Helen and Scott Nearing share their homesteading advice with MOTHER’s readers, including advice on starting a farm, using milk products and removing tree stumps.
The Wisdom of Helen and Scott Nearing
As we’ve noticed several time 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. 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 explode, 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 stone houses (Helen and Scott are famous for their stone houses, and still raising most of them, eating a vegetarian diet themselves from unbelievably productive wholistic gardens . . . just as they’re 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’s readers in a regular question and answer column. If you’d like to get in on the action, send your question or questions about self-sufficient living on the land to Helen and Scott Nearing, THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS, P.O. Box 70, Hendersonville, N.C. 28739. And please don’t expect personal replies to your queries. The most important and most frequently asked questions will be answered here — and here only — where all can read what the Nearings have to say.
My people came from Maine, and since childhood I have been trying to fight my way back. It may take me a few years, but I’m studying silversmithing and hope to be able to make a living, in the Pine Tree State once again someday. I’m single (divorced), 43 years old, and I’m pretty strong. My mother is 69. I don’t think we could make it on a farm . . . but I’m not sure about this. Do you think two women, such as my mother and me, might make it on the land starting a farm? Do you know of any city women who have done so? And do you know whether or not cheap land is still available in Maine?
We cannot tell you whether or not two women can make it living on the land today in Maine because we have no idea how much you know and how much work you can stand. Also we have no idea of how you want to live . . . hard or soft. It is not easy to dig a living out of a piece of land . . . even for sturdy, vigorous people. Sooner or later — if you’re so inclined — you can try and see. Do not expect that the project will push itself through to success, though. Expect plenty of work . . . and frequent setbacks. Be prepared to work hard and competently for several years on a carefully planned and financed project.
Have you any suggestions for removing stumps? I must clear a 30-year-old second-growth forest which was once plowed and presently is all stumps.
We have dug out very few stumps on our homestead. We prefer to let them rot in the ground, mulch them heavily, and plant between them.
Have you ever had experiences — good or bad — with underground housing?
None at all.
What is the best way to select blueberry plants . . . and at what age?
Use 2-year-old plants only. Get at least several different varieties and decide which is best for your neighborhood. A selection of different varieties also helps in cross-fertilization.
What are your conclusions about the advisability of drinking milk and using milk products . . . such as yogurt, curded cheese, etc.? Also, do you recommend the consumption of distilled water . . . and, if so, why?
Milk products are probably deleterious for people who have a natural inclination toward mucus in their nasal passages. For people in normal health, however, a minimum of milk products may be desirable. We do not drink milk, but occasionally use cottage cheese and yogurt. We live in a region where the potable water is pure . . . hence we have no experience with drinking distilled water and can make no recommendation about it.
I have always lived near Washington, D.C., and I have had a lot of outdoor experiences. My questions are concerned with moving out of the city into the country . . . and getting away from it all. I am only 18, but someday I want to do something similar to what you have done. I’m not sure how flexible and adaptable I am . . . but I have the will. Here are my questions:  What kind of adjustments did you have to make psychologically?  How did you get along at first?  Did you have any prior knowledge of farming, the construction of houses, hunting, etc.? And  do you have any sources of news, such as a newspaper?
Here are the answers, one at a time:  Scott was born and grew up to age 14 in a small Pennsylvania coal mining and lumber camp where almost every house had a garden, chickens, a pig or two, and a cow. Many also had horses. It’s hard not to let some of this kind of life rub off and serve you in later life. Perhaps your “outdoor experiences” will help you when you make your move into the country.  Moving to the hills of Vermont was no problem. We quickly learned how to deal with nature, earth, and weather.  Members of Scott’s family were engineers . . . mainly civil engineers. They were always building something which — yes — did give Scott prior knowledge that we applied when we moved to our homestead.  We subscribe to three daily newspapers . . . in addition to a dozen or so weekly newspapers and monthly periodicals.
Don’t be in a hurry to move into a new lifestyle. Proceed one step at a time, try it first during your vacations . . . then year-around. Don’t try to live alone, live with at least one other person and a group of like-minded people can be much more stable than a couple. Be sure your economics are sound. Don’t borrow money because you will then have to pay back what you’ve borrowed plus interest, which is always a drain on your finances. Do not expect immediate returns from your labors . . . even radishes take 24 to 25 days of good, warm weather to mature. The lifestyle of country living is completely different from that of the city. Suburbia tries — unsuccessfully — to combine the two. Don’t go into country living until you are prepared to stick with it and make a go of it.
I am intrigued by your life, ideals, and beliefs . . . but I do have a few questions: First, I’m not really sure why you chosen to remain in the United States rather than move to a country which would be more hospitable to your ideas. I would like to know whether you would advise a young person to move to a socialist country if he feels cramped by our capitalist nation. I have been thinking of joining the Peace Corps to try one or two countries . . . while learning about other people and other cultures, and doing some service for mankind. Maybe you can suggest some good books (yours and others) which would be helpful for me in gaining a better understanding of socialism and capitalism.
First, our homestead in Maine is our assigned post. We’re here to do a job and must stick with it. I’m not sure we would advise anyone to move to a socialist country, but your idea of joining for Peace Corps as a means of learning about certain socialist nations is a good one. If you do join the Peace Corps, your service to your fellow man can be its own reward . . . right along with your political learning experiences. For a beginning study of socialism and capitalism, try reading the UNESCO History of Mankind (Cultural and Scientific Development), Vol. VI, “The 20th Century”, Harper & Row, also available from Allen Unwin, Reading, Massachusetts.