After a year of being closed to visitors, the Good Life Center, the former home of famed Maine homesteaders and activists Scott and Helen Nearing, plans to reopen for the 2021 season. The organization is now seeking its resident stewards for the year, who will be responsible for gardening, stewarding and leading tours of the Nearings’ property.
Last April, the Good Life Center announced that it would close for the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Warren Berkowitz, manager of the Good Life Center, said that the center took advantage of that time to conduct some necessary maintenance on the property.
The center struggled financially with the lack of donations and revenue from visitors, but Berkowitz said there were some bright spots in that strange season.
“A couple of resident stewards from several years ago came back and got married on the property and I was able to officiate the wedding,” Berkowitz said. “My wife Nancy was the witness. Obviously, it was just the four of us because of the [pandemic], but it was really quite beautiful.”
Now, the Good Life Center is plotting its reopening. It’s expected to open on Memorial Day, May 31, and continue its season through Indigenous Peoples’ Day, October 11, with some updated, pandemic-friendly protocols. Guests will be required to wear masks, for example, and there will be a limit to how many people are allowed on the property at one time. Visitors will be asked to call in advance to save their spot, if they can.
Monday Night Meetings, weekly speaker events held at the Good Life Center, will also be modified. Though what the modifications are is still to be determined.
“I think we’re kind of leaving it open, whether we can actually do it with a very socially distant crowd, or make it earlier in the day and do it outside, or if the pandemic is not doing well, doing it virtually,” Berkowtiz said. “[At] Monday Night Meetings, we usually hang around afterwards and have popcorn and tea obviously that’s not going to happen this year. The hands-on workshops, we’ll just have to see whether we can pull those off or not.”
In addition to reopening, the Good Life Center is seeking new resident stewards for the 2021 season. Each year the Good Life Center offers a couple or individual to live at and care for Forest Farm, the historic homestead of Helen and Scott Nearing. Residents are also responsible for welcoming visitors, providing tours and introducing educational programs.
Berkowitz said that before pandemic-related shutdown measures were put in place last year, the Good Life Center had a pair of resident stewards picked out for the 2020 season. They offered the couple the 2021 residency, but they “had another gig lined up.” The new resident stewards will have some additional duties in light of the pandemic, but the job should remain more or less the same as years past.
“They’ll have the added responsibility of making sure everybody follows the guidelines that we put out at the time but basically they should be able to function the same way as they always do, just being aware of the health issues and the distancing and people moving around in a way that limits exposure,” Berkowitz said.
Residents are provided with a furnished, wood-heated apartment, a stipend of $3,200, garden vegetables, special access to the Nearing library and “the opportunity to meet like-minded people from around the world.”
Chris Morrison, who served as a resident steward at the Good Life Center in 2018 and 2019 with his wife, Carol Crawford, said that their experience of meeting people is one of the most gratifying of the whole residency.
“It did surprise me how much I enjoyed the job of taking care of the property and showing people around,” Morrison said. “It was more than a job. It was really an experience. I didn’t know that I could feel that good with the work I was doing on a day-to day-basis.”
The property itself is another perk of the gig. Forest Farm is located on the Cape Rosier Peninsula overlooking Penobscot Bay and the Camden Hills on the Maine coast, close to public beaches, biking, kayaking, sailing and hiking, galleries, restaurants and shops in Blue Hill and Deer Isle.
“It’s a beautiful property,” Morrison said. “People have really been taking care of this property and lovingly looking after it. I think that comes through. I think people feel that. Being on that property through all the seasons was really terrific.”
Residents commit to 25 hours of work per week per person with two days off per week. Applicants must be nonsmokers, have hands-on gardening experience and commit to the full season. Meals must be vegetarian while on the grounds.
Knowledge of the Nearings’ writings and philosophy is also a plus.
“We’re looking hopefully for people who are very much intuned with the Nearing philosophy, who have a good understanding of organic gardening and who are really willing and able to follow through on the [Centers for Disease Control] guidelines,” Berkowitz said. “The biggest attribute is being able to relate to the public in a positive way and kind of translate the nearing story. That ability to communicate is probably the most important attribute that we’re looking for.”
The Good Life Center encourages people of color and people with connections to marginalized communities to apply for this position. If you are interested in applying for the 2021 residency, send a resume and letter of interest by February 15, 2021, to Good Life Center, c/o Warren Berkowitz, 97 Water Street, Blue Hill, Maine 04614.