Dear MOTHER: April/May 2014

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We’re impressed and inspired by the many ways MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers find to grow lots of food in even the smallest of spaces. Reader Bonnie Ingram wrote to tell us of converting her third-acre urban lot in Idaho into a prolific, food-producing landscape.
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Free mulch for your spuds? Shredded leaves or grass clippings will get the job done.

Pickin’ Heritage Chicken

Seeing the cross section of breeds featured in your story about heritage chickens (Backyard Heritage Chicken Breeds, February/March 2014) was terrific! I was amazed to realize that, at one time or another, I’ve owned practically every fowl profiled in the article. Raising poultry can become addictive, and it’s an addiction that is practical and so satisfying and fun.

I’d like to add, though, that some of the breeds highlighted, while being great-looking novelty breeds, are just that — a novelty. Campines, Dorkings, Hamburgs, Minorcas and Polish aren’t traditionally raised for high egg production, and — if feed prices are a concern — these breeds may not be practical for homesteaders looking to cost-effectively maximize their supply of farm-fresh eggs.

Carolyn Schuster
Port Orchard, Washington

Ready to dive into the world of heritage poultry? Peruse more than 80 breeds to find the ideal birds for you with our Pickin’ Chicken app. — MOTHER EARTH NEWS

A Small Plot of Plenty

I recently reread Joel Salatin’s article Supporting Farmers, Eating Local Food (June/July 2012), and the piece hit a great deal closer to home this time. From 2008 to 2012, I was able to convert my third-acre urban lot in Boise, Idaho, into a prolific, food-producing landscape that provided the majority of my food. Had I needed to, I could have completely stopped relying on the grocery store.

The transition was a slow process that included building a chicken coop, replacing the front lawn with a garden filled with perennial and annual vegetables, and growing fruit trees in pots on the driveway.

Part of my garage became a greenhouse, sheltering my crops from the area’s cold, cold winters. The greenhouse produced year-round, but it was of course most valuable in winter, throughout which I harvested fresh carrots, celery, herbs, lettuce, peppers, tomatoes and more. The greenhouse was also a quiet place that insulated me from the work and worries of the outside world.

At the end of 2012, after a long struggle to keep my business afloat, I lost my home and business. Now, as a renter, I am struck every day by what was possible on just that little piece of land in Idaho.

I encourage you to continue to teach new and experienced gardeners the possibilities we have with even the smallest of spaces. I would have loved tending a large farm, but even without it, I was able to supply produce and eggs for myself, my extended family, my neighbors and even food banks. Thank you, MOTHER EARTH NEWS, for reminding me how much I loved all of it, and that I can begin it again. And I will.

Bonnie Ingram
Covington, Washington

Gardening in the Burbs

I would love for MOTHER EARTH NEWS to address issues that suburbanites face with gardening — ordinances, homeowner restrictions, small spaces, close proximity to neighbors, and drainage from other yards, among several other challenges.

I see so much information devoted to rural and urban gardening, but little instruction exists for the suburbanites who long to have more land but just can’t right now. We still want to grow things, however, and we’re still passionate about eating well and caring for the Earth.

JoAnn Hogenson
Clarksville, Maryland

Thank you for the suggestion, JoAnn. Guide to Urban Homesteading has some tips that will work excellently in the suburbs as well, and check out Neighborhood Gardens Create Community Food Security for a look at a Nebraska neighborhood’s innovative community-gardening setup. — MOTHER EARTH NEWS

Balancing Both Sides

MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers march to the beat of a different drum and are free spirits who set out to reach goals that may not align with those of the general public. We’re a very diverse group of people, which makes for an interesting magazine. Most of us want the best life for ourselves and our families, and to make the world a better place.

Lisa Hymas’ article about choosing to have no children (Making a Green Choice: Childfree Living, February/March 2014) is one of those variances in viewpoints. Being in the great-grandmother stage of life, I could add a few more pages as to why one is crazy to have children. I could also write a long retort from the other side, about the rewards that come from having children.

I commend Hymas for addressing the overpopulation of the Earth, and for being candid. She makes it plain that she desires few constraints on her life in the financial, material and self-fulfillment areas.

Susan Sanford
Windsor, Missouri

MOTHER Without Child?

Making a Green Choice: Childfree Living caught me off guard and was incredibly offensive to my family and me. After all, the magazine is MOTHER EARTH NEWS. Children have to be assumed, correct? What are Hymas’ credentials, anyway? Should all of your readers take advice about children from a woman who has none?

I think this is about something far beyond sustainability or carbon footprints. I hate politics and don’t take sides politically, but it’s quite plain to me this article is an attack on the worldviews of people who want freedom from the very subject of Hymas’ article.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to write to you and be heard.

Lance Battenfield
Dublin, Texas

The Adoption Alternative

I applaud the decision to publish Making a Green Choice: Childfree Living. This is a conversation that needs to be had more often, as the Earth’s population is spiraling to an unsustainable level.

I was disappointed, however, that the author didn’t mention the choice not to bear children doesn’t mean a person or couple must remain childless. Fostering and adoption are humanitarian and environmentally conscious vocations that support and nurture children already on this planet.

Allison Post
Farmington, Connecticut


I became acquainted with MOTHER EARTH NEWS a little more than a year ago, and I had been very impressed with the magazine’s content until the February/March 2014 issue. The article Making a Green Choice: Childfree Living was very tasteless and had no business in such a great, informative publication.

I totally respect the author’s right to choose childfree living, but I disagree with her being allowed to promote her personal lifestyle in MOTHER EARTH NEWS.

Mark Herron
Aiken, South Carolina


Shame on you, MOTHER, for running the anti-child article Making a Green Choice: Childfree Living. No matter how carefully you green-coat it, it’s still disgusting.

Josh Voorhees
Amity, Oregon

(Eco)Guilty by Association

I’m fine with people who choose to have children and those who choose not to. Everyone has their reasons, and no value judgment should be made either way.

But Hymas calling childfree living “a green choice” was a value-laden insult that, if not retracted by her, should have been retracted by your editors.

I feel guilty enough for not owning a wind turbine, hydropower and other green trappings. Please don’t attach guilt to my decision to have children. Childlessness is a choice — not a better value.

Deac Manross
Edinboro, Pennsylvania

Time to Break the Silence

Thanks to Lisa Hymas for her article Making a Green Choice: Childfree Living. My husband and I decided back in the ’60s, early in our marriage, to do just that.

What’s scary is the silence surrounding this issue. Experts assume our beleaguered planet’s human burden will get worse, that arable land and wilderness must be lost to more development, that we must consume more fuel and other resources, and that we will extinguish other life-forms as we expand. Who will finally open a dialogue that challenges this head-in-the-sand attitude? Kudos to Hymas and MOTHER EARTH NEWS for giving us a small start.

Nancy Sefton
Seattle, Washington

Our thanks to everyone who sent in thoughtful responses — both for and against — to the article “Making a Green Choice: Childfree Living.” We believe it’s crucial to encourage a civil discussion on the topic of choosing to have or not to have children. — MOTHER EARTH NEWS

Free Potato Mulch

The How to Grow Organic Potatoes: No. 1 Expert Shares Organic Potato Tips article in the February/March 2014 issue mentioned mulching potatoes with hay or straw. Bales of either cost too much around here, though, so I’m wondering whether I could just as well mulch with fallen leaves from the maple forest behind my house.

I usually run my lawn mower over piles of these leaves and then put them in the compost bin. I would have enough leaves left over to mulch the spuds, though. Any advice?

Bill Wigham
Westfield, Massachusetts

Great question, Bill. Yes, shredded leaves (or grass clippings) will indeed work to mulch your potatoes. — MOTHER EARTH NEWS

Inbox Inspiration

I’ve signed up for many newsletters that looked interesting on the surface but turned out to be nothing but advertising and sales talk. Your Gardening & Food Self-Sufficiency newsletter, however, is one of the best things I’ve ever subscribed to. Thank you for an informative, helpful newsletter. I really appreciate it!

Melody Tregear
Durban, South Africa

Sign up for our free newsletters.  — MOTHER EARTH NEWS

Frack Check

The article Dangers of Fracking Farmland: Our Food Supply’s at Risk (February/March 2014) contained so much misinformation I could compose a lengthy counter-article.

One of the worst errors was the assertion that fracking pollutes water supplies, which the article backed up with a reference to the 2010 documentary film Gasland. The scene in the film in which tap water is set afire (possibly because of fracking pollution) has been thoroughly debunked. I really enjoy your magazine, but you’re hurting its credibility by printing articles like this.

Karen Reeder
Colorado Springs, Colorado

For more information about the link between fracking and tap water catching fire, go to Affirming Gasland. — MOTHER EARTH NEWS

A Second Opinion

I read with interest about how the MOTHER EARTH NEWS audience is growing, and about the survey in Self-Reliance Is the Tie That Binds (February/March 2014) that revealed the magazine has twice as many politically “very conservative” readers compared with “very liberal” readers. For a while, I thought I may have been the only conservative who read the magazine.

I reluctantly ended my subscription several years ago because of my perception of the magazine’s political bent, but I’m back now, as most of what you publish is so useful.

I also read the February/March 2014 articles about fracking and the Keystone XL pipeline, and I found them both to be factually wrong and highly biased. How about offering opposing views on such politically charged topics in the future?

David Stevenson
Lewes, Delaware

Politics Aside

I enjoyed reading Self-Reliance Is the Tie That Binds (February/March 2014). No matter our politics, the idea I gain from MOTHER EARTH NEWS is that the path back to our individual freedom and prosperity begins with knowledge, determination and a small slice of land, be it a container in a city apartment or acreage in the country.

Jon Silvis
Rocky River, Ohio

Against the Grain

I anxiously await the arrival of MOTHER EARTH NEWS in my mailbox and am always so inspired as I devour it. I was disappointed, though, to read Types of Wheat: What to Grow and How to Use It (February/March 2014). The author presented the idea that non-celiacs who think they suffer from gluten intolerance may be mistaken.

Although the stance Dr. William Davis takes in his book Wheat Belly is extreme, he does not advocate merely switching to processed, gluten-free foods as an alternative to wheat-based foods. The author’s proposed path to improved health lies not only in getting rid of wheat, but also in eliminating sugar and processed foods in general. I think one of the greater benefits to be gleaned from Davis’ book is the concept of completely removing refined sugar from your diet.

I agree that as we make changes to our diets, incorporating organic, whole foods in place of the processed foods that have become so common, we’ll experience health benefits. I don’t agree, however, that the link between wheat and poor health doesn’t exist.

Katie Linkous
Lenoir City, Tennessee

Finally Getting That Farm

Thank you for the digital MOTHER EARTH NEWS Archive 1970-2012. I just purchased it, and I know I’m going to relish reading through all of the back issues.

I’ve wanted to have a farm my whole life, and I used to buy MOTHER EARTH NEWS back in its early days, whenever I could afford it. I always regretted not being able to keep up with all the magazines. Now, when most everyone else my age is retiring, I have made the commitment to finally getting that farm of my own. I’ve decided not to leave this Earth without fulfilling my dream. Thank you for giving me back all those years of MOTHER EARTH NEWS.

Rae Ellis
Arvada, Colorado

Blessed With a Wonderful Life

I listened to MOTHER EARTH NEWS Publisher Bryan Welch’s video interview with Joel Salatin about physical work trumping intellectual cyberspace. I could not agree more, as I have lived it myself. Years ago, I turned off my beeper, left a career in medicine and bought a Wood-Mizer sawmill, which proved to be the most “working fun” I’ve had to date.

I’m writing to tell you how utterly shocked I was to have heard Jesus’ name mentioned in Welch’s interview with Salatin, along with the frequent use of the word “creation.” I am so pleased, because I am a huge fan of Jesus and the biggest fan of your publication!

MOTHER EARTH NEWS remains the most relevant magazine I’ve ever received, and I treasure every issue. There isn’t a single page that doesn’t completely grab my attention, and staying at task and getting my work done is becoming more and more difficult. The problem is getting even worse as I bookmark wonderful how-to articles from your website.

I feel I must retire tomorrow or I’ll simply explode — but, alas, I can’t retire. I really need all of that cash to buy pumps for my pond and plastic for my underground greenhouse that I need to build, which will be next to the biogas plant that will feed my reflux ethanol still and biodiesel plants, which will provide fuel for my off-grid generator, which will supplement my grid-tied solar array, which will be on top of the garage, which will house my fish tank for the aquaponics beds out in the garden that’s next to the pergola woodshed that’s attached to the garage, south of the 25 raised garden beds.

It really is a wonderful life, even if I have to work hard, and even if it is ridiculously busy all the time. It is “creative work,” and I do enjoy it and feel blessed.

Wayne Johnson
North Liberty, Iowa

MOTHER’s Wish List

Great places. We’re on the hunt for outstanding cities and towns to spotlight in our annual installment of “Great Places You’ve (Maybe) Never Heard Of.” Tell us about a place you know of that has a strong commitment to community and sustainability, and that offers a high quality of life at an affordable cost. We’re especially interested in hearing about some of the lesser-known jewels of our nation. For a look at the cities we’ve featured in the past, go to Great Places, and send us your suggestions with the subject line “Great Places” by May 1, 2014.