Helen Nearing

Helen Knothe Nearing (February 23, 1904 – September 17, 1995) was an American author, advocate of simple living and a lifelong vegetarian.

Helen Knothe Nearing
Nearing in the 1920s
Helen Knothe

(1904-02-23)February 23, 1904
DiedSeptember 17, 1995(1995-09-17) (aged 91)
Harborside, Maine, U.S.
Occupation(s)Author, simple living advocate
SpouseScott Nearing (1947-1983)


Helen Knothe was born on February 23, 1904, in Ridgewood, New Jersey, as the daughter of Frank Knothe, who had a clothing business.[1][2] She grew up in an economically comfortable family of Theosophists[3] and was a lifelong vegetarian.[4] She graduated from Ridgewood High School and studied the violin internationally.[2] As a young woman, she had a romantic relationship with Jiddu Krishnamurti.[3]

She and Scott Nearing started a relationship in 1928 and married nearly 20 years later, on December 12, 1947, when she was 43 and he was 64.[5] In 1934, the couple left New York City for Winhall in rural Vermont, where they had purchased a rather large forest tract for $2200 and a moderate-sized farm for $2500. They aspired to live a more “purposeful” life and improve their health while disassociating from modern society. At the homestead, they lived a largely ascetic and self-reliant life, growing much of their own food and putting up nine stone buildings over the course of two decades. Cash was earned from producing maple syrup and maple sugar from the trees on their land and from Scott Nearing's occasional paid lectures.[6][2][7] However, in her book Meanwhile, Next Door to the Good Life, Jean Hay Bright documents that the Nearings were both subsidized by substantial inheritances which supported their forest farm. In 1934,[8] around the time they purchased the Vermont property, Helen inherited between $30,000–$40,000 from former suitor J. J. van der Leeuw (equivalent to $590,000 in 2021[9]). Scott received an inheritance from his father that was said to be "at least a million dollars" in 1940 according to Nearing's son Robert. Hay Bright's calculations make clear that while very hard working homesteaders, the Nearings never came close to supporting themselves on their "cash crops" as they state.[10]

Organic farming

Helen and Scott Nearing left the Vermont homestead in 1952 after the area saw an increase in ski tourism, moving to a homestead in Brooksville, Maine, on Cape Rosier, where they continued growing much of their own food using organic farming practices.[2][11] They cultivated blueberries as a cash crop.[12] In 1954, the couple published Living the Good Life which inspired many young, educated Americans to create simpler, rural lifestyles and the back-to-the-land movement of the 1960s and 70s.[7] In 1994, Mother Earth News called Nearing the "mother of the back to the land movement." The magazine did first interview Nearing in 1971.[13]


Nearing was a speaker at the World Vegetarian Congress held in Sweden in 1973 and in Orono, Maine, in 1975 and hosted by the International Vegetarian Union.[14]

In 1980, Nearing published her vegetarian cookbook Simple Food for the Good Life.[15][16] In 2016, 20 years after her death, the Portland Press Herald reported: "The book, which is still in print, contains the ultra-simple recipes for which she was known (such as Simple Celery Soup, made with celery, oil, one potato, water, salt and nutmeg). It was here she famously called herself “a far-from-enthusiastic and qualified cook.”"[4]

In the summer of 1991, Helen and Scott were inducted into the Vegetarian Hall of Fame of the North American Vegetarian Society.[17]


Helen Nearing died in 1995 as the result of a single-car accident in Harborside, Maine.[18] The New York Times[2] and NPR's Living On Earth[19] ran obituaries after her death.

Legacy & Good Life Center

The Maine estate was left for The Trust for Public Land which established the Good Life Center[20] to continue the Nearings' legacy. The farm managers who live at the farm must eat only vegetarian food on the property.[4] People come from across the country for the ability to have the farm manager jobs.[21] The Thoreau Institute acquired the papers of the couple.[22] Her life is continuing to inspire other people to have a homestead.[23]

Published works

  • The Good Life Picture Album (1974)
  • Simple Food for the Good Life (1980)
  • Wise Words for the Good Life (1980)
  • Our Home Made of Stone (1983)
  • Loving and Leaving the Good Life (1992)
  • Light on Aging and Dying (1995)

Co-authored with Scott Nearing

  • The Maple Sugar Book: being a plain practical account of the Art of Sugaring designed to promote an acquaintance with the Ancient as well as the Modern practise, together with remarks on Pioneering as a way of living in the twentieth century. New York: John Day Co., 1950.
  • Living the Good Life (1954) ISBN 0-88365-236-6
  • Socialists Around the World (1958)
  • Building and Using Our Sun-Heated Greenhouse (1977)
  • Continuing the Good Life (1979)
  • The Good Life (1989)


  1. Lutyens, p138
  2. McQuiston, John (September 19, 1995). "Helen K. Nearing, Maine Writer, Dies at 91". The New York Times.
  3. Krishnamurti: The Years of Awakening by Mary Lutyens, London: John Murray, 1975.
  4. Kamila, Avery Yale (2016-03-30). "Maine back-to-the-land leader Helen Nearing's cookbook makes meatless eating simple". Press Herald. Retrieved 2020-04-15.
  5. Margaret Killinger The Good Life of Helen K. Nearing, 2007.
  6. Nearing, The Making of a Radical, p. 47.
  7. "The Good Life: The movement that changed Maine". Bangor Daily News. Retrieved 2020-01-28.
  8. van der Leeuw's date of death. The Nearings may have received it later
  9. 1634–1699: McCusker, J. J. (1997). How Much Is That in Real Money? A Historical Price Index for Use as a Deflator of Money Values in the Economy of the United States: Addenda et Corrigenda (PDF). American Antiquarian Society. 1700–1799: McCusker, J. J. (1992). How Much Is That in Real Money? A Historical Price Index for Use as a Deflator of Money Values in the Economy of the United States (PDF). American Antiquarian Society. 1800–present: Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. "Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–". Retrieved April 16, 2022.
  10. Bright, Jean Hay (2003). Meanwhile, Next Door to the Good Life. BrightBerry Press. ISBN 978-0-9720924-1-8.
  11. Nearing and Nearing, The Good Life, pg. 223-224.
  12. Nearing and Nearing, The Good Life, pg. 286.
  13. Scanlon, Matthew (1994). "Helen Nearing Interview - Modern Homesteading". Mother Earth News. Retrieved 2020-12-30.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  14. Kamila, Avery Yale (2020-08-16). "Vegan Kitchen: Exactly 45 years ago, Maine hosted a historic 2-week conference for vegetarians". Press Herald. Retrieved 2020-08-19.
  15. "Helen Nearing Writes an Anti-Cookbook". New England Historical Society. 2016-06-03. Retrieved 2020-04-15.
  16. "Nearings: Simple Food and Good Life". The New York Times. Retrieved 2020-02-09.
  17. "Vegetarian Hall of Fame". North American Vegetarian Society. Retrieved 2019-11-17.
  18. Boyd, Stephany (September 18, 1995). "Author Helen Nearing dies in car crash". Bangor Daily News.
  19. International, Living on Earth / World Media Foundation / Public Radio (1995-09-22). "Living on Earth: Living on Earth Profile Series/Obituary: Helen Nearing". Living on Earth. Retrieved 2021-01-06.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  20. http://goodlife.org/
  21. Curtis, Abigail (2017-08-28). "Oregon couple stewards the good life at Nearing homestead". Bangor Daily News. Retrieved 2021-01-06.
  22. Godlewski, Susan (1999). "Curator's Column". The Thoreau Society Bulletin (227): 5. ISSN 0040-6406. JSTOR 23402350.
  23. Doiron, Roger (27 August 2008). "Remembering the Homesteading Principles of the Nearings". Mother Earth News. Retrieved 2021-01-06.
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