The Homestead Pioneers: Back to the Land

Eliot and Sue Coleman discover a new, satisfying way of life, giving up modern conveniences to pioneer a homesteading lifestyle instead.

| September/October 1971

When Sue and Eliot Coleman sit down to eat in their tiny one-room house in Bucksport, Maine, they use tree stumps instead of chairs. When they need drinking water, Sue walks a quarter of a mile through the woods to a freshwater brook and hauls back two big containers hanging from a yoke over her shoulders. And when the Colemans want to read at night, they light kerosene lanterns.

The young couple—Sue is 26, Eliot 31—aren't the forgotten victims of rural poverty or some natural disaster. They live as they do out of choice living a homesteading lifestyle. They have deliberately given up such luxuries as indoor plumbing, store-bought furniture and everything that electricity makes possible. They have no telephone, no automatic mixer, no TV set.

With their two-year-old daughter, Melissa, Sue and Eliot are trying to escape America's consumer economy and live in the wilderness much as the country's pioneers did. They grow about 80% of their own food and spend only about $2,000 a year on things they can't make themselves.

The Colemans have been living this way two and a half years and they're proud of their accomplishment. "If you listen to Madison Avenue, we don't exist," says Eliot. "They say it's impossible to live on $2,000.

The Colemans are among a tiny but apparently growing number of young couples, often from middle-class families, who are taking up the pioneering life, or "homesteading" as it's often called—though today's pioneers usually can't get free land from the government as early homesteaders did. Favorite homesteading areas are New England, the Pacific Northwest, the Ozarks and Canada. Sue and Eliot have 40 acres of thick forest 30 miles south of this small town near the central Maine coast.

No one knows just how many people are taking up homesteading. The Colemans say they personally know about a dozen couples. A neighbor of the Colemans, Helen Nearing, 67, who with her husband, Scott, now 87, retreated to a homestead in Vermont in the early 1930s and later moved to Maine, says "a lot of people, more than 100, are getting land and living off of it."

11/19/2017 7:22:07 AM

Literally incredible. I wish I could do this, and perhaps someday I will. The 9 - 5 grind and American consumerism is ridiculous to me! I just need to convince my husband...

11/25/2007 5:10:43 PM

very informational, i have always dreamed of having a small strawbale home and a few animals, but as i am disabled i dont know if it is possible on such a small income to get property and build a home and aquire the few things i will need to accomplish this, any suggestions are appreciated, i reside in arkansas to be near my 6 grandkids.

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