Reader letters about the return on investment from gardening, self-sufficiency in the city, living forever, cheap food, dogs on the homestead and more — plus dispatches from our first-ever International Homesteading Education Month.
I love what I’m seeing lately in the magazine about building community. It’s good to remember that self-sufficiency often happens best with a circle of kindred spirits who support us.
I want to add that a favorite community resource for living wisely, well, and lightly on the Earth is my local cooperatively owned grocery store. I grow some of my own vegetables and visit the farmers market twice a week, but for the rest of my food, the next best ethical choice for me is to buy from the co-op.
It feels good to shop at a store that shares my values, is owned by the community, energizes and educates people on the issues that are important to me — such as local and naturally grown foods — and brings neighbors together to have fun and do good work.
Teresa Honey Youngblood
In your review of the Farm Bill (The Farm Bill: Fight for Your Food, August/September 2012), the authors define “mega-farms” as those that gross more than $250,000. I would like to point out that most family farms for which the primary income comes from farming easily gross $250,000, or much more.
My father and uncle farmed together on a typical Kansas family farm of their era. My father’s 1955 tax return shows their farm grossed $248,000, which would be more than $2 million today, but their net income for that same year was only $5,400.
I think many people have skewed ideas of what a family farm looks like these days and what it takes for a family to make a decent living farming.
John R. Peters
I have asthma, and my main triggers are egg yolks and sugar. Just over a year ago, my husband and I started raising chickens. After eating only egg whites for many years, when our hens started laying, I really wanted to try a whole, fresh egg. At first I would always be sure to take my medicine before eating an egg, but as time went on, I would forget. One day I realized I hadn’t taken any medicine for a couple of months.
Soon after, we went on a road trip and stopped at a fast-food place for a breakfast sandwich. Before I could even finish the sandwich, I had an asthma attack. I then realized it wasn’t that egg yolks were no longer a trigger, but that “industry” eggs were loaded with who knows what.
I don’t recommend that your readers stop taking their medicine — I just want this letter to be food for thought. For us, a return to heirloom and organic foods has proved good for our health.
Rock Stream, New York
The writers you feature speak of saving thousands of dollars a year by gardening, but I’ve never understood where these savings come from. Barbara Pleasant’s article Food Storage: 20 Crops That Keep and How to Store Them (August/September 2012) is a case in point.
The author casually drops the line that she and her partner save about $5,000 per year by gardening. I find it hard to believe they are consuming $100 worth of vegetables per week. My family of four spends far less than that without even considering food from our garden. Then there’s the high cost of supplies that bites into these savings, too. Your writers speak of seeds, seedlings, raised beds, fertilizers and gadgets — none of which I can afford.
Optimism is one thing, but those of us in the trenches trying to save at least a little money with a backyard garden — and wondering whether the labor is worth it — need realistic advice on what we can expect.
Christopher, you are right that a two-adult household cannot accumulate $5,000 per year in savings on veggies alone. We also grow most of our own fruit (apples, berries and pears) and make juice and wine with the excess, which increases our garden’s overall value. We eat very little meat, pack lunches every day, and eat out only once a week. U.S. Census figures indicate our food should cost us about $8,000 a year. By adapting our eating habits to what our land produces, we spend less than half of that and eat very well, particularly when the shiitake logs are fruiting. — Barbara Pleasant, Contributing Editor
Our first-ever three-day venture to the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR gave us so much to study and learn. We also just finished unloading our most prized new possessions: our first mama and baby pygmy goats!
I cannot describe how incredibly memorable it was to ride home with our new additions. We welcomed them to our humble barn. We watched baby Stewie prance and jump while his mama, Artemis, kept her watch. I look forward to all of the lessons we’ll learn from our new loves. I feel more secure and accomplished knowing our family is now one step closer to self-sufficiency.
Thank you, MOTHER EARTH NEWS, presenters and vendors for the sublime location [Seven Springs Mountain Resort near Pittsburgh, Pa.], education, and memories that will certainly last us a lifetime.
Shelby L. Ilgenfritz
I just got home from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR in Seven Springs, Pa., and I would like to say wow! You have really made some great improvements since the first year. The half-hour between programs was a great idea, and it really helped. The multiple levels of ticket prices, from free (for volunteers) to VIP, guaranteed everyone was able to join in the fun.
MOTHER EARTH NEWS has been “talking the talk” enough to get me interested in raising my own chickens. One part of raising chickens that has been somewhat of a mystery to me is how to humanely kill and process them. Thank you for the very respectful, detailed and amazingly clean live demonstration at the FAIR on how to kill and process chickens. Many of us who are interested in having our own self-sustaining poultry flock needed this program.
The FAIR in Seven Springs was amazing! In listening to Joel Salatin speak, it became clear to me that I had indeed found my “tribe.” Thank you for an incredible three days of fellowship, learning, sharing, good food and awe-inspiring scenery. I can’t wait to go back next year!
Mannington, West Virginia
I began reading your magazine in the ’70s and was just too young to appreciate the wisdom. Forty years later, it’s like every issue is written just for me.
This year my wife and I were able to can more than 60 quarts of tomatoes and put up carrots, peppers, potatoes and dozens of other veggies. We grow all of our own herbs. We have found a local farmer who supplies our meat, and we use farmers markets and the large food stores only for things we don’t grow or make. We compost scraps and use a rainwater-collection system. I even make my own wine and beer. I have to give credit to MOTHER EARTH NEWS for giving me these ideas to live a better life.
It’s hard to believe we can grow so much food in a little space in the middle of Cincinnati. My wife and I are still dreaming of moving to the country, but for now, I’m waiting for my next issue of MOTHER EARTH NEWS.
Big thanks to everyone who held events as part of International Homesteading Education Month last September 2012. The Event Listings and Speaker Finder will be available year-round on the International Homesteading Education Month website to help you continue to connect with your neighbors. — MOTHER EARTH NEWS
Last winter, when MOTHER EARTH NEWS challenged us to hold a Homesteading Education Month event, we decided to plan an open house, but figured it would be a day just like any other. As soon as the magazine came out in spring, we received our first inquiry. A radio station called to learn more about us. Then a local reporter heard us talking about our event on the radio and wrote about it in the paper.
Starting early on the morning of Sept. 15, 2012, guests began to arrive. Over the course of the day, we received more than 60 curious visitors of all ages. I spent the day in the gardens, answering questions and learning from other gardeners, while Sheila tried to keep up with the jam, coleslaw and pâté tastings in the kitchen.
Getting to know all of the new people was only half the fun. The other half was learning from and hosting some pretty serious gardeners. Sheila and I intend to hold another homesteading event next autumn. We are hoping to celebrate the harvest with other local residents for whom a mindful life and real food are important.
Here at the Kerr-Cole Sustainable Living Center in Taylor, Ariz., we celebrated Homesteading Education Month by showing off the many ways we work with the sun. We offered tours of our facility in which participants learned the benefits of an earth-bermed home, saw DIY solar batch water heaters, marveled at our passive solar water distiller, and enjoyed garden produce dried in our downdraft solar dehydrator.
This is the home of the late Barbara P. Kerr, the acclaimed inventor of the modern-day solar cooker. Our guests learned how solar cooking has improved the lives of thousands of women around the world. They saw the WAPI (Water Pasteurization Indicator) — a simple, inexpensive way to determine whether water has been pasteurized. Used with solar cookers, this device has helped prevent countless deaths from contaminated water.
We hope visitors left with a greater appreciation of the many ways the sun can help on our homesteads.
This photo shows the artistic work of my goats. Unable to reach the top, the goats ate the large hay bale from the bottom up, creating this giant mushroom hay sculpture.
James A. Rudd II
Ridgeville, South Carolina
I am seeing many articles on being self-sufficient, which is great, but one thing I am not seeing is compassion. A recent article covered raising rabbits for food and fur, but you shoved the animals into a hutch. How is this any different from factory farming?
Whether it’s six rabbits living in conditions not right for them or 6,000 rabbits, it’s still cruel and lacking empathy. All beings need to be allowed freedom until death. Please remind all of those who are going to raise any animals to do research and put themselves in the animals’ shoes. Be cruelty-free — isn’t that what it’s all about?
In response to Subversive Plots: Grow Your Own Food to Disconnect From the Industrial System (August/September 2012): Most of the issues Roger Doiron addresses are spot on. However, he goes astray by complaining that large corporations are doing something wrong by supplying consumer wants.
The problem of substandard food offerings is with the public — not the big producers. Shoppers have options, but a walk down any grocery store aisle shows that the supply of cheap food is answering the demand for it.
An article in the October/November 2012 issue by Lester R. Brown (Exciting News About Renewable Energy) promotes wind turbines. We recently watched Windfall, a documentary from 2010 by director Laura Israel that goes over the pros and cons of wind turbines, specifically in rural upstate New York.
We would suggest watching this film before allowing any wind turbine within sight or sound of your home. We are thoroughly “NIMBY” after watching this documentary and would suggest viewing it before promoting this enterprise.
A thousand thanks to Bryan Welch for his perceptive article on the fallacy of the modern quest for personal foreverness, which is both selfish and Godless (Raymond Kurzweil and a Vision of Living Forever, October/November 2012). Mr. Welch spoke out clearly and deserves our thanks.
David and Edith Moody
Ulster Park, New York
Thank you, Bryan Welch, for your article on living forever. I share your perspective on this topic, especially your sentiments in the next-to-last paragraph: “But given a choice, I think I would prefer an afterlife in which I’m utterly transformed by death, transubstantiated by biology. I think I’d like to be a part of the world from which I sprang — part of the dark earth and the bright flowers; embodied by doodlebugs and mockingbirds; my life force driving up through the new trees, the bamboo and the vast expanses of grass.”
This, to me, is how we live forever — a part of nature mingled with the life force. Maybe this is what is really meant by “reincarnation.”
Morro Bay, California
You offer countless ways to help us live our lives well, and you just keep getting better. Bryan Welch hit one out of the ballpark when he answered the question, “What’s wrong with living forever?” Death is part of living well, too. I’m 87, by the way.
I have been canning for years. My grandmother and I used to put up sauerkraut in a crock — she canned everything. My mom canned my whole life, so, naturally, I can too.
I agree with your readers about why we can: saving money, self-reliance and tradition (Home Canning: Putting Food By the Old-Fashioned Way, June/July 2012). But I also love to can because of the convenience. When I come home from work during winter, I know I have food that I put up in summer. I don’t have to go shopping; I can go to my pantry and put together a good meal. My husband says I can make anything from the food in my pantry. I like that.
Your article on making pie crust advocates doing it the hard way (Perfect Pie Crust, October/November 2012). A dear friend of mine — who is now in heaven — had six kids and ran a boarding house, and she showed me the “right” way. It’s so simple.
For a 10-inch pie crust: Mix 3 cups flour and 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt. Separately, thoroughly mix 3/4 cup oil (I use canola) and 3/8 cup milk. Combine flour and liquid mix, and stir. Roll out between 2 pieces of wax paper.
This makes the best flaky crust, as the oil is dispersed completely in very small globules. I use the same principle in any recipe that calls for milk and shortening.
I would like to thank you for printing David Wright’s article Passive Solar Design Basics (June/July 2012). Though I have read many similar articles, Wright’s stands out in clarity and simplicity. The featured home design added to the story’s strength.
Regarding your advice to folks looking for deer repellents (Which Deer Repellents Work Best?, August/September 2012): I too have tried different repellents, both for deer and then for my own grass-cutting crew of sheep (to keep them off of my roses). Like you, I’ve found rotten egg-based repellents most effective, but they are also expensive and tedious to apply every two weeks.
Then, I got my Australian Shepherd, and, after some training, my deer problem was solved. She is also an expert at sniffing out gophers, protecting chickens and rabbits, entertaining children, keeping raccoons out of the garden, and letting us know when someone comes up the driveway. She even steps in front of me when the rooster attacks. Every homestead needs a good dog.
I really enjoyed the article Mortgage-Free Living in a Hand-Built Tiny Home (August/September 2012). A future retirement goal of mine is this type of living. Please include more articles like this in future issues.
When you talk about creative, affordable living, I think you get people’s attention today.
Regarding the article on storing rainwater (A Better Rainwater-Harvesting System, August/September 2012): I read last week that a man in Washington state was fined and may go to jail for storing rainwater. Sounds like Washington is like Colorado in that all water — river, well and rain — is owned by the state. You cannot collect or store water without a state permit, and the state hasn’t issued any in decades.
We’ve checked around a bit and found that both Colorado and Washington state have relaxed their rainwater-collection restrictions in recent years. — MOTHER EARTH NEWS
Your articles on beef seem to promote grass-fed or organic as the only options that are good for consumers. There are other smaller operations like ours that provide high-quality food without sending cattle to feedlots.
Our beef is pasture- and grain-fed, all natural. In our area, there are no sources for non-genetically modified feed. We would purchase it if it were available. The beef we provide is healthy, well cared for, and raised in a sustainable, environmentally verified manner. Our beef is processed in a USDA facility.
I believe the corporate farming mentality doesn’t do what is best for the consumer or the environment. The small family operations are best for consumers.
Have you turned a skill, hobby or passion into a work-from-home enterprise? We’re looking for reports from people who are self-employed (full or part time) in a home business of their own creation, whether it’s selling homegrown or handcrafted products, offering lessons, or providing a service. Tell us what you tried and how it turned out — for better or for worse — along with any tips you would offer others. We plan to use your reports in an upcoming article, and we’ll pay $50 for each story we include.
Contact us via email at Letters@MotherEarthNews.com, or write to “Dear MOTHER” at MOTHER EARTH NEWS, 1503 SW 42nd St., Topeka, KS 66609. Please include your full name, address and phone number. Letters may be edited for clarity and space.