Dear Mother: December 2010/January 2011

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The inaugural MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR brought out homesteaders of all ages and from several states. It was a wonderful crowd of people passionate about self-reliance!
2 / 8
Kids at the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR enjoyed presentations organized just for them at the Treehouse Club.
3 / 8
 Reader Pam Larsen wrote to contributing editor Barbara Pleasant to share her story of wood mulch success in her orchard.
4 / 8
Barney and Mary Ann Keeshing built their own cozy cabin based on Steve Maxwell’s plan published in MOTHER EARTH NEWS. 
5 / 8
Gardening isn’t the only way to save on groceries. Hunting and fishing can cut your food bills, too. 
6 / 8
Reader Phyllis Chisholm was glad to read an account of the challenges of gardening at high elevation in “What We Learned Going Back to the Land” (August/September 2010), about the McElmurray’s homestead in the mountains of Colorado.
7 / 8
More than a year later, Jeffrey Dickemann is still filling Swiss chard orders!
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Reader Evelyn Anderson discusses some of the pros and cons of stevia. 

This September, we hosted the first-ever MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR in Seven Springs, Pa., and it was a resounding success! We loved meeting so many passionate, inspiring folks at an event devoted to living wisely. There were only a few hiccups; almost all of them were a result of having a larger turnout than we expected?–?a problem we’re happy to have and to address for future events. Not only did we have a great time during the FAIR, but great feedback poured in from our readers via the website, our Facebook and Twitter pages, and your blogs. We were thrilled to hear that you had as much fun as we did. If you didn’t make it to this year’s FAIR, you can find blog posts and video coverage online at the FAIR blog, where you can also keep up-to-date regarding future events. We have three FAIRS in the works for 2011: Puyallup, Wash., June 4 to 5; San Rafael, Calif., Sept. 3 to 5; and another at Seven Springs, TBD. Thanks again to everyone who came out; we’re looking forward to seeing you again, and making new friends, at future FAIRS!

Telling Everyone About It

Just a note to tell you what a wonderful experience we had at the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR this weekend. My wife and I enjoyed it very much and intend to tell everyone who didn’t go how great it was. I hope you plan more FAIRS in other parts of the country so all can enjoy them. I also think when companies that weren’t there see the opportunity they missed, these FAIRS will become bigger and better.

Thank you for a great time of fellowship and education.
Gregory Mohr
Castle, Pennsylvania

Looking for Future FAIR Info

My husband and I had a fantastic time at the FAIR. We learned a lot of new material and had a great chance to network with other attendees and speakers.

We have heard rumors about FAIRS next year. It would be great for you to put up-to-the-minute info on the website, so we can be informed.

Keep up the great work. It was wonderful to see so many headed down the “green” road.
Eileen Gilbert
Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Whether you missed the first MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR or are ready for more, make plans to join us at one of our next events! You can keep up-to-date regarding future events by signing up for our FAIR newsletter.?–?MOTHER

FAIR Lives Up to Expectations

My husband and I made reservations after the very first e-mail we received about the FAIR, and the event lived up to every one of our expectations! The resort staff was wonderful: kind, friendly and helpful. The sessions we attended were well-thought out and well-presented. All of the speakers seemed surprised at the turnout, so we’re assuming attendance was a bit higher than was expected, which is great! We were hoping to buy some local produce to bring home, so we were slightly disappointed that there were no farmers markets set up, but it was offset by the knowledge we gained.

Some speakers were favorites, but we enjoyed every session and brought something away from each one.
Paula Spalding
Edinburgh, Indiana

Wanted Farm- Fresh Food

I was delighted to attend both days of the FAIR. I have loved MOTHER EARTH NEWS since it first came out. For a first FAIR, and with such a crowd, you did a great job. There was an incredible number of speakers, some exceptional, which provided lots of inspiration and projects to work on at home.

Also, I am a vegan and I support local farmers. I really expected the food to be farm-fresh. I bet local farmers and cooks could team up next time, and present some alternatives to the “state fair” type items that were there.

Thanks for all the hard work involved in organizing and putting this FAIR on. It was much appreciated. Next year, I’d like to bring more people!
Andrea Lewis
Sewickley, Pennsylvania

Thanks for your enthusiasm?–?and for your attendance at our first FAIR! We are eager to make the next one even better. We know that the quality of food is a top priority for our readers, as it is to everyone on the MOTHER EARTH NEWS team. There’s so much that goes into planning an event for a crowd of almost 10,000 folks, and we have learned many lessons already. Thanks for your input; we plan to connect with even more local farmers for the next event.?–?MOTHER

FAIRS at Each of the Four Corners

I thought the FAIR was great! The glitches were to be expected for an inaugural event. I felt lucky to be able to help out both days and found it rewarding to talk with so many people. I would like to see a FAIR in each of the four corners of the country. I definitely think the interest is there and the movement will continue to grow.
Leah Webster
Bruceton Mills, West Virginia

Refreshing Location

My husband, daughter, son-in-law and I attended both days of the FAIR, and Bob (my husband) and I volunteered on both days. We were all very impressed and had a fabulous time. The area is beautiful, and it was so refreshing to have the FAIR at such a location. A big city location would have turned us off cold?–?thank you for choosing Seven Springs.

It’s true that there were some glitches, and they were difficult for some to deal with. But, overall, this was an amazing experience and one we hope to repeat many times over. Thank you, MOTHER, for making this something we will remember for a long time and for treating your volunteers so well.
Donna Langer-Street
Benton Harbor, Michigan

I Want My FAIR on DVD

I loved the FAIR. Even my dad loved it, which is saying something. I think you should sell the seminars on DVD. I loved the location?–?set in the outdoors and with space for the animals. Thank you, MOTHER!
Veronica Vatter
Indiana, Pennsylvania

We have hours of great video footage from the FAIR and we are working on making it all available. You can watch these videos and read about potential DVDs at the FAIR blog.?–?MOTHER

Three Generations

My family and I were very pleased with the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR! I enjoyed the outside vendor area; there were a lot of great vendors to take in. It was very educational and interesting, and the workshops were also terrific.

I was astonished at the number of people who came! The venue was nice, but needed to be much bigger for the number of people there. At points, we were unable to move through the walkways because they were so congested. The good thing about the congestion: It meant there were many people there interested in everything that MOTHER EARTH NEWS represents!

We had three generations in attendance, including my 3-month-old son. I hope we can all make it a tradition to attend the FAIRS!
Erin Baldwin
Green Bank, West Virginia

Hands-on Spinning, Fun With Kids

I attended the FAIR on Sunday and was thrilled with the size and scope. The highlight for me was the woman doing a wool-spinning demonstration who let me try her drop spindle! Also, I volunteered at the Treehouse Club and had a great time with everyone’s amazing children!

A few more activities would be great for the kids. I’m sure some of the vendors could give demonstrations, similar to the wonderful women from Stonyfield Farm who churned ice cream with a White Mountain churn.

You all did a great job for your first FAIR. I was thrilled to see the interest of people who lived nearby and was impressed with the distances some came from.
Jan Rolin
Johnstown, Pennsylvania

Bread Success, at Last!

Thank you, thank you, thank you for the recipe for five-minute bread. I’ve tried making bread the old-fashioned way, but it never worked for me. I made the recipe the other night and we ate the entire loaf! Delicious and easy!
Gina Smith
Nokesville, Arkansas 

Killer Compost Concern

After reading Watch Out for Killer Compost, reader Gigi Meyer from Oregon wrote in to tell us her personal encounter with killer compost:

A few weeks after my field was sprayed, MOTHER EARTH NEWS arrived in my mailbox. It has become a kind of ritual to make the magazine’s arrival an excuse for a break from the physical labor of farming. I made some tea, reclined on the living room couch and read the entire contents.

There was one article in the issue that gave me particular pause. It was about the dangers of the herbicide aminopyralid. The story describes how produce farms in England and Pennsylvania were ruined when farmers unsuspectingly used composted manure from animals that had grazed on fields sprayed with aminopyralid. I learned that the chemical remains potent for approximately two years, and does not break down in compost.

I pitied those poor farmers and wondered just how long they had to put their dreams on hold, how much farm income they might have lost, before their soil was clean and usable again. Then a chill ran down my spine?–?what if aminopyralid was in the tank that came to my farm?

Glad to See Political Diversity

Extra points to MOTHER EARTH NEWS for printing Global Warming Cult? (Dear Mother: June/July 2010). I would have rather seen the bulk of the letter somewhere other than Page 108, but it worked. I know many conservatives who enjoy your magazine but don’t “subscribe” to the global warming theory.

I imagine MOTHER gets a good deal of letters anytime she swerves into the proverbial left lane. MOTHER should be proud to have a reader base so diverse?–?just goes to show that you don’t have to be a card-carrying progressive to want to take up homesteading, live in balance with nature, and grow and raise your own food.
Jennifer Franklin
Costa Mesa, California

Homesteading School Start-Up

I have been an avid reader of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for more than 20 years. Every time we move, my poor husband has to move every issue I’ve kept, and he can attest to the weight of all those magazines. I have read with delight and sadness about the successes and failures of many readers, and I’ve felt how disappointed so many were that they did not have more skills to homestead.

My husband and I have been wondering: If there were a place people could come to learn those old skills over a few weeks, a summer or even a year, would they be willing to come and stay there? We would like to start an RV park and learning center for people who would like to learn about eco-farming and develop homesteading skills so that, when they’re ready, they know what to do. However, we aren’t sure if people would be willing to come to learn, either bringing their families with them for a vacation or as students for a year. So, could we ask your readers to contact us at “” and let us know their thoughts?

I’m putting together grant and loan proposals this winter to get funding for such a project, and I’d like to include people’s ideas and willingness to participate as part of these documents. We want to know what people want to learn, whether they’re starting a homestead or continuing to live in a more urban location for now. Finally, we’d like to know why they want to acquire these skills. Any help and input from readers would be greatly appreciated.
Devon Noll
La Pine, Oregon

Social Justice Skeptic

I have been a longtime subscriber and was extremely disappointed to see your name attached to Green Festival, which claims to promote social justice. I cannot be affiliated with your organization anymore and will unsubscribe to your magazine. I feel you should truly look into the meaning of social justice and disassociate yourself from any group that promotes it.
Herbert Crichton
Virginia Beach, Virginia

Black Locust Safe for Livestock?

I enjoyed the article Living Fences: How-To, Advantages and Tips by Harvey Ussery, but I was surprised black locust trees were suggested for use in pasture fencing. Although they may be fast growing and nitrogen fixing, they’re also toxic to livestock. A close friend of mine nearly lost two of her horses after they ingested black locust bark in their pasture.
Talia Abedon
Mansfield, Ohio

Yes, according to the USDA Agricultural Research Service, black locust can be utilized for forage in some cases, but should not be consumed by horses because of toxicity in the bark. Black locust is primarily recommended as forage for goats, which aren’t harmed by the toxic compounds found in the bark. Unless you’re using the black locust hedge to contain only goats, it may be a good idea to utilize black locust for perimeter fencing on your homestead where other livestock won’t have access to it.?–?MOTHER

Swiss Chard Offer Update

This is an update on my Swiss chard venture, which started with my offer of Swiss chard seeds in Dear MOTHER: August/September 2009. I am now harvesting this year’s Swiss chard ‘Blonde de Lyon’ seeds and filling remaining requests. All letters are carefully kept and filled in the order received. I will fill them all, however long it takes. Those who are still interested but haven’t written may try Johnny’s Italian ‘Bionda di Lyon’ variety (new this year), which looks similar to mine.

I have received more than 1,000 requests! Who knew Swiss chard was so popular? Requests came from all over the United States, and I got a few from Canada. I’m grateful to those who offered seeds in exchange (some really rare heirlooms), or stuck a dollar or a few stamps in to defray my costs. And thank you to those who enclosed notes, or even pictures, about their own gardening ventures, or their involvement at an advanced age (I think the oldest was 91).

I confess that, in these terrible times, to receive these communications from every state in the Union?–?from folks of all sorts, all committed to loving the good Earth and its fruits?–?gave me a rare feeling of warmth and love. It was more than adequate recompense for my filling all these little packets of seeds!
Jeffrey M. Dickemann
Richmond, California

Happy Swiss Chard Customer

I was re-reading an older issue of MOTHER EARTH NEWS and came across the letter from Jeffrey Dickemann, in which he expressed his amazement over the response to his offer to share the Swiss chard seed ‘Blonde de Lyon.’

Jeffrey said that more than 121 requests had been filled, but another 400 were waiting and he simply didn’t have enough seed on the remaining, small plant to meet the demand. I can remember reading that last fall and feeling disappointed, as I was one of the 400.

Now I want to share with all of the MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers my delight: A month ago, I received a totally unexpected, fat letter in the mail from Jeffrey. A man of his word, he had grown another season’s worth of his chard and had sent me a packet containing enough seeds so that I, too, can grow, harvest and hopefully share seeds with others.

It may have taken a year, but Jeffrey has honored his offer and sent seeds of a plant he feels is worth sharing. It gives me great hope that there are still committed folk out in the world who pick a single plant and work tirelessly to ensure that it survives and is available to others.

This experience has given me revived enthusiasm to revisit the stinky pots of tomato seeds that have been fermenting on the back deck. If Jeffrey can send chard seeds to so many folk, I can plug my nose, strain my tomatoes and share my seeds with a few local friends.
Teri Young
Cowichan Bay, British Columbia

Stevia Not So Sweet?

I have two comments about stevia. First, isn’t it unfortunate that an herb that can be grown in your backyard, and has been available for millennia in the wild, now can only be purchased from multinational corporations? Also, keep in mind that the main problem with any sweetener without calories is that it tricks the taste buds, but not the brain. The brain needs glucose to function. The result of eating something that tastes sweet but doesn’t offer the energy source? You end up eating more calories later to fill up on what you told your brain you were getting in the first place.
Evelyn Anderson
Arcata, California

We Built the Cozy Cabin

Thank you for the Build a Cozy Cabin article by Steve Maxwell which included easy-to-use building plans. My husband and I live on the Bruce Peninsula facing Georgian Bay in a little community called Cape Croker Reserve.  We have always cherished living near the water and have a panoramic view of Georgian Bay which Hay Island, the bluffs and distant shores.  

It was our dream to someday build a small cabin which looks over the water. A place away from home where we could go to relax.  When I read your article, saw the pictures and viewed the plans, I showed the article to my husband.  It was perfect.  We decided to build using Steve’s plans as our guide. 

With  the assistance of my husband’s brothers, our children (two sons and a daughter), and lots of food, beer and fun, we constructed the cabin. The construction phase took all summer. We pretty much kept to the budget of $4,000 (the same as in the article) for construction.  Our youngest son, Paul, decided that the building needed a nice window to feature the beautiful view we were blessed with. He went to the local building store in Wiarton and asked if they had any bay windows that were ordered and never picked up.  They showed him an octagon window which measured six feet all around.  When he asked how much the window cost, they said make an offer of $250.  Apparently, this window was in storage for about five years and they wanted to get rid of it. (One man’s junk, is another man’s treasure.)

Once the building was up, my husband, with the assistance of his brother George, started the process of finishing off the inside of the building.  We added a wall on the inside to make a bedroom.  Next the cabin was insulated and the walls were finished with tongue and groove pine boards.  For flooring, we laid a vinyl floating floor which looks exactly like wood laminate flooring.  We chose this type of floor because of the potential excess water brought in from people who have been swimming. Although we have very close access to hydro poles, we have chosen not to install electricity to the cabin. If we want to use hydro, we can always go up to our full-time house. We do use a backup battery system which allows us to have a stereo or watch t.v. if needed.  This year, we installed a propane stove that looks like a woodstove. It doesn’t require electricity and it has a thermostat.  Our cabin is completely self-sufficient: In the event of an electrical blackout in the winter, we can live there. For environmental reasons, we rent a portable toilet from our local camp grounds.  On a weekly basis, the outhouse is cleaned out and washed down.  For the exterior of the cabin, we installed half-split log siding which gives it a look of being a log cabin. 

Steve, our cabin is not fancy; but it is a place where our family has come to love.  It is a place where our children bring their children to enjoy.  Our cabin has been such a blessing for our family.  Even though it is across the road from our house, it is like being away from home.

Barney and Mary Ann Keeshig
Cape Croker Reserve, Ontario

Save Big on Meat and Fish

I enjoyed your Save Money on Groceries article and would like to add that we have significantly decreased our grocery bills by hunting and fishing. The meat from various game animals is as “organic” and “free range” as you can get, and hunting and fishing provide exercise and family bonding?–?you don’t get that at the grocery store!

A great money-saving (and back to the land) motto we try to live by is: Hunt, fish, raise or grow everything we can. Get the rest as locally as possible.
Nicole Merrill
Delta Junction, Alaska

Readers Love Wood Mulch

Look at the message I found in my inbox (below). What a good way to start the week! The wood mulch article I wrote (Use Wood Mulch to Build Great Garden Soil) seems to be popular, because this is one of three wood chip messages that came in over the weekend via my website. I rarely get comments!
Barbara Pleasant
contributing editor

Dear Barbara, I may have written before to let you know how great your articles are. They’re always comprehensive and informative, and I look forward to them. I really appreciate your latest in MOTHER EARTH NEWS on wood mulch. I’d been using several inches of wood mulch in our small orchard for about five years and couldn’t believe the beautiful soil it created. Your article gives me more detailed info on how it works and is most appreciated.
Pam Larsen
Seattle, Washington

Gardening at High Elevations

I enjoyed What We Learned Going Back to the Land, the article about mountain living and retirement. The author obviously really lived in the Colorado mountains at 9,000-plus elevation, as our family did for many years. Perhaps his biggest problem, as was ours, was deciding if summers or winters were more beautiful. It was good to see an article telling the other side of the story about growing a garden in challenging circumstances.
Phyllis Chisholm
Tijeras, New Mexico