the neighborhood. It was a bit warm, and the kids begged me to turn it on again, but I resisted. As the weather cooled, rather than turning on the heat, I used electric space heaters in my study and my husband’s office, and wore a sweater around the house. My goal is to have at least one month in the spring and one month in the fall where I have neither central air nor heat running — and I could probably stretch that to six weeks!</p>
<p>Third, I purchased a folding, umbrella-style clothesline. I wash laundry first thing in the morning — sometimes four loads — and hang it out one load after the other. I actually love hanging my clothes outside. It makes me think of my late mother — who liked nothing more than watching sheets dry on a clothesline. Plus, I get to be outside, and everything smells wonderful!</p>
<h5>Elaine Golladay<br />
Greer, South Carolina</h5>