MARCH 24, 2010: Katie Thear, one of the pioneers of the self sufficiency movement, has died after a long battle with cancer.
Katie helped to spearhead the movement by founding the magazine Practical Self Sufficiency with her husband, David, in 1975. She also wrote 22 books over a period of 30 years, most of which are still in print, and gave much practical help to smallholders. In 1975 the whole climate was one of intensive, chemical farming. Following David’s redundancy, the Thears moved with their young family to a smallholding in Essex, and learnt the hard way how to cultivate the soil organically and to raise animals and poultry humanely. The fact that Katie came from a Welsh smallholding background helped, but it was hard work, with few rewards. Many people then thought that what they were doing was eccentric, but not John Seymour, the self-sufficiency author, or Lawrence D. Hills, founder of the Henry Doubleday Research Association, the UK’s main organic society, or Dr Schumacher, author of ‘Small is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as if People Mattered’. All were very supportive of the Thears’ ideals, and gave their backing to the new magazine that David and Katie started in their spare time. The magazine was immediately successful, providing a focus for the sharing of information and experience that was so desperately needed. It met the needs of a growing number of people who needed information on growing fruit and vegetables organically and raising poultry and livestock on a small scale. The magazine always had a practical focus and, as readers sent in their own contributions, PSS quickly became a forum for people to share ideas and help each other. The magazine â€“ later renamed Home Farm – was described by The Daily Telegraph as ‘the smallholder’s bible’. Katie also practised the entire range of smallholding activities, developing half an acre of fruit and vegetables and, over time, she and her husband kept a wide variety of poultry and livestock. Katie constantly experimented to adapt traditional techniques for the present day, being one of the earliest users of raised beds in her vegetable garden in 1976. She also taught herself how to make best use of the produce – including making butter, yoghurt and cheeses from the milk of dairy animals. After 20 years, Katie stood back from editorship of the magazine to concentrate on writing more books on smallholding topics. In 1994, the magazine was relaunched as a monthly publication, carrying colour for the first time, and with an extensive bookstall distribution. Now called Country Smallholding, it still retains its ideals of small-scale living and caring for the environment. As a well-established smallholding and organic magazine, it is essential reading for a network of people all over the world. The magazine was bought by Archant Devon in 2001 and is now produced from the company’s offices in Exeter. Many of the original subscribers still take the magazine today. “It’s like being part of a big family”, is a common remark, a situation that reflects the magazine’s ethos.