Dear MOTHER: December 2013/January 2014

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A tomato seed swap-portunity at the Florida Panhandle Seed Swap. Seed swaps are upbeat community gatherings sure to introduce you to new neighbors — and promising new crop varieties!
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Simple wire hoops slip into several roles around reader Pete Puglia’s property in rural New Jersey, from garden bed protectors to lightweight, inexpensive chicken runs.
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Reader Richard Augusta of Antioch, Calif., recommends the Airedale terrier as a homestead working dog.

Seeds for Change

Thank you for helping us spread the word about the Florida Panhandle Seed Swap! It was a huge success. We are well on our way to creating a culture of seed saving and sharing in our area, thanks to you.

Sheri Miller
Panama City, Florida

Seed swaps are fun gatherings that enable gardeners to share and acquire seeds on a community level. To support growers in their seed-swapping endeavors, MOTHER EARTH NEWS is proud to offer a free Seed Swap Announcement service. You give us the details about your swap, and we’ll send an email notice to MOTHER EARTH NEWS subscribers in your area, inviting them to attend. Seed swaps are sure to introduce you to new neighbors — and promising new crop varieties! See Let Us Help You Organize a Community Seed Swap for details. — MOTHER EARTH NEWS

Talk of the Towns

I recently read your article 9 Great Places You’ve (Maybe) Never Heard Of (October/November 2013), and I think it’s incredible what these nine cities have been able to do. They are perfect examples of community members coming together to achieve collective goals.

I was particularly impressed by Grand Rapids, Mich., and how the community worked together to clean up pollution in the Grand River, and by Ava, Mo., which started small and is now like a large family that embraces many cultures.

The places featured in the article set an inspiring precedent for how citizens can make a difference, and I am so proud that people still care about the environment and their communities enough to work for what they want.

If you want something done in your town, get up and work with your neighbors to get it done. These nine cities prove that so much can be accomplished by participating in community initiatives, and that otherwise, things may never improve.

Cameron Stanley
Port St. Lucie, Florida

A Foster Hen for 50 Chicks

I had just ordered 50 Araucana chicks when I read the letter “Adoptive Mother Hens for Day-Old Chicks” in Dear MOTHER in the June/July 2013 issue. Friends of ours mentioned they had a hen that was “setting,” so I asked them to try the method mentioned in the letter — lifting a broody hen off her nest at night and replacing her eggs with chicks so they can be raised naturally by a mother. They took eight of my chicks to give it a go.

The next day our friends were back and raving about how well it had worked. They said they would like to bring the hen, Barbara, over that night to see whether she would take all 50. When she arrived, she accepted all of the chicks as though she’d hatched them herself.

The chicks are now 7 weeks old, and they follow Barbara’s every cluck and chirp. The letter writer’s method of having hens raise chicks is far better than hatching eggs in an incubator and raising the birds with no mother. Visitors to our home marvel at the dozens of chicks following one hen!

Dean Gary
San Antonio, Texas

If it’s cold and you try this with more than a dozen chicks, you may want to help the hen keep the chicks warm by adding a heat lamp. — MOTHER EARTH NEWS

Decorah’s Heart and Soul

Regarding your article 9 Great Places You’ve (Maybe) Never Heard Of (October/November 2013): How could you write a piece about Decorah, Iowa, extolling its virtues, and not mention the significant role Luther College plays in the community? It is the heart and soul of the town.

The college’s faculty and staff, its 2,500 students, and the many graduates who have settled in the area contribute enormously to the arts and sustainability of the town and area.

Thomas G. Van Horn
Lafayette, Indiana

Thank you for the feedback. We unfortunately just didn’t have room to include Luther College in the space we had to work with. — MOTHER EARTH NEWS

In Good Company

We are longtime subscribers to MOTHER EARTH NEWS, and we ordered a weed burner from an advertisement in your magazine three years ago. It stopped working recently, so I called the manufacturer for a repair part. The company — Flame Engineering Inc. in La Crosse, Kan. — shipped a replacement unit to our house free of charge!

I want to thank you for working with such great companies. They are few and far between anymore. I will continue to do business with them, and with you.

Nick Lombardi
Navarre, Florida

Health Insurance and Retirement on the Homestead

I enjoyed John Ivanko’s article 9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living (October/November 2013). The author presented many great ideas, but I was left with a few questions — namely, what about health insurance and retirement planning?

What happens when someone gets sick or injured? Even short hospital stays aren’t cheap. Long ones can bankrupt people. And what if you are physically incapable of continuing to work into old age? Just because you don’t want to stop doesn’t mean you will actually be able to keep working.

These issues seem too important to be glossed over. I long to live a simpler life like the author describes, but am admittedly held captive by these concerns.

Adrienne Reid
Broken Arrow, Oklahoma

Adrienne, regarding retirement, we don’t plan for it, because we’re doing exactly what we want to be doing. In old age, we might do less, and our investments in real property will allow us to take out a reverse mortgage if we can’t continue to live on $10,000 a year.

As for health insurance, we participate in a state program for working families. We’re not fans of our dysfunctional health care system (which is way too focused on treatment), so we focus on self-reliant, preventive medicine: eating right, getting lots of exercise and eliminating stress. We are on a first-name basis with our farmers — not our doctors.

Your point about hospital stays being expensive is one reason we eat organic food (a lot cheaper than a hospital stay). We don’t want anything to do with the thousands of synthetic chemicals now in existence (most of which have never been tested on humans), and that’s why we do our best to live as naturally as possible. — John Ivanko

Valuing Homegrown Food

A while back, the lady who owns our local organic foods store made a comment that I think of often, because the saying keeps me inspired whenever my family tells me I’m crazy for wanting to garden and farm. She said, “You’re not crazy. You’re just talking to the wrong people.”

Whenever I get a comment from my city-loving family members who prefer to eat out and dress in the latest fashions, I think of this saying. I’ve chosen to value, instead, the fruits of my labor from my organic garden, the eggs and meat from my free-range chickens, and the dirt, sweat and tears spent caring for what nature provides.

Shonita Garcia
Giddings, Texas

Unsung Working Dog

I read the article Working Dogs: Pick a Perfect Pooch for Your Pastures by Ann Larkin Hansen (October/November 2013), and I was disappointed to notice that, in her list of terriers, she left off the breed I consider to be the most important working-dog terrier of all — the “King of Terriers” — the Airedale.

Richard Augusta
Antioch, California

A Fix for Drafty Windows

I read with interest your article Find the Best Energy-Efficient Window Treatments (October/November 2013). Several years ago, I made removable “insiders” for the 10-foot-tall, double-hung windows in my 100-year-old home.

Here’s how to make them: Use square, half-inch wooden screen frames with L-brackets on the corners, pre-drilling holes for wood screws (because half-inch wood is pretty flimsy). Cover the frame with super-thick, crystal-clear plastic, and secure with staples. Add a cross member after you’ve added the plastic, otherwise the frame will keep turning itself into a parallelogram. Measure very carefully so the insiders will fit snugly inside of the window frame (add felt weatherstripping if they don’t fit tightly enough). Use your pre-drilled holes to install using long wood screws.

In addition to energy savings, these window insiders have saved me the labor and expense of stapling new plastic to the windows every year, eliminated the waste of throwing out the old plastic (which cannot be recycled in our local program), and kept my woodwork from the thousands of pinholes that years of staples would have left. Plus, the heavy, super-clear plastic is almost indistinguishable from glass, so I don’t get that “living in an ice palace” effect.

I take the insiders down in spring and have marked each frame so I can put it back in the same window the next winter. I’ve been using these for about 10 years, making minor repairs to them as needed. They are washable, surprisingly sturdy, and have really helped raise the comfort level of — and lower the heating costs for — my drafty old house. I hope they work as well for you.

Teri Clark
Hinton, West Virginia

Every Little Thing Counts

Back in the late 1970s, I picked up a copy of MOTHER EARTH NEWS in a health food store in Ithaca, N.Y. I was in love with the idea of “back to the land” living, and the magazine was wonderful.

As the years passed, however, MOTHER EARTH NEWS started advertising cars, big gas-guzzling trucks and garden equipment that no back-to-the-lander could possibly afford. I felt the magazine had changed and “sold out” to big business. I reluctantly dropped my subscription.

Many years later, after buying a home and going through a divorce and other life changes, I started a small garden. It fared OK, but not great. Then I happened upon a copy of MOTHER EARTH NEWS’ latest edition and decided to give the magazine another try. I read the gardening articles and got a better handle on growing things. My new gardens did great, and once more I enjoyed getting each issue of MOTHER EARTH NEWS and learned so much from the informative articles.

At this point in my life, I realize I will never be able to go back to the land, live on a shoestring budget, grow all of my own food and be totally self-sufficient. But, in small ways, I can achieve that lifestyle.

I now garden in raised beds, start my own heirloom seeds and raise chickens. I make sourdough bread, and I grow and preserve unusual vegetables, with nutrition as my focus. I compost more effectively. All of this is thanks to MOTHER EARTH NEWS. I’ve also gleaned so much from fellow subscribers who take the time to write in about their own trials, tribulations and triumphs.

All of your helpful advice can be used by urban residents as well as rural dwellers. In cities everywhere, people are returning to the good roots of gardening, sewing, cooking with fresh foods, baking and food preservation. Most times, we have to settle for doing what we can fit in while living in an urban area and working a “city job,” but every little thing we do is better than doing nothing at all.

Pam Sojda
East Bethany, New York

Precious Farmland

Thank you for the articles ‘Right to Farm’ Act Protects Small-Scale Farmers and Farm Apprenticeships: Keeping Farmers From Going Extinct in the August/September 2013 issue. Just looking around my own area, it seems our society has become obsessed with money and thinking of only ourselves to the point that we’re embarking on a path that will be difficult to return from.

In my area, where there were once farm fields, there are now new subdivisions full of big homes that have big yards and no clotheslines or gardens in sight. I’ve heard that some of these subdivisions even have rules that ban these once-common things. Then, as I drive through town, I see empty lots where houses once stood that are now becoming overgrown with weeds.

How have we become so selfish that we can build a new home on a field that once fed us, rather than repairing our older homes or rebuilding on the empty lots?

Scott Beckett
Hannibal, Missouri

Downsize Population, Degrade Humanity

I was disappointed by the content and quality of A Vision for a Better World (October/November 2013).

I want truth, helpfulness and room for dreaming of a future full of people, but a future where our interconnectivity is greater and generous, not limiting and hedonistic.

The author even mentions that the world’s hunger problem could be solved today — yet we as a collective have not done well to share. I’m afraid the depravity of man we’ve seen throughout all of history will remain in the future. Even if we had fewer people, we’d be in a similar situation.

As a Christian, I am “pro-life” in all senses of the term, and I hope you will find an alternative view of an ideal future that doesn’t involve limiting population, which at its core degrades humanity of value.

Jeannie Heystek
Frankfort, Michigan

Vision Takes Involvement

What a wonderful article and a good dose of common sense from Bryan Welch in the October/November 2013 issue (A Vision for a Better World). But how do you convince the greedy people of the world to adopt this perspective?

We’ve said for years that the greed is getting unbearable, but now it’s getting downright dangerous. We probably won’t live long enough to see turnaround — but we hope our grandkids do.

Human nature just hasn’t evolved enough yet, perhaps? We must all stay involved for it to happen.

Sara Jo and Toy Renfroe
Toppenish, Washington

Garden ‘Hoop’la: Chicken Runs, Bed Protection and More

After reading your article Try Quick Hoops: Easy-to-Make Mini-Greenhouses in the October/November 2013 issue, I wanted to comment on my own garden hoops, which were originally inspired by a different article I’d read in MOTHER EARTH NEWS. I made some simple, inexpensive hoops out of 6-foot-high, 8-foot-long, 2-inch-by-4-inch welded-wire fencing. To create the hoop shape, I cut wood slats into 3 3⁄4-foot pieces, drilled a hole at each end, bent the fencing into hoops, and wired it in place. The hoops fit nicely over my 4-foot-wide garden beds, and they’re extremely lightweight and easy to move.

From late autumn to early spring, when my chickens have free run of the garden (which has an 8-foot-tall fence), the hoops keep the birds out of my beds. The hoops can be covered easily with heavy-duty plastic weighed down with bricks during bad weather. The wire easily withstands any strong rains or snowfall without collapsing in the middle.

From late spring to early autumn, after I’ve planted my garden, the hoops become “chicken runs” around the house so my hens get access to sunshine, green grass and bugs. That’s the closest I can get to “free-range” without having to worry about foxes and hawks, which are common predators in this area.

Pete Puglia
Lebanon, New Jersey 

Alert for MOTHER EARTH NEWS Subscribers

An Oregon company is using the MOTHER EARTH NEWS brand and has been mailing unauthorized solicitations for MOTHER EARTH NEWS subscriptions and renewals. These are not authentic solicitations from MOTHER EARTH NEWS; do not respond to them.

The company uses several names and addresses on these solicitations, frequently “Publishers Billing Exchange” or “Publishers Billing Emporium” of White City, Ore.

If the return address on any MOTHER EARTH NEWS subscription or renewal offers you receive is not Topeka, Kan., then it is not from MOTHER EARTH NEWS. If you are ever in doubt about a subscription or renewal offer, or if you just want the best possible rate on your subscription, contact us directly at 1-800-234-3368. You can also write to us at MOTHER EARTH NEWS; 1503 SW 42nd St.; Topeka, KS 66609.