Dear MOTHER: April/May 2016

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Photo by Hannah Kincaid
Learn even more wiser-living skills by attending one of our weekend-long FAIRS.

A Reader Returns

I was a faithful, longtime subscriber to Organic Gardening magazine, but now that they’ve changed into Organic Life, I’ve decided to get back on track with you folks again. I’m reading your August/September 2015 issue, and I like Valerie Lord’s comments (Dear Mother). I have to agree; yours is a treasured publication and always has been. I still reread all the back issues I’ve saved over the years, and I guess you could label me a MOTHER EARTH NEWS hoarder. Who knows, maybe some lucky person will end up with all this knowledge someday. I’ve gained more from your articles than I could’ve learned in college. 

Mike Supak
Flint, Michigan

Accepting Advertisements

I was glad to see Yanmar’s ads in the recent issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS. I’ve had a Yanmar 336D tractor for nearly 30 years, and I’ve forced that poor thing to do far more than it ever should have. It keeps plugging along, though, and I’ll never regret buying it.

In the February/March 2016 issue, a reader commented that the magazine “has nothing but ads for expensive objects.” I think he forgets what sustains a magazine, which I doubt could survive on subscription fees alone. Plus, I love poring over your ads, whether they’re for expensive or inexpensive stuff. They help inspire entrepreneurial ideas, and they also let readers see the variety of products available. Even if the last one-third of the magazine were ads, I’d still be a subscriber. Without the ads, higher subscription rates would quickly take me out of the reader pool.

Guy Baker
Gaylord, Michigan

MOTHER Is a Valuable and Inspiring Resource

As I pulled a jar of canned tomatoes from the pantry, I realized how far we’d come as urban homesteaders. When we started our journey, we didn’t have equipment, land or know-how, but we found motivation in the stories of homesteaders featured in your magazine, and we took simple steps to use less and produce more.

This past year, we purchased your Grow Planner app and grew a vegetable garden that produced more food and variety than we could’ve ever imagined. Not only is our vegetable garden a beautiful addition to our suburban backyard, but we also filled our freezer and pantry with the fruits of our labor. We’ve learned how to work our soil, choose produce for our growing zone, prevent and treat crop diseases and pests, and even how to dehydrate and can our produce for storage. MOTHER EARTH NEWS also educated us on the importance of supporting local farmers, and now we buy all of our grass-fed meat from an organic farm in our own state.

The best part is that we finally feel ready to take the plunge and purchase acreage of our own. We’re ready to become even more self-sufficient and inspire others to move in this direction, too. Thank you for an incredible resource that has contributed more than you know to our quality of life!

Amanda McCabe
Broomfield, Colorado

Please Streamline Your Newsletters

I’m bombarded every day by junk email until I’m blue in the face from hitting the delete button. Generally, I enjoy your newsletters, and I find many items in them intriguing. However, in the interest of saving time and increasing convenience for the customer, will you please consider sending a condensed version only once per week?

Jeanne Gonzalez
Skagway, Alaska

Organic Cigarettes Aren’t All Bad

I keep seeing readers’ complaints about the organic cigarettes frequently advertised in the pages of MOTHER EARTH NEWS. I think it’s high time we remind them that tobacco is as much a plant as kale and celery, and there’s a specific place for it on a farm, too. I know many families who buy those same cigarettes for their livestock-deworming attributes; the farmers appreciate them because they’re organic and free of added chemicals. It’s common knowledge that parasites are building resistance to chemical dewormers — similar to the phenomenon of antibiotic-resistant bacteria — so the more natural, plant-based treatments we have access to, the better.

Melody Hunt
Madisonville, Tennessee

We’ve never used tobacco in this way, but have heard pros and cons. Do your own research before trying this, and run any questions by your veterinarian. — MOTHER

Introducing Children to Meat Processing

The following reader letters are in response to Joel Salatin’s article Teaching Young People Ethical Animal Slaughter, which appeared in our February/March 2016 issue. In the article, Salatin encouraged involving children in livestock care and harvesting so they gain a better understanding of — and appreciation for — animals’ lives and ethically raised meat.

Home-based livestock processing has greatly impacted my family. The 9-year-old boy that Joel Salatin wrote about in his article is my son. I can’t tell you how thankful I am that David Schaefer and Mr. Salatin let our curious son onstage during their chicken-processing demonstration. We involve our children in gardening, raising animals, and, yes, even processing our livestock. Our children’s involvement with the animal harvest is their choice, just as it was our son’s choice to be involved in the chicken-processing demonstration described in Joel’s article. As a result of this education, our children don’t think the food on their plate just magically appears, and that speaks volumes to me. — Molly Wind

I see a disconnect here. There’s a difference between the “sacred slaughter” Salatin describes in his article and the “triumphant” performance that happened onstage during his chicken-processing workshop. I’m not opposed to eating meat, but I’m against the concept of “conquering” the animal. Perhaps there is something missing from Salatin’s slaughter demonstration that would encourage reverence for the task. — Kathleen Williams

Ethical animal slaughter is a great learning opportunity. I’ve been raising and processing rabbits and chickens for years, and after my children were born, I always did the dirty job with them at my side (or on my back). I firmly believe that every chore and task is an opportunity to train a child in the way they should go, and those tasks should be done with respect and gratitude. — Anne Glenn

I agree wholeheartedly that children should be exposed to this natural process. When our sons were small, I was fortunate to be a stay-at-home mom who raised all of our meat and vegetables. We had a small farm in central Missouri, and rabbits were one of our main meat sources. Our sons had friends who came over to play, and during one of their visits, I was dressing rabbits. Our guests’ first comments were, “Gross!” until we had a biology lesson on animal parts. They got to see the lungs, the stomach, the spleen, the heart, and anything else they were curious about. My sons were proud they could show their friends exactly what was inside an animal. — Janet Fiedler

Uncaring Caretakers

I can’t believe you published the article Best Sheep Breeds for Homesteaders in the same issue you featured Joel Salatin’s article Teaching Young People Ethical Animal Slaughter (February/March 2016). Did you read the part where the Welches allow their animals to die during lambing because they refuse to interfere when something goes wrong?

Animals can linger for days in a difficult birth before they die. These people are horrible caretakers. Yes, some breeds have more difficulty in lambing than others, but to let an animal in your care suffer so greatly because you don’t want to interfere is absurd.

Lorri Atwell
Max Meadows, Virginia

We appreciate your perspective, Lorri, but some farmers, including the Welches, believe that if humans routinely allow weaker livestock to survive and breed, then we’ll end up with more animals that are dependent upon human intervention, and eventually more animals will suffer overall. — MOTHER

Borax and Plants

Many recipes for DIY laundry soap (including a few you’ve published) call for borax, which can be toxic to plants. I nearly killed my entire greywater pond by using a homemade laundry detergent that contained borax. The bar soap Fels-Naptha can also be toxic to plants because it contains borax.

Iris Chinook
Ashwood, Oregon

Borax contains the element boron, which is an essential nutrient for both humans and plants. However, if applied to soils, it can accumulate to levels that will injure plants. Learn more about the effects of boron at Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations website. — MOTHER

Rethinking Rubber

I thought I was so clever because I was able to acquire quite a bit of used rubber roofing that’s approximately 30 years old. I mulched my whole garden with it (about 5 by 100 feet). Today, however, while looking through some back issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS, I read an article titled Is Rubber Mulch Safe for My Garden? (Ask Our Experts, October/November 2014). The article says that ground-up tires shouldn’t be used as mulch.

My rubber roofing looks fine — no cracks or decay — and it would’ve been sent away to be processed into roofing again. It’s been working well, so is it really not safe to use as mulch in my garden?

George Farago
Bristol, Connecticut

George, it’s hard to know what your rubber actually contains. There’s probably no immediate danger, but it’s not a great idea. Like tires, the rubber could degrade and eventually leach harmful compounds into your soil. — MOTHER

Advice for Pesticide Drift?

I’m a new MOTHER EARTH NEWS subscriber, and I can’t express in words just how thrilled I am with your magazine. My family and I moved out to the country almost three years ago, and we’re still learning about (and occasionally failing at) growing our own food. Our home sits on about an acre of land, and I want to grow lots of produce as organically as possible. The problem, however, is that we’re absolutely surrounded by industrial farmland.

I see the pesticide sprays drift into our yard. If I’m out with the kids, we’ll go inside and shut all the windows. What can I do to save my organic plants and protect my family’s health? Thank you for your magazine, and thanks to the readers who contribute so many wonderful ideas and such great advice.

Daniele Maciel
Oakwood, Ohio

Daniele, we’re happy to hear you’re enjoying your MOTHER EARTH NEWS subscription. Pesticide drift — essentially “chemical trespassing” — can be a huge problem for many organic gardeners and farmers. Check out the Pesticide Action Network (PAN) for helpful advice about dealing with and reporting pesticide drift on your property. — MOTHER

Trappist Caskets

In response to the article “Eco-Friendly Burial Options” (Ask Our Experts, December 2015/January 2016), the monks of New Melleray Abbey in Peosta, Iowa, are another source for caskets. These monks make caskets from wood that’s sustainably harvested from their own forest — they’ve even received an award for sustainable forestry. A prepayment option is available with guaranteed overnight delivery if necessary. (For more information, go to the Trappist Caskets website.)

Jan Taylor
Grafton, Wisconsin

Coconut and Grapeseed Oils

Your article Omega-3s and More: The Importance of Fat in a Healthy Diet is stunning (December 2015/January 2016). I just wish the chart about various oils’ omega-6 to omega-3 ratios had included coconut and grapeseed oils.

Chuck Wood
Nathalie, Virginia

Neither coconut nor grapeseed oil is a good choice in terms of healthy omega fat ratios. We’ve added their numbers to our Fats in Your Kitchen chart. We believe the best cooking choices for a healthy omega balance are flaxseed oil, pastured butters, canola oil and olive oil. — MOTHER

‘Cool’ Seed-Starting Idea

I’ve enjoyed your magazine for many years. As a backyard vegetable gardener, I’m always interested in the ways other garden folks might be doing things. I enjoyed reading the article Seed Starting: Easy Setups for Home Gardeners in your December 2015/January 2016 issue. The “Freezer Pleaser” idea hit close to home for me. Cris Canton had a great plan to start seeds using an old freezer with a light inside for warmth. My seed-starting method is similar — I use an old Coleman cooler. It’s so old that it’s made mostly of metal. Inside is a 30-watt light bulb controlled by a thermostat. It turns on at 72 degrees Fahrenheit and off at 75 degrees. I start all my seeds in this cooler, and it works great.

James Pelligrino
Niagara Falls, New York

Where’s the Diversity?

I was going to send a copy of your magazine to my daughter, who is biracial, but I realized that your ads and articles only contain photos of white people. Therefore, I decided not to share the magazine.

Will you please address the issue of racial diversity? The United States does have a black president (elected twice), and in my opinion, the racial and cultural diversity that we have in this country is what makes it so strong. All people need to be represented in your magazine.

Barbara Vaughn
Tucson, Arizona


I love your magazine. I’ve only been a subscriber for 13 months, but I attended your FAIR in Asheville, North Carolina, last year, and I hope it will become an annual tradition. One thing that immediately stood out to me about your magazine is your readiness to publish letters that criticize your work. I’ve seen criticisms of not just a particular article, but of your entire magazine more than once. I admire the kind of grit it takes to publish such negative feedback. We’d all do well to learn as much from our critics as from our fans.

Mary Mogusu
Mooresville, North Carolina

Garden Therapy

I just wanted to let you know that I’m so thankful for your magazine. One of my part-time jobs is to work with domestic-violence victims at a safe shelter. Your magazine has inspired me to start planning a backyard garden for the women and children of the shelter so they can learn life skills and have healthful food to eat. I could go on and on about how much your magazine has helped me, but to put it simply, thank you.

Jessica Lynne Grant
Madison, North Carolina

We Appreciate the Newsletters

I would like to thank you for the many helpful articles you’ve published throughout the years. We originally subscribed in 1979, and now, as retirees on a fixed income, we enjoy and use the articles emailed to us in your free newsletters. You’ve allowed us to live a lifestyle that’s as close to our ideal as possible.

H. Hamilton
Byron, California

Homesteading Community

I would love to see a series of articles on a hypothetical self-sufficient community. The article could start with the original dream, then track the planning and building stages, and finish with a view of day-to-day life in a sustainable community. You could use real-world examples and outline ideas, pitfalls and more. Perhaps you could even use input from your readers.

David Vincent Humphreys
Offerton, Cheshire

First-Rate Coverage

My favorite in-depth articles to date were both in your December 2015/January 2016 issue. Omega-3s and More: The Importance of Fat in a Healthy Diet impressed me because of all the science it referenced, and Market Gardening: How to Make a Living on 1.5 Acres was helpful because of the financial number crunching. I’ve recommended that issue as a resource to many people.

Gina Jacobs
Vashon Island, Washington

Tune In: Gardening Podcasts

There are some great gardening and farming podcasts out there that I think your readers would really enjoy. “The Ruminant” is one of my absolute favorites, and they do some great interviews. Because it’s independently produced, it’s not well-known. I also enjoy Margaret Roach’s podcast, called “A Way to Garden.”

Tanya Bolduc
Gatineau, Quebec

Don’t Knock Cordwood Construction

I strongly disagree with Chris Magwood’s article Best House Framing Systems for Building a Home in your February/March 2016 issue. In the article, Mr. Magwood rates cordwood among the worst building materials in terms of environmental impact and embodied energy. My wife and I built our energy-efficient, post-and-beam cordwood home, and while it’s true that labor input is high, we call that sweat equity. If most of the embodied energy is our own, then great.

I urge any readers who are considering cordwood as a building option to do their own research, go visit a few homes, and then decide what the best option is for their unique building situation.

Bruce Kilgore
Saranac, New York

Pitchfork Pioneer

My family and I are a few years into our homesteading adventure. I’ve subscribed to Mother Earth News for about two years now and have found it helpful.

The gardening tips are fantastic, and I’m really into The Pitchfork Pulpit department that’s written by Joel Salatin. The DIY projects offer a lot of information to help people build their skills and optimize their homesteads on a budget. Mother continues to offer something helpful every issue, and I’m sure many other readers feel the same. Keep the wiser-living articles coming our way!

Tony Acord
Kingman, Indiana

MOTHER’s Wish List

Homesteaders of the Year nominations. We’re proud to announce our fifth annual Homesteaders of the Year contest. Do you admire an individual or family who embodies the self-reliant, modern homesteading lifestyle? To nominate your family or someone you know, send us 500 words explaining why your nominee deserves to be recognized, along with at least three photos. Email us your nomination and use the subject line “Homesteaders of the Year.” Act fast: Deadline is April 1, 2016.

Homestead Hamlets. We’re on the hunt for outstanding communities to spotlight in our annual installment of “Homestead Hamlets.” Tell us about a place you know of where neighbors have joined together to live more sustainably. For a look at some of the communities we’ve featured in the past, read Joining Forces for More Sustainable CommunitiesSend your suggestions to us with the subject line “Homestead Hamlets” by May 9, 2016.