Homesteading in Maine: Going Back to the Land on a Shoestring Budget

A firsthand report from Gillian McDaniel about leaving city life behind to start clamming, foraging and building her new homestead with her husband.

| January/February 1977

VW Bus

 Gillian and Stephen McDaniel packed up their ’59 VW bus and left Boston city life behind for simple living in the small town of Machias, Maine.


It's a warm, cloudy October day in northeastern Maine. I'm trying to make a pie, but I have to stop to eject Morton (one of our two cats) and his friend (a fat field mouse) from the kitchen. The mailman just brought the latest issue of MOTHER EARTH NEWS, and I've decided to join the ranks of “them that's doin’” by jotting off this missive.

Let me start from the beginning. Last May, Stephen (my husband) and I had just finished our college and teaching experiences in Amherst, Mass., and had moved back home to Boston, where we got jobs, rented a house, and began to lay plans for our long-awaited move to the country. On our days off, we made trips to Maine to look for our "dream farm" ... but after several months, we'd found nothing we could afford.

By the following April, we'd gotten pretty fed up with living on a busy street and working 9 to 5 in a retail camping store ... so we decided to set our sights on really low-cost land and get movin'!

Much to our delight, the next time we went to see our friendly real estate man in Maine, he had just what we wanted: 17 acres of woodland on a hill in the small town of Machias, near the coast. And the price was only $1,700!

Since our property didn't come with a dwelling, we decided — before handing over the money — to look around for a place to live. And — as luck would have it—we located a small house for rent just down the road from our land. To make things even more idyllic, the woman who owned the house, 83-year-old Aunt Minnie Thurlow, agreed to let us live in the place rent-free for seven months in return for fixing it up a bit!

We returned home happy and determined to be living in Maine as soon as possible. Toward this goal, we began to rid ourselves of the excess junk we'd acquired in five years of marriage, buy tools for farm work, and — in general — cut all our ties with city living. (We also made a trip to the Erewhon Trading Company in Boston to stock up on whole grains and natural foods, since we knew these items would — if anything — be more difficult to find in Maine than in Massachusetts.)

12/12/2016 1:30:30 PM

I wonder where they are now...

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