"Materialism does not produce happiness," Mrs. Nearing told those who came to tour her Forest Farm and marvel that, in an age of mass communications, she still made do without radio or television.
Helen Knothe Nearing was born in Ridgewood, New Jersey, on February 23, 1904. She grew up in a comfortable home in a family of Theosophists (Theosophists have a mission of encouraging open-minded inquiry into world religions, philosophy, science, and the arts in order to understand the wisdom of the ages, respect the unity of all life, and help people explore spiritual self-transformation.) Her mother was Maria Obreen Knothe and her father was Frank Knothe. Aspiring to become a concert violinist, Helen studied music in Europe. She then traveled the globe; dabbled in Indian mysticism for a time, spending the years 1921–25 as a follower of the renowned Hindu spiritual leader Krishnamurti (an Indian speaker, philosopher and writer who is regarded as one of the greatest philosophical and spiritual figures of the twentieth century) and spent several years in Australia searching for answers to life's mysteries. It is reported that she had a romantic relations with Jiddu Krishnamurti.
In 1928 when she met Scott Nearing, and she knew she had found her life partner. Born in 1883, Scott Nearing came from a privileged Pennsylvania family. His grandfather, Winfield Nearing, ruled the coal mining town of Morris Run, Pennsylvania with an iron fist. He was know as “Tsar Nearing” for his opposition to the workers attempt to improve their lives and working conditions by forming unions. Early on Scott developed a social conscience and after earning a doctorate in economics he became and activist and university professor. One of his big campaigns was waging war against what he believed to be one of the greatest social evils of the day, child labor.
Their relationship grew over the next twenty years and they married on December 12, 1947. They abandoned New York City and "a dying acquisitive culture" to live on homestead in a rural part of Vermont where they grew much of their food, built nine stone buildings and three wooden ones, over the next twenty years. They lived a very self reliant life, growing their own food, producing maple syrup and sugar from their trees and from Scott’s occasional paid lecture. They were about 75% self sufficient. They achieved this by producing "goods and services … consumed directly, without the intervention of the market. In our case we raised food and ate it, cut fuel and burned it, constructed buildings and lived in them, thus eliminating the major cash costs of living.” In 1952 the couple moved to a four acre seaside homestead in Brooksville, Maine, where they continued to grow much of their own food and cultivated blueberries as a cash crop.
As strict vegetarians, the Nearings eschewed processed foods, meat, fish, and dairy products as well as alcohol, coffee, and tea. Their diet consisted of 50% fruit and fruit juices, 35% vegetables (with an emphasis on leafy plants), 10% fats (vegetable oils and nuts), and only 5% protein (from grains, dried beans and peas, seeds, and nuts). They kept no animals, used almost no animal products, ate very little cheese or butter, and consumed milk or eggs only on rare occasions. In Scott's words, "By these means we freed ourselves from the slaughterhouse diet; from the corresponding enslavement to animals of all those who practice animal husbandry; and from the high protein diet so unhealthfully prevalent in the United States.” In the summer of 1991, Helen and Scott were inducted into the Vegetarian Hall of Fame of the North American Vegetarian Society.
Helen was a passionate advocate for simple living, a war tax resister, an advocate for social and economic justice. She says she never took an aspirin, and never used a credit card. She and Scott co-wrote many books on self sufficiency and alternative lifestyles including the classic, “Living the Good Life: How to Live Sanely and Simply in a Troubled World,” published in 1954 and immediately became very popular. She is considered pioneer of simple living who is regarded as a "great-grandparent" of the American back-to-the-land movement and a major personality of modern environmentalism.
Scott Nearing died in 1983, just 18 days after his hundredth birthday. He announced that he was going to stop eating. Helen said she supported him in that decision and would make the same choice herself when she felt ready to. She continued to live their version of the good life after Scott's death, accepting daily visitors, traveling, living the self sufficient life they had lived together. She said she didn't miss Scott much because she felt the was still with her as a daily presence, and she looked forward to seeing him again. Helen Nearing's thoughts turned more toward death as she approached her 90s, and she wrote 2 books on the subject, Loving and Leaving the Good Life and a collection of quotations called Light on Age and Dying. t In a Maine Public Radio call-in last year, she discussed her own expectation that she would be reincarnated. She said she worried a lot about the near future, but that the far future would be gorgeous. Helen died on September 17th, 1995, near her homier Maine, when her car veered off the road. She was 91.