Dear MOTHER: MOTHER’S Eco-Village Beginning

Letters from our readers about being part of MOTHER'S 50-year history and going against the grain.

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I remember MOTHER EARTH NEWS from the 1970s. I wish I would’ve kept every issue. I’d like to know more about its history, and where it’s printed now. Keep up the wonderful magazine, especially the articles focusing on DIY projects.

Theresa Reinhart
Alvada, Ohio

Theresa and other readers, we’re happy to give you some background on the anniversary of our 50th year in print. John and Jane Shuttleworth published the first issue of MOTHER EARTH NEWS in January 1970 in Ohio. They wanted to embrace the back-to-the-land movement and promote self-sufficiency while connecting with environmentalists around the country. From its birth, MOTHER had a strong do-it-yourself bent, advising readers about gardening techniques, as well as how to build structures, care for livestock, and install renewable energy on their properties.

After a few years, the Shuttleworths moved the magazine to a 600-acre property in the forested hills outside of Hendersonville, North Carolina. There, they opened a research facility they called the Eco-Village, with plenty of room for experiments in green living conducted by the staff (known as “researchers”). People came from all over the country to camp, visit, and innovate at the Eco-Village.

But more than a decade of producing a successful bimonthly magazine and operating the Eco-Village took its toll on the Shuttleworths. The magazine was sold and the Eco-Village disbanded. Print operations eventually moved to New York City, not exactly a bastion of off-grid living in the 1980s and ’90s. But MOTHER always found an audience.

The magazine was purchased by Ogden Publications in 2000, and joined Grit and Capper’s in the American heartland. We’ve been located in Topeka, Kansas, ever since — the longest the magazine has settled in a single place. Our mission remains the same, but we’re always looking for interesting new takes on practical living.–MOTHER

Springs of Sustainability

Hello to all readers! You’ve helped make Earth a better place. I’m writing in response to the article “A Wellspring of Ingenuity” (August/September 2019) about digging a well to collect spring water. Back in 1997, my wife and I purchased 12 acres of land in western New York, about 8 acres of open land and 4 acres of woods. For 17 years, we’d been living in a city with our two kids in a 1,000-square-foot house. Not only were we tired of city life, but we’d outgrown the house. It was time to build a real home.

I started by building a 24-by-32-foot pole barn workshop. Then, in 1998, I began building the house. First, I constructed the basement foundation. While digging, I hit five different springs! One was very active, and I wasn’t sure what to do. There was all this fine shale around the opening of the spring. I contacted a friend who was a hydrogeologist for the state, and he instructed me to run a solid drainpipe from the spring to divert it from the foundation. He said to build a catch basin at the edge of the foundation 3 to 4 feet deep, and then run the pipe out of the house on a downward slope. Fortunately, we have a lot of downgrade. I ran pipes from all the springs to one pipe away from the house, which fed into a solid 5,000-pound pipe 350 feet downhill. I wanted radiant heat in the basement floor, so we laid 4 inches of #2 crushed stone everywhere around the springs without disturbing them, and then we laid a 2-inch tongue-and-groove insulation hardboard. Then, we attached rebar to the hardboard and wired the radiant tubing to it so we could pour the cement floor. Believe it or not, we haven’t had a crack in that floor in 19 years! Also, that steady flow of cold spring water has never changed.

Our children have grown and moved away, and it’s just my wife and me now. We maintain several raised garden beds that give us fresh vegetables and fruits from November to May. I’m now building a 12-by-16-foot greenhouse to extend our growing season. Last year, I put out a plastic barrel to collect the spring water. I recently read about the ability to generate electricity using a micro hydropower turbine. I intend to install a system to reduce our electric bills. All of this started from years of reading MOTHER EARTH NEWS. My wife and I have always been environmentalists, as I was a landscape contractor for 30 years, and she was a florist for 35 years. We love our Mother, and teach others all we can to do the same, so, one day, we can all live fruitful, sustainable lives.

Stephen P. Arnone
Jamestown, New York

The Plight of Pollinators

I’m a lover of animals, green things, and sunshine. Ultimately, I’m a lover of life. For instance, I garden, keep bees and chickens, and grow fruit trees.

I’m a third-generation reader of MOTHER EARTH NEWS. My mother subscribed to the magazine, and my grandmother before her. I love when my issue arrives. I keep all my issues together and bookmark the pages of things I’d like to try. Back when I got the August/September 2018 issue, I was especially excited by Leo Sharashkin’s article, “Sweet Savings,” about building your own beekeeping equipment. This past spring, I built a top-bar hive and was fortunate to trade with a local beekeeper for a swarm. I quickly expanded to a second hive and traded for a second swarm. This time, I purchased a Langstroth hive so I could compare and contrast horizontal and vertical hives.

I love my bees. I love seeing them in the yard. I love watching the foragers come home from work at the end of the day and dance around the hives before they go inside for the evening.

I’m writing this letter because my county aerial sprays for mosquitoes. I had no idea how detrimental this practice was to the environment, including honeybees. I recently watched literally thousands of my bees convulse and die within minutes, and I was helpless to do anything to stop it. It broke my heart. Please consider publishing this letter or writing an article on the effects of aerial pesticide spraying and steps you can take to protect your animals and plants. I’m now on my county’s call list and will be notified the day before a spray, so I can secure my hives, cover my garden, and make sure my animals’ food is put away when the plane flies overhead. I’d like to prevent others from experiencing my heartbreak.

Jessica G. Stone
Tavernier, Florida

Jessica, thanks for your letter. We’re sorry this happened to you. Readers, for a broader look at the effects of pesticides and industrial agricultural practices on our pollinators, see “The State of Bees in the United States.”–MOTHER

Thinking (and Living) Independently

Readers, we received a number of responses to Editorial Director Hank Will’s “Outside the Box” editorial (June/July 2019). Here are our favorite letters from you.–MOTHER

Pigweed as Panacea

I find thinking “outside the box” a very interesting notion. Our “outside the box” idea with hair sheep happened last year. We have around 40 ewes in three groups on our small farm. Several of the small pasture areas have an abundance of pigweed in summer. We noticed that the sheep seemed to prefer the young, tender leaves over other weeds and grasses. As the weeds became taller (12 to 15 inches), we mowed them short again. The new tender leaves were a real treat for the sheep. We repeated the process for the remainder of summer into fall. The sheep always had a bale of hay available and were fed a little grain each evening. In fall, prior to breeding one group of 11 ewes, we turned them out into a small field of turnip greens for about a week before introducing the rams. When that group of ewes had lambs, four of them had triplets. We’ve never had triplets with our hair sheep. The 11 ewes had 25 lambs. The other groups didn’t have as many lambs, but they grew well, even in the hard winter.

We plan to repeat the same process this year. The ewes with nursing lambs last summer had a huge supply of milk, despite eating the supposedly “poison pigweed.”

Sharon Crum
Perry, Illinois

Hearty Appetite, Hearty Heart

When I was having children in the early 1990s in California, a common recommendation was to eat what you crave, because your body knows what it needs. That made sense to me, so I’ve always adhered to it.

Two years ago, during an annual checkup, my doctor said I’d need to start watching my cholesterol, because all my older siblings had high cholesterol. At the time, I was eating beef a couple of times a month, and eggs even less.

I informed her I had just inherited six baby chicks and was looking forward to eating fresh eggs in October. She said I should stick with egg whites.

A month later, I bought a pound of local grass-fed hamburger from a friend’s farm. When I opened it, I was transported in time. Suddenly, I remembered holding onto my mother’s hand in the butcher shop of a grocery store. I’d forgotten what raw meat was supposed to smell like. It tasted even better. I went back and bought another 12 pounds, so I’d have enough to last me a year.

The next year, after eating my free-range chickens’ eggs and local grass-fed beef for a year, my cholesterol had gone down. I was excited and pointed it out to my doctor. She reiterated that I should stick with egg whites. Her physician assistant said he’d seen studies that corroborated my results regarding animals allowed to forage, but my doctor would hear none of it. Sometimes our bodies know better than the experts.

Sylvia Brophy
Rome, Georgia

Reap What You Sow

I read Hank Will’s editorial “Outside the Box,” and I think a new department with the same name would be an excellent addition to MOTHER EARTH NEWS.

It seems that with all the innovation and new information, the American population should get healthier and stronger each year, but we’re not. Some diseases and disorders that we now suffer from weren’t common just a few decades ago. We have to find out why this has happened with science-based information and individual reports.

I also enjoyed reading the letters about elderly people who are still actively gardening. I think this attests to the undeniable benefits that gardening offers, both the work that goes into it and the food it produces. Doctors always tell people to eat more fruits and vegetables, which isn’t a bad idea, but most people find conventional grocery store produce to be lacking in flavor. It’s good to see people still growing their own delicious produce.

I heard not long ago that the majority of people over 50 take at least one prescription drug daily. That’s concerning, and those people are often told that if they don’t take that pill, their health and well-being will suffer. Maybe by encouraging people to think outside the box, you can help people lead healthier lives by trying to find what works best for them.

Thanks again for your great magazine. I’d enjoy more stories about people over 50 who are still gardening.

Joyce D’Agostino
Arvada, Colorado

A Place for Us All

Libraries are vital community gathering places. Our local library in Joppa, Maryland, has a monthly knitting and crochet group. Many of the participants make scarves, hats, and gloves for the homeless. The library collects these in fall, and donates them to a local homeless shelter in December. Community members donate yarn to the library for the crafters to use for these projects.

This spring, a quilt guild brought in donated fabric, assorted sewing supplies, and portable sewing machines. Over the course of two sessions, volunteers worked together in an assembly line to make soft pillows for people recovering from breast cancer surgery. Some of the volunteers even took supplies home to complete more pillows.

Helen Orem
Middle River, Maryland

Cast-Iron Cooking

I just wanted to show you a photo of my Brunswick stew cooking in a cast-iron pot.

Danny Curtis
Ward, Alabama

First-Time Fairgoer

In August, I attended my first MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR in Albany, Oregon. I was surprised to find that the other fairgoers were creators, not consumers, who enjoy homemade products. It was a wonderful opportunity for all of us to share our knowledge and wisdom. I attended the Hands-On DIY Beer and Mead workshop and, after I returned to Japan, made tasty mead using honey, fresh muscat grapes, and dried mixed fruit (watermelon, strawberry, and kiwi). The drink fermented in less than a week because of the hot summer temperatures (over 86 degrees Fahrenheit).

I also hosted events in Tokyo and Hyogo to share what I learned at the FAIR.

Miwa Matsuzaki
Translator of MOTHER EARTH NEWS Japan
Nagasaki, Japan

The Urge to Upcycle

I just received the October/November 2019 issue in the mail. It’s quite an issue! I especially enjoyed Jason Willits’ “Chick Inn Coop” article on how to turn an old children’s play set into a chicken coop.

I’ve personally seen quite a few outgrown and abandoned play sets wasting away. What a great way to utilize these unused structures. It’d be wonderful to see more of these upcycled projects featured in the magazine. Keep on keeping on.

Deborah Wall
Wichita, Kansas


In the ’60s it was called the “back to the land” movement, and in Helen and Scott Nearing’s day, it was “living the good life.” Whatever the term, North Americans have always yearned for a simpler way. But how do you accomplish that today?

Blending inspiration with practical how-to’s, Rural Renaissance, a Mother Earth News Book for Wiser Living, captures the American dream of country living for contemporary times. Journey with the authors and experience their lessons, laughter and love for the land as they trade the urban concrete maze for a five-acre organic farm and bed and breakfast in southwestern Wisconsin. Rural living today is a lot more than farming. It’s about a creative, nature-based and more self-sufficient lifestyle that combines a love of squash, solar energy, skinny dipping and serendipity.

Order from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Store or by calling 800-234-3368.

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