Dear MOTHER October/November 2018

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Black Swallowtail caterpillars typically lay their eggs on dill plants.
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This cake recipe was popular during the Great Depression since it required so few ingredients.

Living Remotely

Almost 20 years ago, I realized that I needed to get away from the highly dogmatic, materialistic, and unsustainable American lifestyle, and have some room to think. This realization led me to quit my high-paying and high-stress job, sell my house, and move with my wife and children to a small and remote island in southeastern Alaska.

It took many years to establish our family in this new way of life. My wife and I, along with a close family friend, started and operated what eventually became the highest-rated tourist business in Alaska. We operated the business for a number of years, and each year was more successful than the last. The secret behind our success was our simple business philosophy: Be honest, and treat others the way you want to be treated.

Living remotely has taught me some of the most valuable lessons of my life: Turn off the TV and go outside. Plant a garden. Eat healthy and exercise. Spend quality time with friends and family. Be creative. Be honest and ethical.

Mother Earth News is the only magazine I subscribe to now; it’s the only one to which I feel a strong connection. The work your magazine does to spread the truth about living ethically and organically is invaluable in today’s world. I have trouble even convincing my own brother to eat organic! After living remotely for all these years, I know what a challenge it is to convince others to embrace this lifestyle, so thank you for your efforts.

Jay Beedle
Shelter Island, Alaska

Just Getting Started

I’ve known I was interested in natural agriculture since I was 16 years old. Mother Earth News has been a huge source of inspiration for me, and has taught me so much. After reading the articles in this superb magazine, I’ve been able to take my interests and turn them into real-world projects. Joel Salatin’s advice in “The Pitchfork Pulpit” has been very educational and motivating for a sustainable agriculture fan like myself. I look forward to his advice every issue.

The lessons in this magazine have all helped to guide and grow my interests in natural agriculture. I would really like to learn more about gardening and raising livestock from Mother Earth News, because I’m just getting started in these areas, and have limited experience.

Daniel de Kroon
British Columbia, Canada

Nature’s Perfect Pair

“Top Plants for Companion Planting” (April/May 2018) was an enlightening article, but the author didn’t mention one of the most important beneficial species of pollinators attracted by dill plants. Dill is the favorite host plant of black swallowtail caterpillars. Given the chance, those caterpillars on your dill plants will become beautiful butterflies that will visit and pollinate your flowers.

In my garden, if I find several caterpillars on a dill plant, I sometimes cover the plant with netting to prevent predatory insects and birds from reaching those caterpillars. If I see that a caterpillar has eaten almost all of a small dill plant, I’ll relocate that caterpillar to a fresh dill plant.

Black swallowtails rely on dill in the same way monarchs rely on milkweed — they lay their eggs on the specific plant. While it’s nice to plant flowers to attract and feed these butterflies, we also need to be aware of which plants different butterflies depend on for this important step in their life cycle.

I doubt that many Mother Earth News readers would want to live in a world without butterflies. Simple things such as knowing and planting flowers that butterflies prefer, avoiding using pesticides, and sharing your dill plants with these creatures can help ensure the future of butterflies.

Cindy Wika
Via email

Friendly Fiscal Discussions 

My article “Income Independence on a Homestead” appeared in Firsthand Reports in the June/July 2018 issue. In my story, I mentioned that negotiating credit debt and bankruptcy were avenues toward income independence.

When I wrote those words, they were directed at hardworking people who may have fallen on hard times through no fault of their own. It never occurred to me that including this advice might upset some readers. However, after I received a few emails, I realized I’d touched on a sensitive subject.

One reader who reached out to me explained that telling readers to negotiate credit card debt or take the bankruptcy route seemed like I was asking everyone else to fund other people’s mistakes.

When I wrote back, I told this reader about my experience as a legal administrator in the Washington, D.C., area during the most recent financial crisis. I watched people lose their jobs and be unable to sell their homes. They used their savings to pay mortgages and fund their medical insurance until the market picked back up. Unfortunately, when the market did pick up, these hardworking people still found themselves without savings or homes. Some middle-class workers became food and housing insecure.

The reader pointed out that many people who got into trouble during the recession had spent money on large purchases they didn’t need. I certainly observed this in D.C. during the housing boom. However, when I wrote my article, I wasn’t thinking of people who lived beyond their means; I was thinking of the average citizen. In fact, I’m quite critical of consumer culture. I believe that we owe it to each other to live light on the land and be moderate in our use of resources.

Even if we don’t all share the same views, I believe what most of us homesteaders have in common is that we care about our world and are trying to navigate the challenges as responsible citizens. Thank you, Mother Earth News, for being a forum for differing ideas and experiences from around the world.

Tasha Greer
Lowgap, North Carolina

Hustling Through Hard Times

I’m sure I’m not the first person to thank and congratulate you for the great job you do! I always learn so much from this magazine; it really helps me to get outside and try the projects you recommend.

We can never know the paths that others are on in life, but I know that we’ve all experienced some form of hardship in life. For me, reading this magazine helped me through some recent hard times by reminding me to get back to work outside and keep busy until the hard times passed. I have to thank you for helping me through some difficult days, just by putting so much work into making this a great publication.

Manuel Collazo
Houtzdale, Pennsylvania

Rich Remembrances

Reading the article “Choose Cows for a Small-Scale Dairy” in the February/March 2018 issue reminded me of my own experience growing up on a small family farm.

I was raised in an isolated valley in upstate New York, surrounded by my many brothers and sisters. I learned how to do everything for myself, from gardening and foraging food to cooking with a cast-iron skillet on our old woodstove.

We had one cow named Jessy. She was more of a family pet than a farm commodity. She provided milk not only for my family, but also for other families in the area, whom we traded with often. A very old footpath connected our farm with our neighbor’s home; we walked that path every week to deliver Jessy’s milk. The path was overgrown with thick bushes and trees, but we kids always found fun ways to wriggle through and make our deliveries.

Jessy’s milk also provided my family with butter that we churned ourselves. I miss the taste of our home-churned butter spread onto our homemade bread when it was fresh from the oven. Although we were the poorest family in the county, we never went hungry, and we never felt like we were missing anything.

I miss that life; if I could return to those simple days, I would. Thank you for reminding me of the great memories I made in my childhood on that little farm.

Catherine A. Shaw
Venice Center, New York

A Low-Cost Investment

My advice for young or new farmers willing to make a small, long-term investment is to plant some nut trees on their farms.

If you were to plant two Carpathian walnut trees this year, those two trees would grow to 40 to 60 feet tall and produce 200 pounds of walnuts annually in just a decade. Planting these two trees would only cost $20. Even after factoring in the costs of compost and water for your trees, the benefits of owning these trees over time will make up for the initial cost, and then some. With 200 pounds of walnuts every year, you can feed yourself, sell them at your local farmers market, or donate them to a local food bank. Having nut trees will not only benefit you and your family, but will also help your whole community if you share your crop.

Nuts provide a good source of protein and brain-boosting oils that are badly needed in a country where most food is commercially produced with canola oil. I know of no other small investment that will pay off so well, both financially and in good health.

Alice Cain
Bothell, Washington

Depression-Era Desserts

I enjoyed Melissa Souza’s “Making and Using Apple Cider Vinegar” (Ask Our Experts, December 2017/January 2018 issue), and I’ve already started 3 quarts of my own using some slightly bruised apples. Her story made me miss the apple cider we used to buy in stores back in the day. In the 1960s and 1970s, we could get a clear cider that had quite a tang to it. Today in the grocery store, though, gallon jugs marked “apple cider” are cloudy and taste watered down.

I was digging through my old recipes to find something to use my apple cider vinegar for, and found this chocolate cake recipe that dates from the Great Depression. It was popular then because of the limited number of ingredients needed. It’s become a family favorite. This recipe is originally from my great-grandmother’s neighbors, the Flagg family.

Flagg Cake

  • 1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


  1. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients.
  2. Mix until you have a thick batter.
  3. Scoop batter into a lightly greased and floured 9-by-9 pan.
  4. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 35 minutes.

Glenn Auer
Stevens Point, Wisconsin

Growing Kindling with Coppicing

I just finished reading “Coppicing Trees for Sustainable Firewood” (February/March 2018). I’ve used this method for a few years now, but never knew it had a name. Originally, I cut down an old boxelder maple tree growing near my garden to get rid of it. However, the tree refused to die, and instead grew tons of sucker branches. Nowadays, I’m sure glad it grew back. Each spring, I cut all the new growth back down to the stump and use the small shoots as posts for my chicken-wire fence. At the end of the season, the wood goes into my kindling pile to burn, and I get ready to start the process over again the following season. This method works tremendously and costs us absolutely nothing!

Coleen Stowell
Bancroft, Michigan

Cautious of Cattails

One of your recent articles, “Foraging and Eating Cattails” (April/May 2018), was a fun and informative read. However, I’d like to share something important with Mother Earth News readers. Cattails can clean toxins from bodies of water that are close to industrial farms or pesticide-sprayed fields. However, the runoff from these sprayed fields pollutes these waters, and cattails will naturally absorb the chemicals. Because of this, extra precautions must be taken when foraging cattails, as they retain these harmful chemicals and can become significantly dangerous for consumption.

I’ve been reading Mother Earth News for decades. In 1983, I actually met my husband through his personal ad in your magazine. We married later that year and now have three adult children. Our first grandchild, Evie, was born in March of this year.

Since 1995, we’ve lived on 5 beautiful acres of land in the country, where I grow a lot of our food and preserve as much as possible. Our property is also a certified Monarch Waystation, so I help raise and release monarch butterflies. My land is even a Certified Wildlife Habitat!

Deb Berning
Jenera, Ohio