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Scott and Helen Nearing at Forest Farm, Harborside, Maine

A work made of chromogenic print, from the series "sweet earth: experimental utopias in america".

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  • A work made of chromogenic print, from the series "sweet earth: experimental utopias in america".


October 1982


Joel Sternfeld
American, born 1944

About this artwork

Currently Off View

Photography and Media


Joel Sternfeld


Scott and Helen Nearing at Forest Farm, Harborside, Maine


United States


Made 1982


Chromogenic print, from the series "Sweet Earth: Experimental Utopias in America"


No markings recto or verso In the early years of the twentieth century, Scott Nearing’s pacifist beliefs and antiwar activism caused him to lose two college teaching jobs. As a young professor of economics at the University of Pennsylvania, he wrote essays such as The Great Madness and Oil and the Germs of War, asserting that the main purpose of the US military was “to guard the hundreds of millions of dollars…invested in ‘undeveloped countries.’” He was put on trial under the Espionage Act of 1918 and, though he was acquitted, publishers began to refuse his work. Out of these experiences came an utterly new one. In 1932, at the height of the Great Depression, as he was approaching fifty, he married Helen Knothe. Together they bought a run-down farm in Vermont for three hundred dollars, built their own home and eleven other structures out of stone, and eventually grew eighty percent of the food they ate. Without using any animal labor, they gathered maple syrup and sold it as a cash crop (they refused to gather honey because they believed it exploited the bees’ work). Only one-third of each day was spent in what they referred to as “bread labor.” The rest of their time was divided between community service, professional activities and recreation, particularly music making. Nor were they lonely: the Nearings’ door was continuously open to visitors who wished to learn from and participate in their simple life. To enter, one had only to be willing to work. And once again Scott published. Living the Good Life: How to Live Sanely and Simply in a Troubled World appeared in 1954, co-authored with Helen, and was followed by numerous other reflections on their homesteading life and beliefs. Living the Good Life proved consequential, becoming an Ur-text for the back-to-the-land movement of the 1960s. In 1952, when Vermont grew too crowded for them, the Nearings moved to Maine and started the good life process all over again. It lasted until 1983 when Scott, aged one hundred, fasted to his death. Physically and mentally strong, the choice to end his life was a conscious one. Defending himself at his espionage trial in 1919, Scott Nearing wrote: “The Constitution does not guarantee us only the right to be correct, we have a right to be honest and in error. And the views I have expressed in the pamphlet [The Great Madness] I expressed honestly. I believe they are right. The future will show whether or not I was correct.” From the portfolio, Sweet Earth: Experimental Utopias in America, 1982–2005


26.5 × 33.2 cm (image); 27.9 × 35.5 cm (paper)

Credit Line

Gift of Ralph and Nancy Segall

Reference Number


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