Memoirs offer a rare glimpse into the most personal details of an author’s life. From homesteaders in Maine, these first person stories — which range from historic tales to more modern stories — show both the profound joys and the trials and tribulations of choosing a sustainable lifestyle. They can be used for both inspiration or cautionary tales, providing tips and life lessons that prove applicable for homemakers and off-grid homesteaders alike.
Whether you are looking to live vicariously through someone else’s life story or hoping to find inspiration for your own homesteading journey, here is a range of incredible memoirs from homesteaders in Maine.
“Living the Good Life: How to Live Sanely and Simply in a Troubled World” by Scott and Helen Nearing
Scott and Helen Nearing showed that farming and homesteading in Maine can make for a compelling story — or, in their case, a movement. This is the classic Maine homesteading memoir and it launched the back-to-the-land movement that took over Maine decades ago. This book goes through the steps that the Nearings took in order to make their vision a reality over the course of more than two decades, along with a healthy smattering of their personal politics and philosophies about living sustainably along the way.
“Meanwhile, Next Door to the Good Life: Homesteading in the 1970s in the shadows of Helen and Scott Nearing, and how it all — and they — ended up” by Jean Hay Bright
Bright’s memoir is a great companion to “Living the Good Life,” with a bit more of a realist’s bite. Bright chronicles the homesteading adventures of her and her first husband, a Vietnam veteran suffering from the trauma of war. The pair decided to escape to a simpler life in the 1970s, heading to Harborside to homestead on land they bought from the Nearings. Bright recounts both the joy and struggle of her personal experience, along with the community dynamics within the movement. Bright also delves deeper into some of the questions and paradoxes surrounding the Nearings and the way they lived — and what she found was enlightening and surprising.
“This Life is in Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres, and a Family Undone” by Melissa Coleman
Daughter to famed organic farmer and author Eliot Coleman, the author of this poignant memoir takes a more emotional approach to understanding the impacts of being raised in a sustainable lifestyle. Coleman’s childhood memoir highlights the lushness of her upbringing on communes and sustainable farms along Maine’s coast throughout the 1970s, but also her family’s struggles and the challenges that befell even their best-laid plans. Coleman takes a nuanced look at the ways in which this kind of lifestyle can affect a family — both the parents who chose it, and the children they brought along the way.
“Man Bites Log: The Unlikely Adventures of a City Guy in the Woods” by Max Alexander
Alexander leaves behind the big city journalist life to humorously chronicle the five years he lived in the Maine countryside. The simple life turned out to be more complicated than he bargained for, as his wife attempts to homeschool their kids on their rocky farm while he goes toe-to-toe with firewood thieves, rambunctious guinea hens, corporate polluters and, eventually, local politics. Alexander’s book is a true “how not to” of the homesteading life, but also sheds an oft-needed humorous light on the daily challenges of homesteading life.
“One Man’s Meat” by E.B. White
White is probably best known for his children’s books like “Charlotte’s Web” and “Stuart Little,” but he was also a brilliant essayist who lived in Maine and loved its peaceful solitude. In 1938, White quit his job at The New Yorker and moved his family to a farm on the coast of Maine, where he took up as a subsistence farmer in addition to his writing. For the next five years, he chronicled his life in a series of articles for Harper’s magazine. The columns were eventually collected into the anthology, “One Man’s Meat,” which has been continuously in print since 1944.
“Birth, Death, and a Tractor: Connecting An Old Farm To a New Family” by Kelly Payson-Roopchand
In her IndieFab Book of the Year Award and Maine Literary Award-winning memoir, Payson-Roopchand chronicles the history of her farm in Somerville (now called Pumpkin Vine Family Farm) over the course of seven generations. She peppers her telling of her family’s early years establishing a goat dairy with stories of the six previous generations who worked the land. Woven into each narration is a short education about how she and her husband — who she met while in agricultural graduate school in Trinidad — adapted to evolving scientific farming principles, modernization, federal farm policies and changing consumer tastes.
“Cows are Out!: Two Decades on a Maine Dairy Farm” by Trudy Price
Price’s memoir chronicles the daily trials of haying, cow breeding and milking against a backdrop of whimsical rural life. The bittersweet memoir spans two decades of dairy farming in Maine as the industry begins to fall out from under her and her family. She tells the story of her kind-but-eccentric neighbors, visitors from away and loveable animals that shaped her experience. Ultimately, her memoir is a tribute to the family farmers that are an important part of the state — and the country’s — historical and cultural heritage.
“Small Farm In Maine” by Terry Silber
Silber and her photographer husband, Mark, used to visit Maine on the weekends and their days off from their publishing careers in Boston. Eventually, though, they moved to the Pine Tree State full time, abandoning their urban lives for a small farm in Buckfield that they turned into a successful, self-sustaining enterprise called Hedgehog Hill Farm. Silber tells the story of how she and Mark built a mail-order produce business and a community over nearly two decades. Silber also chronicles the history of the area and provides practical tips on farm management.
“Whatever It Takes” by May Davidson
Davidson tells the story about how she and her husband, Jim, spent 68 years together in Maine. After falling in love as teenagers, they built their first house using $20 worth of lumber and blind optimism. However, they soon learned that they would need to do “whatever it takes” to sustain themselves, from lobstering and fishing to sheep farming and long-haul trucking. When they fell into debt while trying to raise thousands of chickens, the pair climbed out of financial ruin by developing a unique, popular product: the Maine Buoy Bell. Davidson’s memoir offers a multi-faceted view of Maine during the last half of the twentieth century and the tremendous changes the state and its people have experienced.
“From the Orange Mailbox” by A. Carman Clark
“From the Orange Mailbox” is a collection of Clark’s award-winning columns from the Camden Herald, where she served as the Home & Garden editor. Clark’s wry, humorous essays cover many topics, from the history of her 170-year-old farm on Sennebec Pond to the proper care of an asparagus bed. The book also contains many of Clark’s “good book recipes” — delicious concoctions made from Maine-grown produce like rhubarb, blueberries and apples. This uplifting and thought-provoking collection of short essays contains everything from garden cultivating and harvesting tips to recipes to relaxing anecdotes about farm life in Maine.
“So You Want to be a Modern Homesteader?” by Kirsten Lie-Nielsen
This one is a little more didactic than the other memoirs on this list, but Kirsten Lie-Nielsen is a talented and thoughtful writer who draws from her experience working the land in Liberty to share her insights — and a dose of realism — on a variety of homesteading topics, including the romance versus the reality of rural living, finding the right property, earning an income, farming on a budget, creating community, schooling for children and the role of social media in rural life.
“Pigs Can’t Swim” by Helen Peppe
Peppe’s memoir is a hilarious and at times harrowingly heartbreaking memoir by the youngest of nine children in a rough-and-tumble Maine farm family. Peppe manages to balance her keen hindsight for the absurdities of her childhood with a true compassion for her utterly overwhelmed parents, despite their bullheaded insistence on nonsensical rules, old wives’ tales and questionable morals.