I can still remember the eagerness with which I awaited the arrival of my first issue of Mother Earth News toward the end of 1969. I had sent off a check that I’d convinced my mother to write for me after counting out cash from my snow-shoveling, lawn-mowing, paper-route stash. The first issue arrived sometime that winter, and I read it cover to cover. My 13-year-old mind couldn’t fully grasp some of the environmental advocacy stuff, but the gardening, wood and metal projects, business ideas, and philosophy topics truly shaped me.
The magazine completely reinforced my ingrained skepticism of virtually everything I read, particularly what was provided by “the establishment.” Mother Earth News wasn’t a “hippie” magazine, as it’s often characterized today. It was an instrument of mind-opening possibilities that, in my case, offered a road map to a life philosophy that included independence, self-reliance, skill-building, food production, side hustles, treading lightly, and, most importantly, finding joy in the work and being a positive community member. Personal philosophies are frameworks for trying — and it’s OK to fail. I’ve failed more often than not, but I’ve had a lot of fun trying.
Through the pages of Mother, I learned to build soil and to garden without synthetic chemicals. I learned to till, and then I learned to avoid tilling. I learned to incorporate food animals into my gardening, and to use them to help build soil, process garden waste, and create amazing compost. I learned to garden in rows, and I learned to garden in clumps. I learned monoculture, and I learned polyculture. I learned that diversity in both plant and animal species was a sign of ecosystem health in my gardens, pastures, woodlots, and ponds. Most of all, though, I learned time and time again that there’s no magic bullet. There’s no one-size-fits-all. There’s no prescription for success. Trying to get it right is heady work. I learned that integrative observation with open-minded analysis would inspire ideas, stimulate the development of strategies, and open up pathways to implementation. And that any implementation will be a work in progress for a lifetime, perhaps, if you keep a keen observational eye.
When I look to the next 50 years of Mother Earth News, I have no preconceived notion of where we’ll be. As we did for the first 50 years, we’ll work as a community, with plenty of hiccups along the way, and we’ll approach discoveries, changes, joys, and heartaches together. Facing the future with linked arms, minds, and spirits will carry us through.
If you have ideas on what the Mother Earth News community will look like in the next 50 years, I’d love to hear them. And if any of you “old-timers” (like me) have sage wisdom for the youthful wave that will power our future efforts, please don’t hesitate to share. Send me an email at HWill@MotherEarthNews.com.
See you in February,