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
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 holistic 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 a regular question and answer column. Don’t expect
personal replies to your queries. The most important and
most frequently asked questions will be answered
here–and here only–where we all can read what
the Nearings have to say.
Q: I’ve cleared 1 1/2 acres of alder bottom for my gardens,
but now I’m faced with the task of removing the deep-rooted
stumps. Is there a way to get rid of them without bringing
in heavy equipment? I’ve seen bulldozers at work, and they
absolutely destroy the soil.
A: Twenty-odd years ago, we faced the same problem that you
describe: a piece of cut-over land filled with
tree and brush stumps. We simply cut all growth on the plot
to ground level and then mulched heavily with
rotted hay. In the course of a few years, the stumps had
rotted out and the land was clear. This technique provided
us with an alternative to bulldozers, and prepared raw land
for a successful blueberry plantation. You’ll find a full
description of how we did it in Chapter 8 of our book.
Continuing the Good Life.
Q: I was very disappointed by MOTHER EARTH NEWS’ advice concerning pets. I’ve been a vegetarian for 11 years . . .
but I have two cats. I don’t see animals as higher or lower
than I, though I’m happy to care for them. (Actually, it’s
in the realm of probability that we could
reincarnate on a planet where our existence will depend on
whether or not other beings choose to feed and
Besides giving me more love than do many of the humans I
know, my pets make me laugh . . . and laughter is, I think,
one of life’s great gifts. I know that you’re in a position
to reach a lot of people. So please, won’t you help
encourage others to provide homes for some of our abandoned
As a last note … I share your concern about feeding meat
to any living thing. There are, however, recipes
available for several vegetarian pet foods: Mother’s
Bookshelf offers The Healthy Cat and Dog Cookbook
by Joan Harper
. . . which includes a number of such healthful formulas
for this purpose.
A: It’s not that we don’t enjoy or love animals . . . domestic
and wild. In fact, we find all beasts interesting, lovable,
and often exciting to have around. But we don’t think they
should be subservient hangers-on . . . nor should humans be
their nursemaids. If a sheepdog assists the shepherd to
perform his daily round of duties, it earns its keep and
can be a self-respecting being.
But a pet that exists to be fondled and fed is a parasite,
not a social asset. Parasitism is a highly questionable and
socially disadvantageous practice . . . both to the host
and to the obsequious dependent.
Q: What is your opinion about “herbal” remedies, such as
medicinal teas? If you use them, what are your favorites?
A: We apply crushed comfrey root as a poultice on wounds or
blemishes, and the juice from Aloe vera leaves for
the same purpose. We drink chamomile, equisetum, and
rose-hip teas for their health-giving properties.
Our friend Juliette de Bairacli Levy, in her Herbal
Handbook for Everyone, covered the subject in great
detail. Unfortunately, the book has gone out of print,
but–should you be able to find a copy at a library or
used book shop–I’m certain you’d find it very helpful
(as are other volumes by Juliette).
Q: I’d like to know what kind of household products you use
for everyday cleaning. All the brands in the stores carry
“warning” and “caution” labels. I’m interested in finding
some natural alternatives to such poisonous chemicals,
which would be safe for our environment and for the people
who use them. Do you have any suggestions?
A: We use Shaklee’s organic products, which are biodegradable
and phosphate-free. A gallon of the firm’s
highly-concentrated basic cleaner, for example, lasts for
years. One teaspoon in a gallon of water can be used for
dishes and pots and pans . . . while one teaspoon in a
quart of water is good for kitchen and bathroom
appliances, tiles, enamel surfaces, floors, and woodwork.
Q: I became acquainted with you by means of articles in MOTHER EARTH NEWS, books, and word-of-mouth. I would really like to
come and work with you … as I want so much to learn more
about organic, low technology gardening.
I have, in the past, apprenticed at Sonnewald with the
LeFevers, who were very helpful to the many they reached.
However, I found that the learning process–in
that situation–was often interrupted because
we would frequently have to stop what we were doing to let
someone else work on the same project for a while.
Of course, I don’t know whether you’re in need of help. If
not, perhaps you could tell me of other East Coast organic
gardeners who would like to have apprentices. I love to
work hard and would be a willing helper.
A: After thousands of people dropped in on us each year
wanting to learn or “to help” … we had to get out a form
letter that reads something like this: “We’re glad that
you’re interested in our way of life. Since the publication
of our book Living the Good Life , hundreds have
asked whether they could visit our farm for a summer,
month, week, day, or hour. We would like to see you all,
but this creates problems. If we turn from self-sufficient
homesteading to operating a school, a guesthouse, a
restaurant–or any such institution–we’ll be
giving up our good life and going into business!
“We prefer to continue to live in our simple homestead way,
allowing time for our writing. . . which we tackle in the
mornings. We might see visitors–by
arrangement–between 3:00pm and 5:00pm in the afternoon,
but our mornings are wholly our own.
“We’re sorry not to be more hospitable, but too many
visitors would keep us from necessary consecutive work at
several new books, which we’re determined to finish. Thank
you for your consideration in helping us continue to live
the good life.”