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Gardening for Independence
A book on organic food production and sustainable living by Mort Mather.
Reviews | Book Description | From the Author | From the Inside Flap | About the Authors | Excerpts

The Mather Family on the cover of Gardening for Independence by Barbara and Mort Mather
Cover photograph by Ellis Rowe.

The Garden Spot

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For an autographed copy of Gardening for Independence,
send a check or money order for $9.00 (includes S&H) payable to:

Mort Mather
802 Bald Hill Road
Wells, ME 04090

Let Mort know if you want it autographed, and to whom.

 

Book Reviews

Joy Cuhwell, KVMC Colorado City
Gardening For Independence is the most practical book on the subject I've ever seen. You'll love it!

Sue Pfrang, Countryside Magazine 1978
Beginning homesteaders, help has arrived. Gardening For Independence by Barbara and Mort Mather is a thoroughly absorbing and educational account of one couple's introduction to homesteading life. The Mathers, both former theatre people, moved to their farm in wells, Maine, in 1972. The book details their first five years on the land, from their beginning 15-by-30 foot, largely unplanned garden, to a one acre market garden and small livestock venture.

Mort Mather humorously shares the family mistakes as well as successes-and there is something to be learned from each. He warns beginners to start small to avoid frustration. Successes are important to the new homesteader, he points out, and, unfortunately, over-extending one's self tends to minimize them.

His explanation of the importance of various soil minerals and the interaction of earthworms and micro-organisms manages to bring soil fertility to life in a fascinating way few authors manage.

He takes the mystery out of soil testing and composting with easy-to-follow explanations of what has worked well for them, as well as a few variations. The reader isn't overloaded with information. The book leaves one with an eagerness to begin.

While most of the book is devoted to gardening, the book ends with short chapters on raising livestock. Barbara and Mort have raised chickens, pigs and a steer, and their butchering experience will reassure the novice.

The Mathers have raised pigs on their acreage for themselves, as well as others. They buy piglets and immediately sell them to interested families. The new pig owners pay for the feed and are free to take the pig any time they choose. However, most of them leave the entire management to the Mathers and pick up their fresh pork chops later.

The Mathers designed a wise and witty contract designating responsibilities of both the pigor (the one who raises pigs) and the pigee (the one for whom the pig is raised). The contract alone is worth the price of the book and should prove most helpful to Countrysiders considering similar joint ventures.

Perhaps the over-riding virtue of the book is the Mathers' obvious joy in what they are doing. They are neither purists nor proselytizers. Rather, they share useful information with those who choose a similar lifestyle. They also comment on the commitment in time and work that such a lifestyle requires. It is not, Mather says, the path to instant gratification many Americans have come to expect.

The book's closing paragraph provides insightful advice for those still in the thinking stages of self-sufficiency: "It is easy to hate chickens, hogs, gardening, bees, cows, and even country living in general. Just because the Mathers are having a ball on Bald Hill Road doesn't mean anyone else could stand our lifestyle, let alone enjoy it. But for the right people with the right outlook, there can be no more satisfying way to live. Outlook is not something a person is born with. It is acquired. Barbara spent a good part of her life stuffing Twinkies into her mouth. Now the thought gags her. I once felt that fame and fortune were the keys to success. Now I know that happiness is success, and if I felt there was any likelihood this book would change our lifestyle, I would not let it be published."

I believe him.

Book Description
This is a story from the back-to-the-land movement of the 70s written by a couple as they were living it. The book is filled with their pleasure in the experience and the humor found in making mistakes while learning new skills. Lots of good gardening tips-organic, of course.

From the Author
When I reread my book recently I thought I would be embarrassed. After all, I have been gardening five times as long now as when I wrote it and I have been writing five times as long also. I'm not embarrassed. In fact, I'm rather proud of that young fella who wrote the book. I like the freshness and enthusiasm of discovery I had which came naturally then. I try to keep it in my writing now but sometimes worry that I sound like an expert. All the ribbing I have given experts in the past, I sure don't want to get that label. I don't know what I'm doing. Really. I'm just having fun with this thing called life. Please don't take me seriously.

From the Inside Flap
We have all become increasingly dependent of government, big businesses, labor unions, banks, and even the weather. Independence from all of these may, eventually, perhaps sooner than we think, be a matter of survival. Today we have some one hundred million acres of tillable land which we are losing to suburban and urban development at the rate of two million acres annually. If this trend continues, shortages of produce will become evident in the very near future. This book is a true documentation of how one family has prepared itself to cope with any eventuality short of a nuclear disaster.

Anyone can be a successful gardener and put home grown vegetables on his family's table all year around. Here is explicit information on how to build up the soil in fertility to produce excellent crops, and how to plant, care for, harvest and store the highest quality vegetables. It also presents in detail the raising of meat, important information on that aspect of self sufficiency.

Gardening for Independence shows how to use land as a bank for short term investment, savings account and long term savings for retirement, and methods by which land can be obtained with little or no capital. It outlines a realistic approach to making a transition from any other life style to a life style dependent solely on the individuals involved.

There is a great deal of 'how to' information based on five yeas of experience. The Mathers have freely consulted other books for needed information, but this is a story of their personal experiences in gardening for independence.

About the Authors
Barbara Mather was born in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, September 4, 1947. She graduated from Vermont College, Montpelier, Vermont in 1967, and Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, in 1969. She originally hoped to be an actress but became fascinated with the technical aspects of the theatre. This led her to the Ogunquit Playhouse where she met Mort who was stage manager. The following summer he invited her out to his newly purchased farmhouse to help him scrub out the closets and she has been scrubbing out closets ever since. They were married November 29, 1969, and except for an eighteen month interlude in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where he was manager of a club, they have lived on the farm at Bald Hill Road, Wells, Maine.
Mort Mather was born in New York City May 10, 1938. He attended Trenton Junior College in Trenton, New Jersey, and graduated from the university of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin, in January, 1965 with a Bachelor of Science degree. He was a theatrical stage manager from 1964 to 1970, night club manager November 11, 1970 to May 5, 1972, gardener, bartender, soil tester, garden advisor, manure spreader, writer, and staunch environmentalist from 1972 to present and in the future. he frequently contributes to the "Maine Organic Farmers & Gardener" and writes a weekly column for the York County Coast Star titled "The Garden Spot."

Twenty years later? Same address. The parenting job is pretty much done and Barbara is happily able to pursue her love, acting. Mort is still writing "The Garden Spot" and also writing regularly for Mother Earth News. He was wrenched from market gardening by an environmental project that was so compelling he ended up putting his neck in a tie and his feet in shoes. Thirteen of the past twenty years have been spent thus. They continue believe the soil is their best bank and the food they put on their own table is the best food. The garden is getting larger again as it did during the period in the book. Whether or not they start a market garden again is unknown but the thought is there.

Excerpted from Gardening for Independence by Mort Mather. Copyright 1977. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved
Whenever I talk to beginning gardeners I tell them to start small. Check a number of gardens in August. You'll find many of them filled with beautiful crops of weeds and precious little else. Most likely, these no longer eager gardeners just don't have the time or desire to control the weeds in such a big garden. The task is defeating them before they begin.

A garden should not be work. One person can easily tend a summer garden for four without ever feeling that it is work. More often than not the feeling that you are working comes from a feeling that the effort expended may be wasted effort; whereas if the row is only five feet long, you can easily take possible defeat in stride. What the hell, it'll only take a few minutes and the darn things just might grow. You take care of the five-by-five patch and it gives you a return. You feel good, ready to plant an acre next year. Don't do it. Expand by all means, but remember that every time you double the size, you double the area that needs attention. Can you afford to give it that much more time, or have you perfected your techniques enough to make your time more efficient?

There is another side of the garden expansion program to consider. What happens to all the produce? Somebody has to prepare it for eating or preserve it for the future. That is another set of skills that someone must master. Barbara enjoys gardening almost as much as I do, but I do most of it just because she doesn't have as much time. We could swap back and forth, but it is easier for one person to have his mind tuned to one phase of the operation and enlist help when necessary. And so Barbara does the food preparation, freezing, and canning. Drying is a combination effort, and root storage is my province.

Actually, I did the first canning here. I put up blackberry preserves and I must admit they were easy. I just washed the berries, brought them to a boil with some sugar, and poured the mess into canning jars. I put the tops on firmly and they sealed themselves as they cooled.

Then it was Barbara's turn. She tried canning a green tomato relish and that was quite a production. The uncertainty of the outcome was one of the biggest problems. When you spend so much time and effort on a project, you want to be sure it will be worth it in the end. Barbara read all she could on the subject, but somehow the books always seem to leave out something or they don't make it clear enough for someone with no experience. All the books said to put the lids on loosely after the jars are filled, then put the jars in the canner, and cover the tops with boiling water. We both wondered what would keep the water from getting into the jars; but I had no more knowledge than she, having read the same books.

Barbara filled the top of the stove with boiling pots: sterilizing jars and jar tops, preparing the boiling bath for the filled jars, boiling extra water to cover the tops of the jars, and cooking the relish. Her frustration at not knowing what she was doing and doing it on such a large, disorganized, and uncoordinated scale mounted as the steam rose and swirled about her. Just as she poured the boiling water over the tops of the jars I opened a window, thinking I would let out some of the steam that had now become so thick we could hardly see each other. It was a beautiful, cold, crisp day in October, just after our first frost. Instead of the steam rushing out, a blast of cold air rushed in, and it started to rain in the kitchen. How Barbara could see through the fog and the rain that her jars of relish were filling with water, I don't know, but that brought on a fresh cloudburst.

When things finally calmed down, I called a farm family grandmother who lived close by and asked her how she kept the water out of her jars. The answer was simple, of course: "Don't cover the lids with water." Several others have told us the same thing since, but I can't help wondering why all the books say otherwise.

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Up ] Organic Excerpts ] Q & A ] organic lawns ] Mulch ] Compost ] Pictures ] Animals ] Arizona Worms ] [ Book ] Carrots ] Catalogues I ] Catalogues II ] Cold ] Erosion ] Fickle Frost ] Flowers ] Frost ] Frost Out ] Genetic Engineering ] Harvest Frustration ] Insect Control ] Keep catalogues ] Leaching ] Midday Sun ] Newspapers ] Onions ] Organic Books ] Peas ] Planting Dates ] Radishes ] Records ] Spinach ] Spring ] Stew ] Succession planting ] Tomatoes ] Ugly ] Weeds ] Worms ]

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