The following are questions readers submitted to Helen and Scott Nearing in their regular column on homesteading.
Q: Since moving to Costa Rica recently, I've modified my
eating habits and now consume only raw foods. However,
there seems to be a shortage of material on raw food meals
(and it's difficult here to find more than a few types of
nuts and a very few cereals with which to vary such a
diet). In a recent column, you mentioned a "no-cooking
cookbook" that you're preparing on the subject. I'd
appreciate it if you'd let your readers know when the
volume will be ready, how much it will cost, and where we
can purchase it.
A: I (Helen) have been working on my "simple foods for
simple-living people" recipe book for about ten years, off
and on. The publication has now gone to press and should be
available by the fall of this year. If you'll write to us
at the Social Science Institute, we'll let you know when the book is ready and how
much it will cost.
Q: I'd like to begin this letter by expressing my thanks for
the knowledge and the wisdom you've been sharing with
others over the years. I admire both of you, and hope to be
able to establish myself in a rural homestead soon.
I'm curious, however, as to how you cope with the insect
problem in Maine. I've heard that some folks actually pull
up stakes and leave the state as a result of the savage
mosquitoes that swarm every summer. Is there any truth to
such stories? And if so, what do you do to alleviate
A: We have never suffered excessively from mosquitoes, black
flies, or ticks. Of course, we live on a saltwater bay, and
the fresh sea breezes may help keep some biting insects
away. (Our home is also surrounded by open meadows ...
folks who live deep in the woods are probably more apt to
be bothered by bugs.)
You may be interested to know, though, that people who live
on a healthful diet (one that doesn't include sugar, salt,
or "junk food") seem to be bitten by insects less often
than are those men and women whose eating habits are more
typically "twentieth-century American." If you suffer from
more insect bites than do most folks around you, it might
be that it's time for you to change your diet!
Q: My question might strike you as rather foolish ... unless
you've also suffered from the problem that prompts my
query. I was born and raised in Florida, you see, but am
now living in South Dakota. As soon as winter sets in—and
from that point on until late spring—I am forced to wear
two pairs of wool socks and heavy boots outdoors ... and
even need socks and fur-lined slippers when I'm in the
house. Still, my feet never seem to get warm, though I've
lived in the North for some five years now and should have
had time to acclimate myself to the harsh weather. Do you
have any suggestions?
A: It seems to us that your circulation is probably
inadequate. We've lived in New England through more than 40
years' worth of subzero winters, and neither Scott nor I
have ever suffered from chronically cold feet. In fact, I
often pad around on our stone floors—in the dead of
winter—barefoot! I think that our diet helps our
circulation as, certainly, does the amount of healthful
exertion involved in going about our daily chores.
You may find some help, however, in a foot exercise that
Scott performs each morning and evening ... since the
practice certainly improves his circulation. He simply
rotates both ankles in all directions, and then rubs one
foot against the other ... top and bottom. The
"calisthenics" stimulate his feet to such an extent that
they actually glow pink!
Q: I'm a long-time admirer of yours, and have read all of your
works that relate to homesteading. I find myself curious
about one point: Your garden is notoriously rich and
bounteous, yet—since I gather that your guests come and go
sporadically—I assume that the two of you usually dine
alone. How, then, are you able to consume or preserve all
of your produce? Finding creative ways to serve and store
my garden crops has always been a greater problem for me
than is growing the vegetables. Can you give me some
Our garden occupies about a quarter of an acre,
including the space taken up by our 10' X 40' sun-heated
greenhouse, which furnishes us with greens year round. In
the garden itself we are able to grow all of the vegetables
we need, and have an ample surplus to allow us to provide
for the countless guests who share our meals and for the
visitors who often leave our home laden with fresh produce. Therefore, our garden feeds both Scott and me and many
As to "creative" ways to serve and prepare garden crops, I
think you'll find that the question (which is too
complicated to be answered here) is addressed in detail
in my upcoming "anti-cooking" cookbook.
Q: As you've often said in your writings, making a go of
living a self-sufficient lifestyle can be very difficult
indeed. Certainly, my family and I have sometimes been very
much tempted to chuck our "dream" and head back to the
city. We've resisted the temptation thus far, but find that
the urges get stronger and stronger all the time. Have you
gone through similar periods of doubt, and even if you
haven't experienced such discouragement—can you give us
some uplifting words to repeat to ourselves during those
times when everything seems to go wrong?
A: We've never had the desperate feelings you describe.
However, if—as you say—your problems and self-doubts appear
to be getting continually worse, there is definitely
something wrong with your situation ... something so
serious that you might indeed be better off going back to
If you really want to stick it out and stay though, we
advise that you count your blessings, however few they
may be. Next, add up the disadvantages that you encounter, multiply both the pluses and minuses by the number of
people involved in them ... subtract the latter figure
from the former ... and see what you have left before
making your final decision.
Finally, don't let yourself count on anything or anyone to
be perfect. Remember. every situation has its positive and
As we've noted several times in these pages, Helen and Scott Nearing are light years ahead of most of us when it comes to getting back to the land and living a life of voluntary simplicity. As well they should be, since they originally homesteaded a run-down farm in Vermont's Green Mountains away back in the autumn of 1932.
Life was good for the Nearings on that mini-farm ... until the slopes around them exploded into ski resorts in the early 50's, forcing Helen and Scott to move on to a rocky inlet on the coast of Maine and start all over again.
And that's where you'll find the Nearings today: still clearing brush, still building honest stone houses (Helen and Scott are famous for their stone houses), and still raising most of their vegetarian diet themselves in unbelievably productive wholistic gardens ... just as they've been doing for nearly 50 years.
Naturally (in more ways than one), the Nearings have learned a few things about homesteading and getting back to basics over the years. And, lucky for all of us, they've agreed to share some of that knowledge with MOTHER EARTH NEWS' readers in this regular question and answer column.