The Nearings’ stonewalled garden and greenhouse are behind the home they lived in for many decades. Photo by Avery Yale Kamila

You don’t happen upon the Good Life Center. You’ll never pass it on your way to somewhere else. It is a place you must deliberately seek.

The famous homestead was built by Helen and Scott Nearing, a concert violinist and a radical economist, respectively, who became the back-to-the-land gurus of disaffected Baby Boomers roiled by racism, war, sexism, inequality, nuclear fusion and denatured food. Young dreamers and back-to-the-landers came to Maine because of the Nearings, increasing the state’s population and altering its demographics.

The Nearings were the ultimate seekers: Spiritual seekers. Truth seekers. Seekers of authenticity. In Maine they sought to create “an alternative to western civilization and its outmoded culture pattern,” as they wrote in their 1954 vegetarian book “Living the Good Life: How to Live Sanely and Simply in a Troubled World.” When the book was reissued in 1970, it become a bestseller.

The key to overturning this “outmoded culture” was their principle “that all life is to be respected — non-human as well as human.”

In 1951, Helen found the secluded spot that became their home by dangling a pendulum over a map of Maine from her then-home in Vermont. As she moved the pendulum above the map, it hung still until it crossed Penobscot Bay. There it turned. Every time. She and Scott packed their bags and headed Down East.

To get to the Good Life Center, located in the village of Harborside in the town of Brooksville, bring a decent map since GPS may falter far off the beaten path deep in the lush Blue Hill peninsula. Then push further west to the far side of Cape Rosier (named for the 17th-century Englishman who mistakenly assumed the Wabanaki drank reindeer milk; it was actually walnut milk).


I drove unpaved roads past dark forests and windswept fields opening to the dazzling beauty of Penobscot Bay framed by Islesboro. Then back into the shadowy woods on an ever-narrowing road until I spotted the metal mailbox hand-lettered with the words Good Life Center. The Nearings called it Forest Farm.

Past a beguiling, mossy path marked Fairy Trail, the low-slung, two-story stone home comes into view. To the left, a postcard vista of the tree-lined rocky shore Helen named Spirit Cove sparkles. To the right, spruce and fir trees surround the stone-walled garden, the greenhouse, the orchard, the solar panels and the row of wooden bins filled with various stages of veganic compost.

I was called to the Good Life Center to deliver a talk about my research into the lost history of vegetarianism, which was central to the Nearings’ pursuit of the good life. In their 1979 follow-up book, “Continuing the Good Life,” Helen and Scott wrote, “We regard vegetarianism as an essential part of the good life, in its ethical and humanitarian as well as health aspects.” Eating vegetarian also saved them money and equally important, time.

Scott (1883-1983) adopted vegetarianism in 1917 after reading the works of Russian writer (and vegetarian) Leo Tolstoy, while Helen (1904-1995) was the rare lifelong vegetarian raised by vegetarian parents.

Helen and Scott Nearing’s bowls, spoons and wooden drying rack in the kitchen of their Maine home. Photo by Avery Yale Kamila

Arriving at the doorstep of their former home almost 40 years to the day after Scott’s spirit left it, I entered into the kitchen, where countless vegetarian meals were prepared on the original Glenwood wood-fired cookstove. Near the stove is a shelf filled with the well-worn wooden bowls and spoons the Nearings used for all their meals. (I didn’t see whether any of their wooden chopsticks remain.) In front of the shelf is a battered, herb drying rack, seemingly waiting for Helen to place fragrant leaves on its wire screens. Today is the 28th anniversary of Helen’s death.

Vegetarian meals are prepared in the kitchen to this day. The Good Life Center maintains a fully vegetarian property and a busy summer schedule of speakers and events. During my visit, guests were treated to freshly squeezed lemonade, sliced watermelon and popcorn, a Nearing favorite.


The original Glenwood cookstove still sits in the kitchen of the Good Life Center. Photo by Avery Yale Kamila

Helen and Scott bought popcorn, rolled oats, barley and other grains in bulk. They grew their own vegetables and cultivated alfalfa sprouts. The couple ate about half their daily calories in fruit (particularly apples), they constructed huge salads, and they canned fruit juice, applesauce, tomato juice and soup stock. The Nearings fasted weekly, often breaking their fast with a glass of homemade carrot-beet-apple juice and a huge bowl of popcorn.

Many of their simple meals would have been familiar to 19th-century Maine vegetarians, who, like the Nearings, avoided alcohol, white flour, refined sugar and processed commercial foods. However, Helen, who was the primary cook and the author of the 1980 cookbook “Simple Food for the Good Life,” also embraced 20th-century health food culture. Her fondness for lentils, kale, dandelion greens, Swiss chard, bean sprouts and carrot juice was considered odd during her lifetime but helped edge these and other plant-based ingredients into modern Maine cuisine.

The Nearings ate copious amounts of unsweetened peanut butter but did not eat plant-based meats. Occasionally they baked cornbread, but generally preferred whole, cooked grains.

Beyond the kitchen, the Nearings’ home is really a library, with books lining the walls of the stone-floored living room and an adjacent room, and filling the upstairs. Fifteen minutes before I was scheduled to speak, I was invited to peek inside a dark pantry cupboard where Helen’s personal cookbook collection was stored, largely untouched since her death. I had the thrill of touching cookbooks she once held.

After I left, Susan Corl, a retired librarian and cookbook collector, cataloged this previously neglected part of the Nearing library and shared it with me. She and husband, Ron Corl, are this season’s property stewards.

The earliest book in Helen’s cookbook collection is a 1912 first edition of the influential raw food book “Unfired Food and Tropho-Therapy” by Dr. George J. Drews. She also had a 1948 copy of “Mrs. Richter’s Cook-Less Book” by Vera Richter, which was first published in 1925, about seven years after Richter and her husband opened the raw food restaurant The Eutropheon in Los Angeles. The book was reissued in 2016.


Other notable titles included the 1970 sixth edition of Freya Dinshah’s “The Vegan Kitchen,” a first edition of Anna Thomas’s 1972 “The Vegetarian Epicure,” and a 1975 first edition of “The Book of Tofu” by William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi.

Saying my goodbyes to the unusual place, I was directed to an outdoor wooden sculpture with a seashell necklace. Named Sea Goddess by Helen, she watches over Spirit Cove and the Good Life Center, where an atmosphere of peace and nonviolence continues to permeate the air and can be inhaled by seekers who find their way to this remote spot.

Roasted tomato bruschetta. The tomatoes came from the garden at The Good Life Center. Photo by Avery Yale Kamila

A handful of tomatoes in red and gold from the Nearings’ garden was given to me as I was leaving the Center. I knew I had to cherish them. At the Blue Hill Coop, I bought an organic garlic sesame sourdough from the aptly named The Good Loaf bakery in Stockton Springs. Back in Portland, I thinly sliced the tomatoes, drizzled a baking sheet with olive oil, then placed the tomato slices on the sheet and roasted them at 200 degrees until they were beautifully crinkled. I laid the roasted Good Life tomatoes on slices of The Good Loaf bread, and sprinkled them with dried basil and a pinch of salt. The flavor was out of this world, and for a moment I had a fleeting sense of the special atmosphere that guests said enveloped the simple meals they shared with the Nearings on their magical property in Brooksville.

Avery Yale Kamila is a food writer who lives in Portland. Reach her at

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: