Monday, July 4, 2016

The hunt for an ecofrugal magazine

For several years now, I've been a subscriber to Mother Earth News. Founded in 1970, during the heyday of the "back to the land" movement, the magazine focuses on teaching old-fashioned skills in the modern world: organic gardening, raising livestock, renewable energy technologies, natural remedies. All of which sounds like it should be useful information for someone trying to live an ecofrugal life.

But recently, I've found myself growing dissatisfied with the magazine. It seemed like its content was targeted mostly toward actual homesteaders, people trying to live a self-sufficient lifestyle out in the country, rather than an earth-friendly lifestyle in town. Paging through the February/March issue, for instance, I found stories on raising sheep, building your own greenhouse, energy-efficient home building, and recommended varieties of tomatoes and greens to add to your garden. The only articles that could have been at all useful to me were the gardening ones, but even those were geared toward people who had large gardens, with plenty of space to try out new varieties. My little hundred-square-foot plot, with every square foot of space carefully allotted, just doesn't allow for that much experimentation.

After several issues in a row with perhaps one or two pieces of useful advice that I could actually act on, I started wondering whether maybe this magazine just wasn't a good fit for me. Perhaps I'd be better off with something that focused more specifically on topics I could use. So when I received an offer in the mail for a free trial issue of Organic Life, I decided to give it a try and see if it had more to offer for town-dwellers like me.

Unfortunately, my free sample issue turned out to be a special themed issue: "100 Ways to Have Your Most Organic Year Ever." So the bulk of the magazine was devoted to a bunch of little short snippets, some of them just a few sentences long. Some of them touted various organic products—reusable sandwich wrap, organic jelly beans, eco-friendly art supplies—while others were tributes to celebrities like Pope Francis (in honor of his encyclical on "ecological spirituality") and Lilias Folan (who popularized yoga in the '70s). Basically, it was mostly just fluff. The only useful piece of information I got out of the whole magazine was a recipe for skillet cornbread that uses only cornmeal, with no wheat flour, and is thus suitable for my gluten-free friends.

Based on that issue alone, my inclination would have been to cancel the subscription. But I figured that issue probably wasn't a typical one, so I should go ahead and let the subscription continue. I could always go ahead and cancel if it didn't get any better.

Now, three issues later, I'm forced to conclude that my initial impression of Organic Life actually was fairly accurate. Even in a standard issue, the content is mostly little bite-sized pieces, too short to provide much useful information. A list of the best organic laundry detergents (with no information about the criteria used to select them); photos and descriptions of four armchairs made with organic materials; three paragraphs (plus lots of photos) on how to plant and display dahlias; a list of sustainable camping gear with a single sentence devoted to each product.

There are a few more in-depth articles, like the one in the latest issue about a simple way to build boxed raised beds for your garden—but that piece actually frustrated me even more than the rest of the magazine, because it contained a blatantly false statement about chemicals in pressure-treated lumber, which even the most elementary fact-checking would have shown to be wrong. (The author claimed that "Pressure-treated lumber and railroad ties contain chemicals like arsenic and creosote that can leach into your soil"; in fact, as the EPA explains, neither of these chemicals is allowed in lumber for residential use. Pressure-treated wood used to contain a preservative called chromated copper arsenate, or CCA, which some people thought could be harmful to use in a vegetable garden, though there was no real evidence of its dangers. But dangerous or not, it hasn't been used at all since 2003.)

So on the whole, it looks like neither of these magazines is really the ecofrugal-living journal I'm looking for. What I'd really like, if I could only find it, is a magazine devoted to voluntary simplicity, filled with information about the simple-living skills that are so often forgotten in the modern world. Recipes for homemade bread. Tips on repairing things, from clothing to appliances. An introduction to knitting. Basically, stuff that I can actually apply to my life. Isn't there a magazine like that?

Well, it appears there is—in Britain. An online search led me to the site of a British publication called The Simple Things. Yes, it has a few of the fluffy pieces that are basically just lists of products the magazine has chosen to recommend, but it also includes articles on gardening, cooking, travel—all with an eco-friendly twist. I would subscribe right now if it weren't for one problem: a one-year subscription, delivered to a U.S. address, costs 69 British pounds, or $91.63. A year of Organic Life, by contrast, costs only $15, and Mother Earth News costs $12. So this magazine would have to be more than six times as useful as Organic Life to justify its cost.

So, until I can find a magazine that suits my needs, I guess the best I can do is write my own—researching and writing articles for Money Crashers on the kind of topics that interest me, such as:
Writing articles like this is a lot more work than reading them—but if no one else is making this kind of content available, I guess I should do my best to fill that gap.
Post a Comment