issue 83 – letters – self-reliance – preparedness – homestead

Letters To The Editor

From Issue #83

Winter driving

My oh my, your Jan/Feb 2003 issue was so full of wonderful articles, it was a delight! I have had a difficult time of it financially in the past six months, and so had not seen an issue of your magazine for a while. This one was definitely worth the wait. I think the wise thing to do is just subscribe for the year. Thanks.

The article about driving in Winter Snows was excellent, and for me, a western Washington transplant to snowy north Idaho, I can verify it’s worthwhile reading. The narrow and twisting one-lane back road into my 20 acre parcel is a grueling 8/10ths of a mile in snow and ice. Made from an old logging trail, it seems to be purposely designed with a sharp curve just before every steep hill, and the curves have conveniently placed ditches on either side in which to bury the unskillfully driven vehicle. Last summer as I drove my visiting sister up the road to my place, we fell into fits of laughter as I described every place in the road where I had stuffed my car or truck into a snowbank in past winters. And that is only the years since someone else bought property on the road, and they have a plow. I bless my neighbors each winter, as they plow past their own driveway and right up the road to my own door. There is nothing I wouldn’t do for those kind folks. Before they moved into the area, I merely parked my rigs on the county road and walked in pulling a sled with whatever supplies I needed. I am getting better at driving in this white stuff, and always carry warm clothes and a tarp, a flashlight with good batteries, and nowadays, a cell phone. I have learned four lessons. Don’t drive fast; don’t step on the brakes; don’t stop…unless you are being pulled into the snow bank. Then I stop right away so I don’t manage to really bury myself off into the deep snow. I use the shovel, cat litter, and chains if the situation warrants. I keep a number of wooden boards of various lengths in the trunk for going across ice and mudholes, which can get axle deep during thaws. I have a set of the newer style “Angelwing” chains for both the car and truck. These are more durable than the old cable chains, but can be put on without moving your vehicle, a lifesaver if you’re already stuck! (It was almost impossible for me to put the old style heavy chains on my car, with so little clearance under the wheel well. I would be half frozen and close to tears.) They must be put on carefully however. If you put them on wrong, they will be ruined, and you don’t get free replacements for these expensive beauties. Just drive about 10 feet and recheck them right away, then again a short distance later. They go on and come off quick, and I usually come to plowed road by the time I reach the county road; it’s even often bare when my own road needs chains to drive on.

Also loved the little article on building a “Hingeless gate.” I put up field fence around a large perimeter area surrounding my compound. At 4′ high, deer were constantly coming in to graze on my veggies and extensive flower beds. I have since put up an additional 5′ of meshed deer fence which keeps them out, but wanted more access to the surrounding woods, which would need gates in various places, very labor intensive to build. I now know what to do. Thanks again.

Sue Bale
Priest River, ID

Defeating debt

Say it ain’t so, Dave! Tell us it’s a belated April Fool’s joke! But don’t tell me that you meant to include a how-to article on THEFT and irresponsibility! Yes, I said THEFT!

I’m referring to the article by Don Chance in the latest issue (#82) entitled “Defeating Debt.”

Bankruptcy is no more than THEFT that is being paid for by those of us that work hard and pay our bills. Especially those of us that have enough self control to save enough money to buy the things we want instead of yelling “Charge It!” If you wanted it, bought it, and agreed to pay for it, then it is ALWAYS your responsibility to pay the money back. Period!

And granted, a very small number of hardship cases should be given a chance to put their creditors “on hold” until they can get back on their feet and then repay what they owe. But this entire article is about how to get away with not paying anything instead of how to use it as a tool to take the pressure off so you can pay your debts.

Dave, I’ve been a long time reader and subscriber, and this isn’t going to change that, but the magazine’s philosophy has always been responsibility and self-reliance, just as the sub-title says. So why include an article on THEFT and irresponsibility? I’ll be very disappointed and surprised if a large portion of BHM readers don’t respond in kind.

The only way to defeat debt is not to create it!

David Spangler
mymail at

Yeah, I agree. — Dave

Looney publication

I mistakenly subscribed to your magazine with the idea that it might be useful for our back-to-the-farm, do-it-yourself lifestyle. I did not know that it was a right-wing looney publication. For your information, “liberals” are no worse than “conservatives.” They both have loopy ideas. They both have good ideas. The main problem with both is their faith in big government. Whether the government is there to promote laziness and unwed motherhood through welfare, or to promote corporate crime through NAFTA and tax breaks for the rich, is neither here nor there. They both stick their hands in my pockets. Trying to fight multinational corporations is no easier than trying to fight big brother…

Mike Miller, Gettysburg, PA

Read a few more issues. We have more in common than you think.
— Dave

Jackie Clay

Please send me the 15 selected issues, as well as Jackie Clay’s CD-ROM.

Please let Jackie Clay know that her abilities make Martha Stewart look like an amateur. The only phrase I wish Jackie wouldn’t emulate of Martha Stewart is “101.”

I really enjoy your magazine, especially how-to articles. I live on an acreage and have goats and mini horses.

All phases of the homesteader life interest me.

Lorraine Dotson
Charles City, IA

Your current issue just arrived as I am trying to find new ways to advertise the little farm I am selling. I subscribed to your magazine because of the appealing name when I moved to the farm, as I subscribed to several other “farming” magazines. I have pretty much abandoned the other magazines, but am keeping yours because whatever goes on in my life is usually addressed in one way or another in each new issue of Backwoods Home. Talk about timeliness!

Thanks for your articles. I particularly enjoy those written (and illustrated by her photographs) by Jackie Clay. I also love to see her friendly smile, it reminds me to be thankful for living in the U.S. and having the freedom to make lifestyle choices. And to read magazines which help one do just that.

Marie-Noëlle C. Long
Jasonville, IN

Storing insects in flour and sugar

I am writing in response to Jackie Clay’s response to a reader’s question about storing flour and sugar. There is a publication printed by the Food and Drug Administration called “Food defect action levels.” This publication discusses what levels of natural or unavoidable defects in foods for human use, that present no inherent hazard to health, are permitted. There are several things listed including insects and insect parts. Food manufacturers that exceed these levels may be subject to enforcement action by the FDA.

In the section on page eight concerning cornmeal there is an acceptable defect level that consists of less than “one or more whole insects (or equivalent, per 50 grams. Also an “Average of 25 or more insect fragments per 25 grams.” This includes eggs, as acceptable. As there are slightly less than 30 grams in one ounce that would mean that these amounts are acceptable in less than two ounces. Multiply two ounces by ten pounds and you can see that you get a lot of junk. Another argument for grinding your own.

Also listed on page 27 under wheat flour, the acceptable amounts are listed as less than an “average of 75 or more insect fragments per 50 grams.” Again, insect eggs are considered as one of the things that are included under “insect fragments.” The FDA claims that these cause no health problems, and maybe they don’t, but here’s the rub. In these products particularly, you will find eggs from the meal moth which will hatch out inside the bag of flour or meal occasionally, no matter how well you store them. You are not keeping the meal moths out by sealing them up because the eggs are already there before you seal them. For those of you that must buy store bought products there is a way to keep these eggs from hatching. Before sealing or storing your meal or flour, place the bags in your freezer for at least forty-eight hours, much more for a 25-pound bag, then bring them to room temperature and seal them. The eggs are still there but they won’t hatch. This may be unhandy for the 25-pound bags but the 10-pound bags cause me no problem. Anyone interested in getting a copy of this booklet may obtain one by writing to: Industry Activities Staff (HFS-565), Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, FDA, 200 “C” Street SW, Washington, DC 20204. They ask that you provide a self-addressed mailing label to expedite shipment.

Garnett E. Doyle
Clarkson, KY

Blacks crying the blues

First I must say that Backwoods Home is absolutely the best magazine of its kind in existence in this country and I hope you always keep up the good work.

As to this issue of Blacks crying the blues about how “our ancestors” were treated. The past is past and nobody can turn the clock back. This is the present, get used to it! The Blacks are constantly crying how bad their ancestors were treated as if they were the ONLY ones ever mistreated. That’s the biggest pile of Buffalo Dung (with respect for the American Indian) I’ve ever heard! Yes, the American Indian! What about the Jews? I doubt there were any Blacks in the Great Inquisition, The Renaissance! Look what Pol Pot did. Yet descendants of all these cultures live right here in America and I don’t hear them crying about “my ancestors!” Oh, my great, great, great, great Grandfather was beheaded because he was a Christian! I deserve a “free ride!” He was so mistreated!…

Gene McNew
Vincennes, IN


Please renew my subscription for another 3 years. I love Backwoods Home so keep up the good work. I recently got some goats and I would love to see more articles on them especially about illness and health. Also I would love to see articles on how to cook goat and how to butcher them. I thank you.

Debby Widener
Haughton, LA

There are lots of articles on goats in the anthologies. You might want to get one of our indexes (see page 97) to locate them. — Dave

Great history lesson

I especially enjoyed your Think of it this way… in the May/June issue of Backwoods Home (Biological and chemical weapons through history.) Being somewhat of an ancient, medieval, and early American history buff, I was familiar with much of what you wrote, but much of it I was not! (Particularly some of the staggering numbers.) What a great history lesson!

Bill Raimer
Battle Ground, WA

Main library

Our patrons and many on our staff love your magazine. Even our issues from past years circulate consistently.

Down east Maine is pretty rural for the most part and jobs are scarce except in the summer with the tourist industry. Many people try to survive all year on their summer income, so the methods of self-sufficient living shown in BHM are essential for getting through our long, cold winters.

The only way I can imagine that you could serve our community better would be to publish BHM monthly. Unfortunately, that might put it out of our price range and then everyone would miss it. Keep up the great work.

Julie A. Gillette
Ellsworth Public Library
Ellsworth, ME

ASG legacy

I am from the ASG legacy like many of us devoted Backwoods Home readers. And for the life of me I can’t really remember what I saw in that defunct magazine.

I thought I enjoyed it, until I got yours. And unlike ASG when I get through reading each of your issues (and sharing it with other like-minded individuals) its tattered remains are barely discernible.

I’ve taken to xeroxing all the articles that I like (which is just about every one) and filing them into 3 ring binders under all the different topics: gardening, solar power, water-treatment, pumping, storage, etc., diesel, livestock, wild edibles, country life, canning, baking, building, long term food storage, ask Jackie (one of my favorites) etc. etc.

I have 6 binders now, and plan to have more.

I consider this my home plan as I am currently incarcerated for assaulting people that broke into my home. (Figure that one out Ayoob) But the good news on that front is the judge in my case finally admitted to misleading the jury, and if the morons in Superior court ever get off their butts and do their jobs I should be out of here soon.

If not my minimum is up Nov. 28th 2003.

Anyway I’ve enclosed $21.95 for renewal on my subscription and let me tell you, unlike the guy in Club Fed (federal prison) who complained about working in a sweat shop for $1.00 an hour, we here in state (PA) prison are only allowed a maximum of .42¢ an hour for any job in the prison. I am disabled and work in the prison library, and I’m at the low end of the scale at only .24¢ an hour max 6 hours per day 5 days a week, so you can imagine how long it takes me to save up enough to be a subscriber….

Gerard Repko
Waynesburg, PA

Got any corn?

A duck walks into a hardware store and asks the cashier “You got any corn?” The cashier replies “No, we are a hardware store, we don’t carry corn.” The next day the same duck walks into the hardware store and says, “You got any corn?” The cashier replies “No, I told you yesterday, we don’t carry corn.” The next day the same duck walks into the hardware store and says, “You got any corn?” The cashier gets angry and says, “For the third time, we don’t carry corn! If you ask one more time, I’m going to nail your feet to the floor!” The duck walks in the next day and says to the cashier “You got any nails?” The cashier is surprised and says, “No, as a matter of fact, I sold the last box of nails today.” Then the duck says, “You got any corn?”

Glaraven Quickless
Bowling Green, IN

Reaching for our dream

A while back I called to order some books from your book selection that were interesting to me, and when I did the gentleman who took my order asked me if I was a subscriber. At the time I was not. He convinced me to give your magazine a try.

I must say I have completely enjoyed every issue I have gotten so far. Although there have been a few articles that I was not in complete agreement with, but being an open minded person, they don’t bother me. Those who really, truly disagree with something, I believe are not open minded enough to accept the fact that not everyone thinks like them. I have seen the letters from people who say “cancel my subscription, your magazine stinks” and those are the folks who will never achieve a truly independent lifestyle and will be hooked up to the grid forever.

My husband and I are working on our debt issues,and it will be FIVE YEARS, before we will be able to pursue our dreams of freedom from gridlock.

We are working on our little nest egg right now and plan on purchasing our land with cash, and not financing any of it. When our current debts are fully paid off, it will free up 80% of our current income.

(We have a lot of debts.) Bankruptcy was not an option for us, although we did consider it. It just wasn’t the right move for us. Five years really isn’t all that long.

Although we will unfortunately not be able to live high in the mountains or way in the outback, we will, I think be able to live far enough from the city to make our lifestyle dreams a reality.

I must maintain a job at least enough to have medical insurance as my husband’s medications are very expensive if we have to pay cash for them.We will at least be able to enjoy our little space and be able to pursue our ultimate dream of traveling. Due to his medical needs we must maintain a home of some sort so we can not become the full time travelers we had wanted to become. But we will be able to travel quite a bit.

Our dreams are a little house (nothing fancy) that is free from the grid and fully independent of it. We also want to raise as much of our own food as we can. Nothing tastes better than food you raised yourself.

We currently do not buy any of our meat from the supermarkets, as there are still plenty of family farms around here who sell their extra animals. We take full advantage of little roadside stands all summer long. Shopping around at them will give you a great variety and reasonable prices most of the time.

Our dreams are slowly taking shape, and in a few more years I do believe we will have reached them.

Thanks to your magazine, we know that we are not the only ones reaching for those dreams of freedom.

Lee Robertson, Gary Berger
Webberville, MI

Supporting the troops

My two cousins who are truck drivers in the Michigan Army National Guard were called up and sent to Kuwait. Shortly after they left as I was putting together two separate care packages for them I came across your jokes on France. I printed out two separate versions. The one package finally got there. Their whole unit loved those jokes.

As a member of the National Guard who was not called up, I would like to take this opportunity to thank you and your staff for the way you have supported our men and women in uniform.

I started reading your magazine about 10 or 11 years ago, and find it an indispensable part of my library.

David White
DWhite1637 at

Fully informed jury

First of all, it is my wife that is the subscriber to your magazine. While I find many useful bits in every issue (especially Mr. Ayoob’s column as he certainly knows which end is up), I find myself in serious disagreement with the editorial slant of the magazine (I’m a 16 year army vet who grew up rural and is still a lefty. Go figure…) This is usually not an issue for me — after all it is my wife who wishes to fund you, not me. However the article in the July/August 2003 issue that arrived today requires me to respond.

Jury nullification is an evil that must always be avoided. Period. In our history the only thing it has done is keep the KKK from receiving justice for their lynching. There is no case where it has been truly justified. Even where a law has been incredibly wrong, it is not the jury’s duty to deal with that issue — rather it is, if you look to the history of English and American Jurisprudence, the Judge’s job. The jury must say “yea” or “nay” based on the law as it exists. It is the Judge who must modify that according to our traditions. Jury nullification only leads to a chaos that certain elements, especially in the right wing of modern American politics, would enjoy using to continue to rape the constitution even as they have done since November 2000.

In the end I would simply remind you all of the words attributed to the Rev. Martin Niemoller in 1945:

“First they came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a Communist.

“Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a Jew.

“Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up, because I was a Protestant.

“Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak up for me.”

Remember this when Mr. Ashcroft comes knocking, asking for your list of subscribers. If he hasn’t yet, don’t worry, he will, soon enough.

William Barnett-Lewis
wlewis at

It’s a serious matter when Americans don’t know the purpose of juries, why jury nullification is important, or what it has already accomplished. First, in the Anglo-American tradition, jury trials go back at least as far as the Magna Carta. The purpose of the jury then, as now, was not to be score keepers for the prosecution and the defense, as you apparently suggest they should be. They were put in place as a safety between the people and the state. They were meant not only to bring criminals to justice, but also to keep the people safe from bad laws. It is clear in the Magna Carta and in both the English and the American Bill of Rights that the jury system is meant to protect us from the state, not as an arm of the state.

The problem with juries in the South, to which you allude, wasn’t jury nullification, it was because of a corrupt legal system which included an all-white jury system, an all-white set of judges, and an all-white set of prosecutors. Had only the juries been selected fairly, i.e., randomly, including blacks, southern justice would have been different. How many chain gangs—which were almost exclusively black—would there have been if blacks were allowed jury trials that were likely to have at least one black on it? (That’s another thing jury nullification is supposed to protect us from: laws applied unfairly.)

In fact, to say jury nullification wouldn’t have benefited southern blacks back then is to say each and every southern white was a bigot. I know this is not true. That statement, in and of itself, would be “racist.” However, had all southern whites known of jury nullification, though it may still have been difficult to get convictions against whites who lynched blacks, it would also have been difficult to get acquittals. This alone would have raised a red flag for southerners who truly wanted justice.

Historically, the Founding Fathers were uniformly in favor of jury nullification because they understood it is a bulwark between the people and the state passing bad laws. Not only is there virtually nothing in their writings condemning it, many of them commented on the importance of the individual voting his conscience, even when it flew in the face of the letter of the law. (And the argument that we should have “obedient” juries that convict people under bad laws while we wait for legislators, who are often small-minded, career oriented, and in debt to special interests to change the law, is saying it’s okay to spend decades ruining people’s lives while hoping someday the legislature may get around to it.)

As to its historical accomplishments, there are many instances where Fully Informed Juries, practicing jury nullification, have shined. Among them are:

  • Jury nullification brought about freedom of religion as a result of the trial of William Penn when he was convicted of preaching an illegal religion—Penn was a Quaker. When the all-male jury returned a “not guilty” verdict, the judge ordered them imprisoned until they rendered a verdict the state wanted. They refused and, after spending some time locked up, they were finally freed, as was Penn.
  • In the trial of newspaper publisher John Peter Zenger, in New York, it established the concept of a free press. Here, the jury was all but instructed to find Zenger guilty of libeling governor Cosby. Zenger’s lawyer, Andrew Hamilton, pointed out that what he had published was true. The state argued that truth was not a valid defense. The jury disagreed and refused to bring the instructed verdict.
  • It undermined the Runaway Slave Act when juries in the North refused to return runaway slaves to the South even though the law mandated that runaway slaves had to be returned to their masters. The federal government finally got around this by illegalizing jury trials in cases involving runaway slaves once they realized juries stood in the way, the same way Ashcroft today has made sure there will be no jury trials in the so called War on Terrorism.
  • It brought about the death of Prohibition when juries refused to convict individuals under the insane 18th Amendment and the equally crazy Volstead Act.

Today a fully informed jury could repeal bad drug laws, unconstitutional gun laws, invasion of privacy laws, etc.

By the way, for those who believe jury nullification would result in chaos: From the founding of this country and through most of the 19th century, juries were routinely told not only was the defendant on trial, but so was the law. There was no chaos, there was no social disorder, and laws that made sense were still enforced, that is, murderers, rapists, robbers, etc., were still convicted and went to jail. And there are many fewer crazy laws because it was difficult to get a conviction under crazy laws. But that’s no longer the case, today, when jurors are not informed of their legal right to dissent when the law is wrong, unfairly applied, or excessive.

Jury nullification is not a right wing/left wing issue. It has champions on both the left and the right. If practiced it would send bad drug laws, asset seizure, gun control, and many other abominations to the dustbin of history of “bad laws we’d rather forget.”

For the last hundred years, as new agencies (IRS, OSHA, etc.) create regulations and as new types of laws (e.g., family law) are created they specifically exclude trials before a jury of your peers. Men like John Ashcroft do not want jury trials under what is being passed off as “anti-terrorism legislation” because they realize how difficult it will be to get convictions under the PATRIOT Act when jurors realize how many of their rights we have to give up.

And, as to Niemoller’s quote, a jury nullifying a bad law is a jury speaking up against bad laws. This is your chance to speak up. With Fully Informed Juries to stand between the people and bad laws, neither Ashcroft nor anyone else who would trample our rights would dare come knocking on our door. However, get rid of jury nullification and we may as well not have jury trials at all. Preprogrammed computers could do a better job. And, if Ashcroft does come and knock on my door, and if I’m allowed a jury trial, and you’re on my jury, I hope you will not sit there and follow the judge’s instruction, like a sheep, but that you will speak up for me, if the law is unfair or unconstitutional, as I would speak up for you. You will, won’t you?

What I would suggest is you write to the Fully Informed Jury Association, P.O. Box 59, Helmville, MT 59843, or call them at (406) 793-5550, or go to and read the history of the jury and why Fully Informed Juries, acting as they should, are a bulwark between the state and the people, and you may find yourself reconsidering your position.

— John Silveira, Senior Editor

Ultraviolet water purifying system

I would very much appreciate an article explaining the ultraviolet light purifying system you have on the water line leading into your house. We, too, have a gravity fed water system from our own spring, and this past year for the first time in the known 100 year history of our place, we tested positive for bacteria.

Some questions we’d like answered: 1. Where purchased, cost, brands, and how it functions, what does it purify? 2. Must it be installed by a plumber or electrician and how difficult to install? 3. We have a solar system. How much electricity does it take, could it be powered by its own solar panel? 4. How big a system can it purify? Our main line from the spring is a 2-inch line and the spring runs at 17 gal. a minute. But 1-inch lines come into the house and only runs on demand. 5. We have a particle filter, but on only the line into the house. Water used in irrigation is not filtered. How big of a particle filter do you have? 6. Anything else you think of, pro or con.

I think this might be a welcome article in the magazine for other readers besides ourselves.

Marjorie Burris
Mayer, AZ

Issue no 71 has a detailed article by Jeff Yago on just such a system. This type of system is also used on the small grammar school my children once attended, so it’s pretty good. Coincidentally, I am in the process of replacing the storage tank by my spring, plus the 200-yard underground pipe going from the tank to the water system filters. It’s an old tank and pipe that I’ve had to repair many times. The other day I turned on my garden hose and two baby salamanders came out. I’m also redoing the collection area by my spring, as the settling barrels there are all rusted out, the fence to keep out the cows is in disrepair, and everything else about it is so jury-rigged to make it work that it’s just time to redo the whole thing. Perhaps your 100-year-old system needs a look at too. At any rate, the article should answer your questions. — Dave

More self-reliant

I’ve loved reading everything for years and then over the past two years things fell apart on me and I have had some regaining to do but even through all this, your magazine has inspired me. Fortunately for me I was able to find it in my local library. However, that does not compare with having it on hand to check on information from the articles.

I have been a firm believer for most of my life that we cannot count on the things we take for granted. Water, sources of heat and light, etc. Coming from a depressed economic family makes one think more of these things, I’m sure. But due to the resources of my parents, we never lacked for food or other necessities. During my parenting years, I tried to instill these ideas in my daughters which seems to have gone over their heads (except perhaps for one). Now with the world seemingly falling apart I am more determined to be less at the mercy of the utilities and more in charge of my life. My husband fights me on every effort for conservation, then complains because of the bills to be paid. He just doesn’t get it.

You and many of your writers have stated before and in many different ways that we should take more control of our own lives and destinies. I think that those who haven’t heeded those warnings are in for some rough times.

CJ Bartlett
Mount Gilead, OH

No apology necessary

In issue #81 you apologized for producing such a gloomy issue. While your concerns might be understandable, I disagree with your apology. BHM is in our home and read cover to cover by my wife and I. We subscribe to your magazine because of the skills we can learn and put into practice. In issue #81 the topic was Terrorism. It was timely and not over-dramatized. You would need to apologize if you never covered the hard topics. You even would need to apologize if you “assumed” your readers had all the necessary knowledge on terrorism and how to protect our families. Never apologize for saying what needs to be said, when it needs to be said. If we want fluff we could read “Sunset” or “Better Homes and Gardens.” Your style makes us subscribers for the long run.

Russ and Ann Williams
Payson, Utah

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