Dear MOTHER: February/March 2013

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Reader David Goodman of Ocala, Fla., reports that, after using manure contaminated with the persistent herbicide aminopyralid in his garden, he has lost about $1,000 worth of perennials and veggies. 
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Bob Freeman of Cookeville, Tenn., suggests those looking for land to farm connect with aged farmers who may not have the energy or finances to continue to care for their property. “The owners would be a great reservoir of knowledge,” Freeman writes. 
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“I don’t want to hear a clock ticking all day; I’d rather hear chicks clucking, or maybe the sound of wind through the trees,” writes aspiring farmer Ariel Drouault of Great Barrington, Mass. 
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Reader Alicia Gouveia says Barbara Pleasant's article on indoor seed starting in the December 2012/January 2013 issue has likely saved her from a few more years of seed-starting trial and error. 

Yearning to Farm

Most people in my generation want to be doctors, lawyers, writers or hold desk jobs. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with such career paths, but they’re not for me.

I want my cubicle to be measured in acres, not inches. I don’t want to hear a clock ticking all day; I’d rather hear chicks clucking, or maybe the sound of wind through the trees. I’m not taking the traditional route?–?I want to be a farmer. I know it won’t be easy or the most lucrative path, but it’s how I want to change the world?–?by getting my hands dirty and producing food. My idea of a good life is one in which I have a deep connection to the Earth and to each item of food on my plate. We need as many farmers as possible, especially in these times. I recently read an article that said about half of all farmers plan to retire in the coming 10 years. To me, that’s terrifying.

I am excited about my journey. I welcome all suggestions, comments and questions at

Ariel Drouault
Great Barrington, Massachusetts

Killer Compost Keeps On Killing: ‘I Feel Completely Violated’

In fall 2011, I picked up a double load of composted cow manure from a local farmer. I diligently spread it into my new garden beds and around my young fruit trees and blackberries. After doing so, I noticed the leaves on my blackberries started to curl a bit, but I wasn’t too worried at that point.

Come spring, however, almost everything I had planted in my garden beds exhibited bizarre growth?–?if it grew at all.

I was completely perplexed until I realized the manure was the only constant between all of the plants that were having issues. I called my friend Jo, who had used some of the same manure, and she, too, had damage to her crops.

Googling terms such as “manure,” “distorted growth” and “leaf curl” finally led me to discover that my supposedly organic amendment had been contaminated by a persistent herbicide known as aminopyralid.

This stuff is an ecological WMD, and we have Dow AgroSciences to thank for it, along with the many extension offices that recommend it for treating spiny amaranth and other broadleaf weeds. After a field has been sprayed, it’s supposedly safe for livestock to graze on. But after being eaten, digested, excreted and composted?–?even for years?–?aminopyralid will still destroy plants.

I feel completely violated. My ground was poisoned, about $1,000 worth of perennials and veggies were ruined, and I still have a pile of toxic manure sitting in my yard. The cattle farmer refunded the $60 I’d spent on his manure, and also confirmed that he had indeed sprayed his fields in the summer with “Grazon,” an herbicide that contains aminopyralid. He had no idea it would go through the cows and ruin the manure?–?but he does now. I’m telling anyone who will listen: Watch your back. There’s hardly anything safe anymore, especially if it has come in contact with Big Ag.

David Goodman 
Ocala, Florida

Poisons in Our Produce?

I was just rereading your article on killer compost from April/May 2011 (Keep Your Garden Safe From Killer Compost) and began wondering about a similar concern. We have pigs and chickens, and we frequently supplement their grain (non-GM) with rejected produce from local grocery stores.

My question is this: If toxic chemicals can remain in compost for years, is the same danger there for pesticides used on food products? In other words, is the non-organic produce we give our animals to eat actually causing a toxic reaction in our fields through the animals’ manure? And if we collect fall leaves from other houses in our community to use in creating our compost, are we likely introducing “poisoned” material into our compost?

Thanks for being a source of information that’s difficult to find elsewhere!

Sue Freesen
Staunton, Virginia

Readers, see our Killer Compost Update: Herbicide Damage Still a Major Problemfor more on this ongoing problem. As for Sue’s question, other than the problems we’ve reported regarding persistent herbicides, we are not aware of risks to soil from manure from livestock fed non-organic produce, or from using fall leaves in your compost.?–?MOTHER EARTH NEWS

The Riches of a Garden

Christopher Wanjek’s letter, Does Gardening Really Pay? (Dear MOTHER, December 2012/January 2013), prompted me to think about the costs and benefits of gardening. Keeping an organic garden going year after year certainly isn’t cheap, but I’ve never stopped to do a cost-benefit analysis before. I probably don’t break even financially, but here are some of the benefits for me.

At age 78, gardening gets me outside and makes me move, lift, carry, stretch and breathe deeply. Gardening helps keep me healthy.

Gardening gives me the satisfaction of being connected to the natural world and the processes of birth, growth, reproduction, maturity, death and decay. Gardening helps me see myself as part of that process, and so prepares me for the end of my own life.

Gardening gives me the joy of sharing the work and the fruits of that work with my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. They don’t live nearby, but their visits are full of the wonder of planting beans, harvesting pumpkins, digging potatoes, or making applesauce or jam.

Gardening gives me the security of a year’s supply of food, fresh in summer and fall, canned and frozen the rest of the year. I never worry about not having something to eat.

Gardening gives me the guarantee of knowing what I am eating, that it was grown organically, that nothing harmful was used to produce it, and that no one was exploited in its production.

If these benefits weren’t important, gardening would definitely cost too much. If I gave up gardening, my cash flow might improve, but my life would be considerably poorer.

Marilyn Moors 
Friendsville, Maryland

Pollution From Nuclear Weapons

I enjoyed reading your 8 Great Places You’ve (Maybe) Never Heard Of, 2012 Edition article by David Wann (October/November 2012). I would like to point out, though, that Golden, Colo., is only about 12 miles south of the former Rocky Flats nuclear weapons production facility, and strong Rocky Mountain winds frequently blow long half-life nuclear particulates to suburban areas around Denver.

Rocky Flats and the Trinity nuclear-testing site here in New Mexico have caused a long history of un- or under-compensated health issues. When it comes to the potential damages your use of a car may cause, the government takes a serious interest in your liability. But when it comes to long-term health issues related to nuclear pollution, weapons development has led the government to look the other way for many decades.

As an Army combat photographer for two back-to-back tours in Vietnam, I witnessed the use of napalm and Agent Orange, and only now?–?more than four decades later?–?is the U.S. government finally beginning to help Vietnam clean up the messes that the war has caused for so many generations of Vietnamese people.

Ed Scott 
Taos, New Mexico 

‘Glitz and Glamour’

Since MOTHER EARTH NEWS was acquired by Ogden Publications, I have been steadily disappointed by its glitz and glamour aimed at the yuppie section of society. It has reached the point where even the articles are no more than elaborate, concealed advertising.

Anne M. Koons 
St. Johns, Arizona 

Starting Seeds: Success at Last

Barbara Pleasant’s article Best Tips for Starting Seeds Indoors (December 2012/January 2013) is gold! I’ve been trying for five years, with this past spring and summer being my most successful. (I had about six viable plants out of 20 pots.)

By describing her mistakes and breaking down the nature of seedlings and their needs, Barbara has probably saved me from a few more years of trial and error. The illustrations in the story were not only wonderful, but helpful. Thank you so much!

Alicia Gouveia 
via Facebook 

Finding Land to Farm

A potential option for those looking to buy farmland is to locate unused and unkempt acreage. In the eastern part of the United States, I see many, many plots of land that have not been farmed in several years. A reason for this may be that the owners are aged farmers who do not have the energy or finances to continue to care for their property?–?but they don’t want to leave their house and the land they have lived on for many years, and the property may have been in their family for decades.

I think many landowners would allow an energetic younger person to recondition these unused acreages for a minimal monthly fee (plus a reasonable deposit). These properties could support gardens, pasture, poultry and other animals. In addition, the owners would be a great reservoir of knowledge, and they might also trade farm work for the monthly fee.

Then, if you find that rural life is not for you and your family, you can reclaim your deposit and simply walk away.

Bob Freeman 
Cookeville, Tennessee

For information on organizations that connect retiring farmers with new farmers, see our article How to Buy Farmland, Even If You Think You Can’t.–?MOTHER EARTH NEWS

The Courage to Explore

I just want to thank MOTHER EARTH NEWS for all of the wonderful and timely articles. I wouldn’t have had the courage to try many of the things I do now without your magazine. I’ve raised chickens in the past for their eggs and watched my neighbors raise rabbits for food, which I have eaten at their home. I wanted to raise meat rabbits, too, but I can’t bring myself to kill the animals.

I’ve built a chicken coop using your ideas, and I’ve applied energy-saving strategies from MOTHER EARTH NEWS to homes I’ve lived in. I’ve grown vegetables in boxes and have eaten good food raised without pesticides. I use my horse’s manure for compost I learned how to make.

I have to say my life is much richer now than it was in my youth. I’m not rich with money, but I’m rich beyond my wildest dreams in the knowledge learned and used from MOTHER EARTH NEWS. You have always been and shall always be my teacher.

Anne Stanley
Valle de Oro, Texas 

Why Avoid GM Food?

Thank you for printing How to Avoid Genetically Modified Food in the October/November 2012 issue. It was a useful overview of the presence of genetically modified foods on supermarket shelves. Your article would have been more useful, however, if paired with a similar article on why to avoid GM food.

Seth Talley 
Los Angeles, California

Seth, our article included a reference to The Threats From Genetically Modified Foods, which explains why we should be concerned about GM foods.?–?MOTHER EARTH NEWS

In Defense of GMOs

In every issue of MOTHER EARTH NEWS, I read letter after letter bashing genetically modified crops. To all of the letter writers: Have any of you ever been to a real row crop farm? Not just your backyard garden?

GMOs are some of the safest crops in the world. I would eat a GM crop any day over the crops we grew 15 years ago. If only you all knew what we had to treat crops with then.

Chris Reinke 
Morrison, Tennessee

Composting Meat and Fat

In the ’70s, I followed the standard advice never to compost meat products, especially fat. I am a biochemist and have done a lot of work in microbiology. I concluded that microorganisms that specialize in decomposition could hardly be deficient in metabolizing fat.

I started composting animal scraps and fat?–?even tossing in big gobs of rendered (de-salted) fat and fat trimmed from raw meat. I have also composted waste from slaughtered animals. I always cover each addition immediately with an amount of “brown” material commensurate with the nitrogen load I am adding. The stuff disappears rapidly and hasn’t smelled bad, made a mess or attracted animals. I have been doing this for decades.

There are others who say you can compost anything of biological origin?–?for instance, Joseph Jenkins in The Humanure Handbook, and Joel Salatin, who composts chicken-slaughtering waste.

Judy Rittenhouse
Bishop, California 

No to AC; Yes to PV

Since I painted my roof white, I have not had to use my AC. I began using solar PV electricity in 1984 after reading an article in MOTHER EARTH NEWS, and I installed the system myself. I have had no problems in all those years and have saved thousands on electricity. My cost over time is now less than $10 a month.

Larry Behnke 
High Springs, Florida 

Not Sold on EVs

You keep promoting electric vehicles like they are a gift from above. Think what it would do to your electric bill each month.

I can’t imagine what it would cost to have to plug in an electric car every night, then having to replace those batteries in about three to four years, just after the warranty runs out. Are they really worth promoting?

Thomas Russell 
Edmonton, Alberta 

Thomas, because electric automobiles are inherently more efficient, the fuel for your electric car will likely cost you only 10 to 20 percent of the cost of gasoline for a car of the same size. And so far, EV battery packs are lasting far longer than originally estimated. Our publisher’s Chevy Volt is paying off its lease from fuel savings alone.?–?MOTHER EARTH NEWS

Passive Solar Living

Three years ago, my husband and I purchased 90 acres in rural East Texas and built a passive solar house. We purchased the design from Debra Coleman (interviewed in the October/November 2012 article Passive Solar Design: Creating Sun-Inspired Homes) and have been more than pleased with it.

The house holds an almost constant temperature, and our electric bills have averaged about $60. We cool the house as needed with an air conditioner and use an efficient wood-burning stove for most of our heat. This house is amazing and we absolutely love it. This design works very well.

Gloria Sprague 
Timpson, Texas 

Update on the Hazards of Teflon

Following up on our report on poultry killed by Teflon-coated shatterproof light bulbs, we discovered a February 2012 report in the journal Comparative Medicine detailing several more instances in which off-gassing from bulbs coated with Teflon (PTFE) had killed chicks and other birds. One case even involved birds that were killed by coated heat lamps used in outdoor conditions.

The authors write that Teflon toxicosis “may begin to increase in frequency, given that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration now requires the use of PTFE-coated heat-lamp bulbs in the food service industry, to prevent shattering. A few companies do still manufacture non-coated bulbs.”

So how about it, GE and DuPont? Time to admit to this hazard and get warnings added to these light bulbs’ labels??–?MOTHER EARTH NEWS 

MOTHER’s Wish List

Homesteader of the Year Nominations. Know someone who should be a Homesteader of the Year? Submit a short essay and photos to with the subject line “Homesteader of the Year.” Your candidate’s profile could appear online or even in the magazine, plus Homesteaders of the Year win tickets to one of our MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIRS!

Illegal Gardening Reports. Some U.S. cities are trying to prohibit residents from growing food gardens in their front yards. Post reports on this topic to our collection at Fight for Your Right to Grow Food: Changing No Food Rules to FOOD RULES!.

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