Life at The Good Life Center

With limited gardening experience but strong spirit, a young couple confronts the challenges of running Forest Farm, the final homestead of back-to-the-land pioneers Helen and Scott Nearing. In the process, the pair learns as much about life and community as they do about working the land.

| September/October 2001

  • Forest Farm is located on idyllic Orr Cove, from which the stewards harvest seaweed for the compost piles.
    Photo by Neha Shukla
  • Neha prepares for summer by cleaning out over­wintered crops.
    Photo by Chris Eaton
  • Neha and Chris live comfortably in the Nearings’s handbuilt stone house.
    Photo by Neha Shukla
  • Chris and Neha stockpile the bountiful potato harvest for their own and future stewards’ winter nourishment.
    Photo by Neha Shukla
  • Sited to take advantage of natural light, the Forest Farm kitchen has changed little since Scott and Helen Nearing cooked simple meals in it.
    Photo by Neha Shukla
  • A stone shed that the Nearings built by hand flanks the entrance to Forest Farm.
    Photo by Chris Eaton
  • Chris slices into the apple harvest. Photo by Neha Shukla

From March 2000 to March 2001, we were the resident stewards of Forest Farm, the last homestead of Helen and Scott Nearing in Harborside, Maine. Forest Farm is maintained by The Good Life Center, created in 1995 when Helen passed away. This nonprofit organization dedicates itself to “perpetuating the philosophies and lifeways exemplified by Helen and Scott Nearing, two of America’s most inspirational practitioners of simple, frugal, and purposeful living.’’

As the resident stewards, our primary duties included caring for the organic gardens and buildings, and engaging with the many seekers, pilgrims, and curious folks who found their way out here. We learned so much and were profoundly inspired by the Nearings and the communities that both physically and spiritually surround Forest Farm. The following passages are excerpts from the journal that we kept during our stay.


Neha writes: We arrived at Forest Farm late last night, plowing our overloaded van through snowdrifts. The late winter storm has passed, and we wake up in sunlight, enveloped in a history that we know little about but that feels as palpable as the stones that hold up this house.

Our early morning exploration of the house and garden reveal the bounty of food generously left for us by Jake and Jen, our predecessors, who left just a few days ago. Jars of tomatoes, sweet pickles, grape juice, rosehip sauce, and dilly beans fill a couple of shelves in the cellar. Farther back in the darker part of the cellar, we find boxes of potatoes (more than we could possibly eat), beets, carrots, parsnips, garlic, and an incredible basketball-size kohlrabi gigante. This alone will supply us quite a few meals.

What we find outdoors amazes us even more. We shovel our way into the quickly warming greenhouse and find brilliant salad greens under row cover. It’s an oasis of color: lettuces, spinach, mache, clay­tonia, tatsoi, kale, arugula, scallions, and generous bunches of parsley. Attached to the greenhouse is a fifty-by-fifty-foot stone wall enclosing the main garden, where we can see the tops of overwintered leeks and kale. After digging out the cold frames, we find rows of small jewel-like greens awaiting the coming thaw. Jen and Jake have left us sustenance and inspiration.

We imagine our summer garden as we look out over this place nestled between forest and salt water, rising from the low tide of winter. For now, with snow blanketing the garden and a frozen row of well-tended compost piles, we know that we have a bit of time to get to know our surroundings, to learn more about Helen and Scott, and—for the first time for both of us—to plan a garden.

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