The Nearings are known for the simple, sustainable life they practiced and taught others about on a homestead in Brooksville. Even beyond their time, their influence has continued. The former property of Scott and Helen Nearing was developed into The Good Life Center, a place where people can attend programming and events and take tours to learn more about the back to the land movement.
But this year, the Good Life Center will be closed to the public for the season, which usually runs between May and October, in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The center also won’t welcome its seasonal crop of stewards.
Warren Berkowitz, manager of the Good Life Center, said that the decision to close was made in part because of the large number of visitors that are attracted to the Good Life Center every year. Birch said that usually about a thousand visitors in a season visit the center.
“We get people from all over the world and we really didn’t want to be in a position of attracting people to the state when the governor is making really terrific moves in terms of keeping people at home and keeping the virus under control,” Berkowitz said.
But the work will continue. In the weeks to come, Berkowitz also said there may be virtual programming and archival material for fans to enjoy, including recordings of past Monday night meetings (which, Berkowitz noted, are also available on their website).
“There are some creative ideas that are churning,” he said. “Some of the board members thought they might want to come out and do a virtual tour [and] they might put that on Facebook. There’s a lot of people sitting at home that want to do things. Maybe they would plug into that.”
Berkowitz said that the decision to close was difficult not just because the staff was excited for the season, but also because of the financial implications for the non-profit organization.
“It puts us in a tenuous financial situation,” Berkowitz said. “We rely on the visitors to come and donate and buy books.”
Rachael Birch, administrator of the Good Life Center, said that the organization is continuing to apply for grants, sell books and accept donations on their website. However, the organization decided not to conduct its usual donation campaign where they send letters to supporters asking for donations.
There will be other changes and delays too. In addition to the physical campus being closed, other programs, like a children’s summer camp that the organization won a grant to start in August, will also be delayed until next year.
The Good Life Center will not stop running, though. A few key staff members and volunteers will keep the center and gardens going throughout the season. Usually, those gardens feed the resident stewards, but in their absence Birch said the crops will be donated to food pantries like the Simmering Pot, Magic Food Bus and Tree of Life.
“In terms of social distancing while we’re working on the gardens, it could be that just one person at a time goes to work on the garden,” Birch said. “Even if we did have two people in one garden there would be ample space for us to preserve six foot distance.”
Berkowitz said that they will also conduct maintenance projects around the property.
“It doesn’t sound too exciting but the gutters on the house have rotted out,” he said. “Keeping water under control is really important. We have a huge library from the Nearings, so air quality is really important.”
Berkowitz also said there is a chance that the Good Life Center might open briefly in the late summer or early fall for a few events, though it is too soon to say for certain.
“If the curve flattens and the economy opens up, we may have one or two days during the fall or late summer when we invite people in,” he said. “We always participate in Open Farm Day, so we might have something like that, probably not until the end of August or early fall, if in fact that’s possible.”