Helen Nearing Interview

Helen Nearing, the mother of the "back to the land" movement, discusses the pioneering work she did with husband Scott as homesteaders in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, and her present life maintaining a small oceanside property.

| June/July 1994

In July of 197I, Helen Nearing, then 69, and her husband Scott, 88, honored MOTHER EARTH NEWS with one of our first "Plowboy" interviews. Free thinkers in an age that greeted outspokeness on women's rights, homesteading, subsistence farming, and vegetarianism with more than a little suspicion, Helen and Scott Nearing decided in 1932 to remove themselves from the overheated world of consumerism and "drop out" to a rocky mountain farm in the foothills of Vermont's Green Mountains. The book that detailed their struggle and success, Living the Good Life, sold over 250,000 copies and began the entire "back-to-the-land" revolution. Generations of homesteaders have learned to garden, build with native stone, and live with simple decency from their example. Helen and Scott endured, while the rest of us simply caught up.

After watching their pristine mountains give way to ski lodges and discount outlets, the couple began anew in 1952 on the rugged south coast of Maine, building a two-story house by hand while most others their age were settling into retirement.

In 1983, two months after celebrating his 100th birthday, Scott Nearing quietly died in the farmhouse he built, and Helen carried on their message alone. But far from grief stricken, she continued to welcome thousands of visitors to her home as well as write several books on natural cooking, home building, and the joy of aging.

I was fortunate to catch up with Helen one sunny afternoon just a few days after her 90th birthday, and while we walked (she barefoot) in her garden and ate the new tomatoes, she told me of her days on the farm and the quiet happiness of later life.

MEN: How has work on the farm been faring since Scott died?

HN: We had 140 acres when we arrived in Maine, and I have four left. That's just right. It's all I want; right on the ocean, a house, a garden site, and some woods. The four acres is perfect.

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