The following are questions readers submitted to Helen and Scott Nearing in their regular column on homesteading.
Q: Since moving to Costa Rica recently, I've modified my eating habits and now consume only raw foods. However, there seems to be a shortage of material on raw food meals (and it's difficult here to find more than a few types of nuts and a very few cereals with which to vary such a diet). In a recent column, you mentioned a "no-cooking cookbook" that you're preparing on the subject. I'd appreciate it if you'd let your readers know when the volume will be ready, how much it will cost, and where we can purchase it.
A: I (Helen) have been working on my "simple foods for simple-living people" recipe book for about ten years, off and on. The publication has now gone to press and should be available by the fall of this year. If you'll write to us at the Social Science Institute, we'll let you know when the book is ready and how much it will cost.
Q: I'd like to begin this letter by expressing my thanks for the knowledge and the wisdom you've been sharing with others over the years. I admire both of you, and hope to be able to establish myself in a rural homestead soon.
I'm curious, however, as to how you cope with the insect problem in Maine. I've heard that some folks actually pull up stakes and leave the state as a result of the savage mosquitoes that swarm every summer. Is there any truth to such stories? And if so, what do you do to alleviate the situation?
A: We have never suffered excessively from mosquitoes, black flies, or ticks. Of course, we live on a saltwater bay, and the fresh sea breezes may help keep some biting insects away. (Our home is also surrounded by open meadows ... folks who live deep in the woods are probably more apt to be bothered by bugs.)
You may be interested to know, though, that people who live on a healthful diet (one that doesn't include sugar, salt, or "junk food") seem to be bitten by insects less often than are those men and women whose eating habits are more typically "twentieth-century American." If you suffer from more insect bites than do most folks around you, it might be that it's time for you to change your diet!
Q: My question might strike you as rather foolish ... unless you've also suffered from the problem that prompts my query. I was born and raised in Florida, you see, but am now living in South Dakota. As soon as winter sets in—and from that point on until late spring—I am forced to wear two pairs of wool socks and heavy boots outdoors ... and even need socks and fur-lined slippers when I'm in the house. Still, my feet never seem to get warm, though I've lived in the North for some five years now and should have had time to acclimate myself to the harsh weather. Do you have any suggestions?
A: It seems to us that your circulation is probably inadequate. We've lived in New England through more than 40 years' worth of subzero winters, and neither Scott nor I have ever suffered from chronically cold feet. In fact, I often pad around on our stone floors—in the dead of winter—barefoot! I think that our diet helps our circulation as, certainly, does the amount of healthful exertion involved in going about our daily chores.
You may find some help, however, in a foot exercise that Scott performs each morning and evening ... since the practice certainly improves his circulation. He simply rotates both ankles in all directions, and then rubs one foot against the other ... top and bottom. The "calisthenics" stimulate his feet to such an extent that they actually glow pink!
Q: I'm a long-time admirer of yours, and have read all of your works that relate to homesteading. I find myself curious about one point: Your garden is notoriously rich and bounteous, yet—since I gather that your guests come and go sporadically—I assume that the two of you usually dine alone. How, then, are you able to consume or preserve all of your produce? Finding creative ways to serve and store my garden crops has always been a greater problem for me than is growing the vegetables. Can you give me some advice?
Our garden occupies about a quarter of an acre, including the space taken up by our 10' X 40' sun-heated greenhouse, which furnishes us with greens year round. In the garden itself we are able to grow all of the vegetables we need, and have an ample surplus to allow us to provide for the countless guests who share our meals and for the visitors who often leave our home laden with fresh produce. Therefore, our garden feeds both Scott and me and many others.
As to "creative" ways to serve and prepare garden crops, I think you'll find that the question (which is too complicated to be answered here) is addressed in detail in my upcoming "anti-cooking" cookbook.
Q: As you've often said in your writings, making a go of living a self-sufficient lifestyle can be very difficult indeed. Certainly, my family and I have sometimes been very much tempted to chuck our "dream" and head back to the city. We've resisted the temptation thus far, but find that the urges get stronger and stronger all the time. Have you gone through similar periods of doubt, and even if you haven't experienced such discouragement—can you give us some uplifting words to repeat to ourselves during those times when everything seems to go wrong?
A: We've never had the desperate feelings you describe. However, if—as you say—your problems and self-doubts appear to be getting continually worse, there is definitely something wrong with your situation ... something so serious that you might indeed be better off going back to the city!
If you really want to stick it out and stay though, we advise that you count your blessings, however few they may be. Next, add up the disadvantages that you encounter, multiply both the pluses and minuses by the number of people involved in them ... subtract the latter figure from the former ... and see what you have left before making your final decision.
Finally, don't let yourself count on anything or anyone to be perfect. Remember. every situation has its positive and negative aspects.
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 again.
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 wholistic 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 this regular question and answer column.