By Staff
article image


Helen and Scott Nearing are light-years ahead of most
of us when it comes to living a life of voluntary
simplicity in harmony with nature. Back in 1932 they began
homesteading a run-down farm in Vermont’s Green Mountains,
and later–when the slopes around them exploded into
ski resorts in the early 50’s– Helen and Scott moved
to a rocky inlet on the Maine coast. . . and started all
over again.

That’s where you’ll find the Nearings today: They’re
still clearing brush, still building the stone structures
they’re famous for, and still raising most of their
vegetarian diet themselves in productive wholistic gardens
. . . just as they’ve been doing for 50 years.

Naturally, the Nearings have learned a good deal about
homesteading over the years . . . and they’ve agreed to
share that knowledge with MOTHER’S readers in a regular
question-and-answer column. Send your queries about
self-reliant living on the land to Helen and Scott Nearing,
THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS®, P.O. Box 70, Henderson-ville.
North Carolina 28791. Please don’t expect personal replies,
though. The most frequently asked questions will be
answered here–and here only–so that we can all
benefit from what the Nearings have to say.

Have you taken any “survivalist” precautions (such as
stocking up on food products, weapons, and essential
household supplies) in preparation for a coming economic
and/ or social collapse? Why or why not? I’d be interested,
too, in hearing your views about what will happen to our
society in the next 50 years.

Our “survivalist precautions” were begun 50 years ago, when
we made the decision to go back to the land. We did then
what the early settlers did: We stocked up on grains and
staples . . . dried and canned many vegetables and fruits .
. . and stored the tins, jars, and barrels of edibles in a
dry cellar. Today we continue to follow these steps toward
food self-sufficiency. We own no weapons (except a fly
swatter and a mousetrap, which we use with great reluctance
and only on extreme provocation). In addition, we’ve
invested in plenty of indoor and outdoor tools and have
taken good care of them over the years. These are the only
“precautions” we feel are necessary to battle whatever ills
the future may hold. As to our predictions for the next 50
years, we believe that nuclear weapons will at some point
be used, causing the loss of human and animal life on much
of our planet. The immediate future holds–at
best–worsening economic problems.

I’ve enjoyed reading, and I’ve been inspired by, your books
on how you’ve achieved the “good life” . . . and I’ve been
especially interested in the material on building with
stone. However, as a beginning homesteader and novice
carpenter/bricklayer, I need a more detailed outline of the
process. Could you recommend a good sourcebook or two on
stone housebuilding?

We know two excellent books that follow our methods of
construction: How to Build a Low-Cost House of
by Sharon and Lewis Watson, and Build Your
Own Stone House
by Karl Schwenke. Both volumes can be
found at public libraries or a good bookstore. We also
recommend The Owner-Builder’s Guide to Stone
by Ken Kern, Steve Magers, and Lou Penfield.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: You can order The Owner-Builder’s
Guide to Stone Masonry– for $11.95 plus 95¢
shipping and handling–from Mother’s Bookshelf®,
P.O. Box 70, Hender-sonville, North Carolina 28791.]

I’m a long-time admirer of your views and lifestyle, and
have read your books on homesteading. One question,
however, remains unanswered for me. With such rich and
bounteous gardens and only two mouths to feed (I gather
that your guests come and go rather sporadically), how are
you able to consume all the fresh produce? Finding creative
ways to serve and preserve my garden harvest has always
been more of a problem for me than growing it, and I’d
appreciate any suggestions you might have.

We’ve reduced our garden space from 10,000 square feet to
2,500 square feet. . . but even this smaller plot provides
us with more produce than we can consume. So–after
filling our cellar with canned, frozen, boxed, and binned
vegetables for winter use–we give away or barter with
the surplus.

There are chapters in Living the Good Life and
Continuing the Good Life
–as well as in Helen’s
new Simple Food cookbook–which detail our methods of
winter storage (write to the Social Science Institute,
Dept. TMEN, Harborside, Maine 04642 for ordering
information on all our publications).

It’s great that some people can achieve a degree of
self-sufficiency by rural homesteading . . . but what steps
do you suggest that urban (and happily so) folks like me
take in order to be more self-reliant?

You seem to like the city and intend to stay in an urban
environment. If that’s the case, you can try to eat whole,
nutritious foods from health food stores and from fruit and
vegetable markets . . . or, better yet, grow your own
crops, if you’ve got access to a bit of land where you can
do so. We’ve stayed in cities over a large part of the
world, and have generally tried to avoid restaurants and
cooked food when doing so. Instead, we always seek out the
open-air markets where fresh produce is brought in from the
country and offered for sale. (It’s also a good idea to try
to buy food staples, in bulk, from cooperatives or health
food stores.) You can lead a very self-reliant
life in an urban environment . . . though in our opinion
country life is by far more enjoyable and healthful.

I was very disappointed by your advice, in issue 72, that
homesteaders not bother to save vegetable seed. For the
past two years our small rural county has held a community
seed exchange at a centrally located meeting place. Each
gardener specializes in a different set of vegetables, and
then trades with other growers for the seeds he or she
lacks. (I do well with spinach, onions, parsnips, broccoli,
celery, and kale . . . and swap my treasured seeds for
asparagus, peas, beans, tomatoes, and lettuce.) In this
way, very little land in any given garden is “wasted” to
grow seeds, yet through our combined efforts we’re
able to produce all the seeds needed for the following
year’s planting. With the “dog-eat-dog” attitude so
prevalent in our society, I think it’s a shame to pass up
such an opportunity for creating a sense of community and
sharing among neighbors . . . while–at the same
time–taking a significant step toward food

Hurrah for you and your community for your seed-saving
efforts! Any form of collective activity that leads to
local cooperation is commendable.

However, we still feel that the limited space in our small
two-person garden is best utilized by devoting it entirely
to primary crops, so we save very few seeds for the coming

In MOTHER NOS. 56 and 61 you shared your views about the
negative aspects of owning pets and–as
vegetarians–you’re of course opposed to raising
animals for meat. I was wondering, though, whether you are
also against keeping bees as “livestock” . . . and, if not,
why did you choose not to produce honey on your land?

Although bees are not actually considered
livestock , the consumer–by eating
honey–exploits the insects’ productive labor . . .
and we object to this practice. Furthermore, honey is one
of the concentrated sweets that we are trying to eliminate
from our diet. (In fact, one of the reasons we left Vermont
was that we were producing and consuming large quantities
of maple syrup.) On a practical level, too, beekeeping
wouldn’t suit us. There are few flowers in our region for
the insects to harvest from, and even fewer apiarists in
the area. And because we like to come and go as we please,
we feel that the on-the-spot attention often demanded of
beekeepers would hinder our mobility.