Leaving the City, Garden Way Carts, and Other Wisdom From Helen and Scott Nearing

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Scott Nearing meeting with a visitor.

The following are questions readers submitted to Helen and Scott Nearing in their regular column on homesteading.

Leaving the City

Q: My husband and I would dearly love to become homesteaders (or at least we believe we would). We’ve lived in the city all our lives. We don’t know anything about country life, but we’d like to try it. How should we go about making the change to rural living? My husband only makes $6,000 a year, and I stay at home with our one-year-old daughter. I doubt if we could get a loan for land. Perhaps you could give us some insights.

A: If you’re just toying with the idea of living on the land, the wisest thing for you to do would be to stay in town. It takes grit, perseverance, and know-how to succeed at homesteading. Contrary to common opinion, the back-to-the-land life isn’t an undertaking for incompetent dropouts. It takes considerable time and talent … and–in the beginning–an outlay of working capital.

Homesteading is a real change of lifestyle, and we wouldn’t advise anyone to go into it without a serious commitment. You can’t just flirt with the idea. You’ve got to know what you’re about and be prepared to invest large blocks of time and energy to produce results.

For example: When our garden wire fence rusted out after 10 years of use, we faced the problem of buying a new fence or building a stone wall around the garden. We decided in favor of the wall and spent the next 14 years building it. That was a serious commitment, although it only required a few hours a day of our time over the years.

We also lived in an old wooden house in Maine for 20 years while we put together plans, materials, and capital to build our present new stone house. Rome was not built in a day. You must make your plans, work hard to complete them, and stick to the job. If you do so, you can accomplish your goals.

Garden Way Carts

Q: What’s your opinion of Garden Way carts? Have you ever owned one? What type of wheelbarrow do you believe is the best to have?

For a long time we read Garden Way ads but didn’t buy one of their carts because we didn’t want just another gadget. We already had four sturdy, rubber-tired contractor’s wheelbarrows and thought they were enough … though many times our garden, blueberry patch, and building operations kept all four in use at the same time.

Finally–three years ago–we ordered a Garden Way kit and put their largest cart together. We’ve used it ever since, and with growing enthusiasm. The “hauler” is as useful (except for very heavy loads, such as rocks) as two or three wheelbarrows. It’s well machined and carefully balanced, with the result that the weight is carried by the cart’s wheels rather than on the arms of the operator.

Nearing Income

Q: I’ve admired both of you for the last couple of years through articles in such lofty magazines as MOTHER EARTH NEWS, Organic Gardening, and Farmstead. I’ve read Living the Good Life, and I’m now in the process of finishing Our Sun-Heated Greenhouse.

My problem, however, is that I’m an incurable cynic, and–though I’ve read that Scott did, at one time, destroy many dollars’ worth of bonds–no mention is ever made of the use of what must be large sums, indeed, from your royalties and speaking engagements.

Now–while I have no doubts that you’ve earned your necessary cash from maple syrup in Vermont and blueberries in Maine–having those royalties available does put you at an advantage when compared to other homesteaders. Do you have a charity for this money, or do you keep it (even though you probably have no need for it)? I can’t picture you letting the publisher retain that “income”, as he or she certainly makes enough profit from you.

Anyway … good health and good life!

A: None of the money comes to us personally. We’ve arranged for all royalties and speaking fees to go to a publication fund that uses the income to get out our economic and political books, which most commercial publishers reject out of hand. Scott’s last three books (The Making of a Radical, Man’s Search for the Good Life, and Civilization and Beyond) were turned down by half a dozen firms. We then published them ourselves. (The burning of the German municipal bonds that you mentioned was described on page 47 of Scott’s autobiography, The Making of a Radical.)

Let us add a postscript to this last question, regarding a mention of one of Scott’s books in an earlier column. This offer brought a deluge of dollar bills for the little book The Conscience of a Radical. However, the postage amounted to 48¢ and the mailing envelopes cost 8¢ each, so we went in the hole on that one. We’re now running out of books, having only clothbound copies left at $3.00.

If anyone wants a list of all our books, he or she can write Social Science Institute (which is the name of our publishing venture).

Homesteading Priorities

Q: Would you please give me your views on the priorities that should be given to the various chores that are necessary for the establishment of a “new” homestead? (We will begin work in the late spring or early summer.) I specifically wonder in which order the following jobs should be tackled: [1] build a winterproof shelter, [2] begin a garden, [3] construct animal buildings, and [4] cut firewood to allow it to season.

Also, I would like to know if you’ve read Growth of the Soil by Knut Hamsun. If not, allow me to recommend it as a very inspirational piece of writing. If so, would you be kind enough to share your opinions of the book with me?

A: Where are you situated? If your new home is near the Arctic Circle, then constructing a shelter and cutting firewood should have priority. If you’re in southern latitudes, on the other hand, getting in a garden is probably best. We wouldn’t consider animal buildings at all, as we don’t keep domestic animals.

Growth of the Soil is an important volume on country living and early homesteading. We read it long ago, and–if it were still in our library–we would reread it to offer our present thoughts. Alas, our best books are loaned out and often not returned, so we no longer have this one.