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Meet the Nearings: The Models for ‘Back to the Land’

An article written about Helen and Scott Nearing from 1971 is still one of Mother Earth News’ most popular Nature and Community pieces. That’s almost 40 years of sustainable newsworthiness! Do you want to know who these folks are and how they relate to the homesteading and small-scale farming movement? Read on. They’re the behind-the-scenes folks everyone should know about.

From Mother Earth News:

Helen and Scott Nearing have been living today’s counterculture for better than a generation. Almost four decades ago (in 1932), the couple “dropped out” to a rockscrabble mountain farm in Vermont’s Green Mountains where they spent the next 20 years rebuilding the soil, constructing solid homestead buildings from native stone; growing their own food, heating with wood they cut by hand and co–authoring numerous books and magazine articles. Tick off any of the present’s most “in” passions—women’s lib, equal rights, organic gardening, vegetarianism, radicalism, homesteading, subsistence farming, ecology—and you’ll find that the Nearings have been doing instead of talking for 40 years.

In 1952, when “developers” began despoiling the slopes around them for a ski resort, the Nearings sold their Vermont farm, moved to a remote Maine cape and began all over again . . . clearing brush, building honest stone structures, planting vigorous gardens and—in general—making their place in the world on a soul-satisfying, sweat-of-the-brow basis.

Helen and Scott Nearing—then—are hard-working, proud people who pay their dues, think for themselves and stand on their own two feet . . . exactly the kind of folks that “made this country great. ” Salt of the earth. Rugged individuals. People who stand up for what’s right. The Great American Dream Couple. Folks who would be honored in every corner of this nation.

Well, yes and no. The Nearings most certainly have paid their dues and taken stand after lonely stand for their vision of right . . . only to find that truth, justice, honor, decency—even simple rational thought—can be a highly suspicious commodity here in The Land of The Free and The Home of The Brave.

A pacifist, Scott was tried for sedition by the Government for opposing U.S. entry into WWI. Acquitted by a jury, he was then blacklisted by the academic world for—among other things—his stand against child labor. His textbooks were even taken from the schools and he became a prophet without honor in his own country.

Of course, the U.S. Government and this country’s academic circles have no monopoly on stupidity. Scott once joined the Communist Party . . . only to be expelled for writing a book that took exception to Lenin’s theories on imperialism. Nobody loves a freethinker. […]

Read the entire article here.

Check out books by the Nearings:

Wise Words for the Good Life by Helen Nearing

Loving and Leaving the Good Life by Helen Nearing

The Maple Sugar Book by Scott and Helen Nearing

Simple Food For the Good Life by Helen Nearing


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