A Simple Life at a Farm in Maine

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Kate designed organically shaped beds that undulate through the terraced hillside, planted with evergreens, shrubs, and perennials. She built up the thin soil by growing cover crops such as buckwheat and winter rye, then tilling them into the soil as green manure.
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The stone walls extend six feet high, and the second story was constructed from fir two-by-fours. Kate made the signs declaring the property’s name, Stone Soup Farm. “Because we didn’t have a big construction and building budget, we made a lot of choices that had to do with what we had at the time,” Kate explains. “It was a lot like that great old folk story: a little bit of this and a little bit of that, but making it all out of stone.”
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Kate gathers statice and winged everlasting for making dried bouquets and wreaths, a fall and winter activity.
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An echinacea fan, Kate leaves the heads on the coneflowers bordering her expansive southern deck so that they attract birds all winter long. The birds also help strew seeds that pop up come spring. During the summer she leaves flavored vinegars—here, opal basil gives the jars a deep red glow—on the big southern-facing deck to steep in the sun for a few weeks.
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Kate bought the Amity woodstove (the company’s now out of business) in the early 1980s, when high oil prices were forcing many people to seek out heating alternatives. “I love the aesthetics of it, the pattern on the front,” she says. The chimneys from the woodstove and the kitchen cookstove are encased in a massive interior stone wall; the radiant heat from the wall warms the upstairs room as well. In winter, the sun reaches almost to the back northern wall; Kate uses only four cords of wood each year to keep the home toasty.
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A yard sale find, this chair is another example of an item that Kate loves for its “patina.”
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A brick floor in the dining area absorbs passive solar gain. Kate’s greenhouse is through the wood door.
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A window from an old California bungalow made its way to Kate’s kitchen door in Maine to remind her of her roots. Kate chose open shelving in her kitchen as a nod to old farmhouses. “I love to get access and see things—jars, dishes,” she says. “That harkens back to the farm mentality and peasant living; you have what you have, and it’s there.”
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Kate’s collection of vintage tools, appliances, and other decor are all items that help create a wabi-sabi environment (see page 48) in her home. Kate uses the woodstove for baking, but in summer it doubles as counter space for her many garden-related projects.
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Kate loves to eat breakfast and watch the sun rise from the porch on the home’s east side. She often spends summer afternoons bundling herbs on the porch swing.

When Kate NaDeau’s former husband, Phil, suggested they leave Northern California for Maine, she had a typical West Coast reaction. “Maine!? That’s the North Pole. I couldn’t live there!'” she laughs. But Kate, Phil, and their eleven-year-old son, Justin, craved a simple farming life, and they couldn’t afford the kind of acreage they wanted in the already-escalating California market. In his campaign to move his family east, Phil introduced Kate to Scott and Helen Nearing, pioneers of the back-to-the-land movement. As Kate read the Nearings’s simple living manuals, “I was totally blown away not only by the integrity the Nearings brought to the garden, but the fact that they could garden that much in Maine,” she says.

So Kate’s family traveled to Maine’s central coast in early December, a time when Kate figured she could taste the worst of what the region might offer. “It was raw and open and stark,” she recalls. And in Monroe, Maine, the family found its paradise: twenty-six acres on a south-facing slope bordering a stream.

STONE SOUP FARM, 156 Red Barn Road in Monroe, Maine, is open to the public daily, May 1 to August 31, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For information, call (207) 525-4463.

“I live a strongly seasonal lifestyle,” says Kate, “The weather is ever changing, and farm-related activities are so different.”

Hand-Built Home

Kate and Phil had been especially taken with their property’s southern exposure because they wanted to build a passive solar home. Influenced by the Nearings, they planned to build a stone house using a slip-form method of construction and, influenced by their time on the West Coast, to incorporate elements of Japanese architecture. “I wanted to build a building that was connected to the land and fit in with what was already there,” Kate says.

So they designed a simple home, bermed into the hillside to the north and open to the south, that meanders down the hill to the west. “The idea was to weave together beauty and utility,” Kate explains. “Passive solar is so wonderful– working with the climate instead of trying to fight it–bringing in some kind of harmony, working with the elements.”

They built the 1,500-square-foot home by hand, an arduous process that took five years to complete. “If you could do it the hard way–we did it,” Kate laughs. They hand-dug four-foot-deep trenches for the foundation and gathered flat stones from the woods and fields nearby. (Some visitors to the farm, hearing they needed flat stones, hauled in loads of them.) Kate and Phil mixed cement in wheelbarrows and built wooden forms that held the cement while it set around the stones. Inside, they attached insulation, plastic vapor barriers, and pine walls to two-by-fours inserted into the six-foot-high stone walls. They trimmed out a second-story bedroom using fir two-by-fours and topped the structure with a double metal roof. Finally, after five years of living with only a cistern, hand pump, and outhouse, they drilled a well and ran water for the kitchen and the bathroom.

“The construction was spread over five years because we were paying as we went,” Kate says. “But the advantage is that you really get to know the land–where you spend time, where the sun comes up at different times of the year. There’s something to be said for going slow–which is very different from the way people in this country do things.”

“It always seems to be a good year for something or a bad year for something. When you look at the big picture, it all seems to work out okay.”

Farm Living

From the large overhead beams for drying herbs and flowers to the greenhouse attached to the west side, the home was designed to accommodate agrarian ways. “I live a strongly seasonal lifestyle,” says Kate, who now lives alone. “The weather is ever changing, and farm-related activities are so different. So my home’s areas of use are very seasonal.”

In spring and summer, Kate basks in the sun on the fifteen-by-twenty-foot wooden deck on the south side and serves tea or picnics on the covered terrace attached to her workshop. She loves to catch the sunrise on the eastern porch. “Because summer’s such an expansive time, I really use that outdoor space much more,” she says.

In winter, the low sun streams into Kate’s denlike dining room and living area, providing heat that she supplements with a fire in the early evening. “Burning wood is a winter activity that I love, a gentle way of keeping things going–getting a couple of armloads of wood each day, keeping ahead of the storms,” she says. Kate spends the winter months as an “armchair gardener,” adding to the knowledge she’s gained over the past twenty years.

A Hillside Garden

Before she moved to Maine, Kate had grown a few tomato and basil plants but had no real experience with a large-scale garden. Yet she doesn’t consider the terraced masterpiece she’s created on the steep, sunny hillside such a big deal. “This isn’t rocket science,” she says. “I read the Nearings and other books, but it’s mainly a matter of just doing it, learning from your mistakes, trying and trying and trying.

“It always seems to be a good year for something or a bad year for something,” she adds. “Some pest is eating this and this, but you get the bounty in something else. When you look at the big picture, it all seems to work out okay.”

Shortly after the family moved to the site, which they dubbed Stone Soup Farm after the inspirational folktale, Kate began selling vegetables, flowers, and herb vinegars at a farmers market in nearby Belfast. She now gives workshops on the use of herbs and runs a small shop on the property that sells plants, herbal crafts, and other garden-related products. One of her personal highlights was selling a perennial to the late Helen Nearing. “Here was someone I’ve so respected, who so influenced me and the way I’ve done things,” Kate says. “It just felt like a complete circle.”