Dear MOTHER: The MOTHER of All Memories

Letters from our readers about being an international fan, long-lost readers, faith-based farming, and battery technology.

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by Dave from Nebraska
The gift of time has allowed Nebraska Dave to reclaim his interest in gardening.

Discovering (and Rediscovering) MOTHER

My discovery of MOTHER EARTH NEWS was during its second year of publication. At lunchtime, I would spend my hour at a nearby library or bookstore reading books and magazines about organic gardening. Back in the early ’70s, organic gardening wasn’t even a fad yet, let alone a movement. So I was out of sync with most other gardeners. One day, while scanning the magazines in the bookstore, I came across MOTHER EARTH NEWS. The newsprint paper had a good feel to it. The articles were amazing, and I connected with the content immediately. I remember my first issue was around No. 13, give or take, but I noticed that the magazine rack had several back issues in the single digits. So, as I saved up my pennies, I began racking up a stack of MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazines. While my co-workers were talking about what they did over the weekend, the latest restaurants to visit, and the newest cars on the market, I was talking about soil care, compost, and organic gardening. My bookstore purchases were quickly replaced by a subscription. As the years passed by, my boxes of MOTHER EARTH NEWS grew and grew. Sadly, during my last move, the magazines got wet and had to be pitched out. Newsprint paper doesn’t handle water well.

Life has a way of changing course. My gardening interests didn’t die, but the time I’d previously had for gardening became consumed by family, work, and other life issues. Since I was the only one interested in gardening in my family, I gave it up, along with my MOTHER EARTH NEWS subscription, for more than two decades. Upon retirement, the urge to garden kicked in again, and one raised bed expanded into two, then five, then entire vacant lots. I reactivated my MOTHER EARTH NEWS subscription, and life was good. When the world — and MOTHER EARTH NEWS — became digital, I jumped at the chance to have every issue of the magazine. That thumb drive proudly resides right beside my computer keyboard.

I’m hoping to spend more time gardening this year. Last year was a total bust, and this is the year where I reclaim my garden. I’m only going to concentrate on six of the 12 beds, and cover the rest with tarps to keep the weeds down. I can’t believe how fast a property can revert to the wild when unattended. The bones of the beds are still intact, but right now the beds are a big mess. But as a good friend of mine says, “Do a little bit often, and it will get done.” So that’s my mantra.

Nebraska Dave
Omaha, Nebraska


The MOTHER of All Memories

The year Jack Henstridge gave a seminar on cordwood building, my family went to the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Eco-Village to see him.

Our twin sons, John and Dan, were 8 years old that summer. The day of the seminar, my husband and I went off to attend the cordwood workshop, and the kids and their leaders went on a nature walk.

During the seminar, we worked on a cordwood structure. Afterward, we saw all the kids and their leaders gathered around a kid on the ground.

It was John. Dan said they were walking along and somebody remarked, “Oh, a bird nest.” John picked it up, but it was a hornet nest, and all the hornets flew out and stung him. One of the leaders scooped up some mud and put it all over his face. Then somebody else intervened. They picked some green leaves and chewed them up in a wad. Then, they scraped the mud off John’s face and replaced it with weeds and spit.

In the end, he was OK. Over the years, I’ve heard this story many times. With each retelling, the hornets have increased in size and number, and the treatments have become even more drastic.

Suzanne Mays


From Korea, with Love

My name is Minju Kim, and I’m an enthusiastic reader of MOTHER EARTH NEWS from South Korea.

I became interested in — and concerned about — the environment when I was in college. One of my college friends had a small organic garden called Gong Garden, located in Fredonia, New York. At the time, I was living in a trailer without water or electricity. The couple at Gong Garden taught me how to grow plants and, eventually, helped me realize the grace of nature. We also regularly sold our produce at the local farmers market. Since then, I’ve tried to live in a way that leaves the smallest carbon footprint possible.

This desire led me to study and act more intentionally to live a self-sufficient life. After graduating college and coming back to South Korea, I worked at a nongovernmental organization, where I assisted in managing the Seoul Eco Film Festival. It was a meaningful career, but I yearned to really jump into a self-sufficient life. I’ve since found a Seoul city-sponsored program called “Atelier Non-Electric at Seoul,” which was originally started in Japan by Yasuyuki Fujimura. Along with 11 other applicants, I participated in the program for a year. We learned about topics related to self-sufficient living, including woodworking, ecological architecture, organic farming, and small business models that could help us become more independent. We built an off-grid cafe that doesn’t use electricity, and we’ve been running it since last November. (Check it out on Instagram @Cafe_Off_Grid.)

I also fell in love with preserving native plants in South Korea. Since graduating from the program, I’ve rented a small farm where I can start growing rice and other native plants. I’ve also been hosting a book club for people who are interested in self-sufficiency. As a MOTHER EARTH NEWS subscriber, I’ve found really great articles that I’ve wanted to share with the group. My friends and I translate the articles into Korean together so we can actually discuss the articles’ contents. We read “Pure and Simple Kitchen Craft” (April/May 2019) and hosted a small workshop where we carved a wooden stirrer by following the steps in the article. I’m planning to visit the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR in Topeka, Kansas, in October.

I wish more people could be fulfilled by leading a simpler life. I believe MOTHER EARTH NEWS can act as a bridge between their current life and one of self-reliance.

Minju Kim
Gunpo, South Korea


Faith-Based Farming Feedback

Readers, we received a number of responses to Joel Salatin’s “Faith-Based Farming” in the June/July 2019 issue. Joel wrote about how his faith informs his farming. Here are our favorite letters from you. –MOTHER

Time to Take Charge

I want to thank you for Joel Salatin’s “Faith-Based Farming.” I’ll be 80 years old next month. I’ve had to change the way I grow my crops, because I now use a walker. Instead of growing them in the ground, I now grow my food in large containers that are 3 to 4 feet off the ground.

My aim in writing this is to encourage all people to take charge of their own lives and live to the fullest. I’ve read MOTHER EARTH NEWS from the first year it was available. For 50 years, it’s been my go-to resource when I’ve needed to build something or wanted to try new foods.

Rose Collett
Anson, Texas

Intentional Living

I was very glad to read Joel Salatin’s “Faith-Based Farming.” Often, people forget or ignore spiritual principles in daily life. Thank you, Mr. Salatin.

Diana Saiz
Boca Raton, Florida

Love Your Mother

Joel Salatin’s “Faith-Based Farming” was such a beautiful piece. How can I thank you and him enough? We just celebrated Mother’s Day, and the love I hold for our Mother Earth cannot be overstated. Too often, faith-based folks talk much about dominion and not enough about stewardship. I go out to the garden alone in the mornings, while the dew is still on the roses, and marvel at the works of our Mother. Let’s all work together to nourish, praise, and delight in God’s great gift.

Sherman Fracher
Harrodsburg, Kentucky

Spiritual Responsibility

Joel Salatin, thank you for one of the most cogent and inspiring discourses on spiritual responsibility I’ve ever read. Well done, thou good and faithful servant!

Gail Luce
Fairmont, West Virginia

Faithful Farming

Mr. Salatin’s article about how faith influences his farming practices is exceptionally potent and timely. It’s a cause for concern for all us who farm or have home gardens. We all have a responsibility to care for God’s creation. Thank you for sharing your efforts toward this end.

Judy Pearce
Carpinteria, California

How gratifying to receive such gracious and encouraging feedback on a theme MOTHER EARTH NEWS took some risk in publishing. For too long, the Christian community has taken a cavalier approach toward environmental stewardship. I’ve never bought the notion that faith is so other-worldly that it has scant bearing on this world.

As pointed out in James 2:14, “what doth it profit … though a man say he hath faith, and have not works?” Stewardship offers us a practical application of spiritual truth, and a visible template to demonstrate faith. What a profound privilege and responsibility.

Our enjoyment of creation’s abundance and participation in its goodness is only heightened when we open ourselves up to God. In this added dimension, there is new meaning, insight, and gratitude.

–Joel Salatin 


Mother as Guide

I received the April/May 2019 issue of MOTHER EARTH NEWS and read “50 Years and Counting” by Editorial Director Hank Will. I’ve been reading MOTHER EARTH NEWS since the 1970s. In ’79, my wife and I wanted to move to the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. So, as we got every issue of the magazine, we’d look through the classifieds for property listings.

One ad had a house on 10 acres with running water and central heat. When we went out to look at it, we discovered that the “running water” was a stream outside, and the “central heat” was a big stone heater in the middle of a one-room cabin. Later, after much searching, we finally found 25 acres at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, with the George Washington National Forest surrounding us on three sides.

We sold our house in South Carolina and moved into my parents’ basement in Vienna, Virginia, while we built our house. It was about a two-hour drive to our property. It took about three years to move in, working on weekends with some help from friends. In the July/August 1984 issue, I read Martha O. Sheldon’s article about greywater (“Greywater System: A Way to Save Water at Home“). At the time, I only had a cistern. I installed Sheldon’s system, and it worked fine.

We’ve since moved to central Illinois and built a new house. We have a big garden in the backyard; the soil is awesome. Keep up the good work. We love the magazine.

Kathy Bumgardner
Minonk, Illinois


Solar’s Soaring Rates

I was disappointed to see that you published Kale Roberts’ article praising Alabama Power in your latest issue (“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?“, August/September 2019). While the neighborhood itself — like all large-scale solar initiatives in Alabama — is a wonderful thing, Alabama Power’s solar policies certainly aren’t. This utility company has enacted fees and penalties that constrict solar installations for individual homeowners, making them tedious and ridiculously expensive. By forcing homeowners with solar installations to pay for backup power and a backup power fee, the only way to avoid paying for utilities is to be completely off-grid.

MOTHER EARTH NEWS reader

Your concern is well-founded. Perplexing new research suggests that state policy — not hours of sunshine — is the most important determinant of a state’s total solar-powered electricity generation. As prices for solar and wind have plummeted in recent years — spurring renewables to become the fastest-growing source of electricity in the country, with utility-scale solar alone expected to grow 32 percent by 2020­ — a battle has been waged in several states by fossil fuel industry lobbyists and some utilities hoping to preserve their petroleum-powered prospects.

More specifically, you allude to Alabama Power’s $5-per-kilowatt “solar fee” the utility company charges its customers who have installed solar panels. Charges like these are often instituted alongside legislation aimed at preventing net-metering laws that allow customers using solar panels to be credited for the energy they supply back to the grid. Because of such policies, Alabama is routinely ranked by solar industry groups as one of the worst states for solar, with less than 300 megawatts of installed solar capacity satisfying a mere 0.29 percent of the state’s electricity demand. Moreover, punitive solar policy restrains solar job growth. For instance, Alabama supports only about 600 solar jobs. Compare this with neighboring states that have favorable net-metering policies, such as Georgia (3,700 solar jobs) and Florida (10,300 solar jobs).

Despite this, there’s good news in the solar industry. Forward-thinking (and climate-responsible) utilities are beginning to make carbon-free commitments. For example, Xcel Energy plans to eliminate carbon emissions by 2050, Platte River Power Authority plans to reach this same goal by 2030, and MidAmerican Energy plans to have a carbon-free supply as soon as 2020. Solar power will be central to meeting these goals.

Despite Alabama Power’s paltry performance on solar policy, I believe solid solutions for community resilience deserve their time in the sun, regardless of where they come from. Smart Neighborhood is one of the only community microgrids anywhere in the nation. With this project, Alabama Power is able to show other utilities operating in any state one working model for energy resilience. Smart Neighborhood also proves that solar can thrive even in the most unfavorable regulatory conditions.

–Kale Roberts


Battery Technology Reactions

Positive Charge

I’ve always enjoyed your magazine, but Paul Scheckel’s battery article (“Get Charged Up with Off-Grid Battery Options,” June/July 2019) was incredible. Very well-written, with enough detail to really explain the options and choices. I’m a retired electrical engineer, and I don’t believe I’ve ever read a better battery article.

Dudley Crisp

Demand for Batteries

Although Paul Scheckel’s article on off-grid battery options was informative, we’re curious why he didn’t include information on nickel-iron technology. There’s only a brief mention of “flooded” systems that need to be replenished periodically by adding distilled water. Even though there are strong proponents and opponents of nickel-iron technology, we feel it’s worth mentioning, since it doesn’t have the toxic elements of flooded lead-acid (FLA) or lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries, and it has an extended life span.

Nancy Lewis
Palo Alto, California

As you know, there are benefits and shortcomings to all battery technologies. The purpose of the article wasn’t to be an exhaustive comparison of all those technologies. Rather, the intent was to focus on two specific battery types: FLA and LFP. These were chosen for two specific reasons: 1. FLA batteries are, in my experience, the most commonly used batteries for off-grid applications; 2. LFP batteries are the rising stars of energy storage. People have many questions about lithium storage technology, and I attempted to address the most common issues without getting too deep into the weeds. Certainly, there’s much more to explore and compare with battery technology, and if we hear from enough readers, we’ll try to cover those in the future.

–Paul Scheckel

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