Based in Toronto and New York City

, Nancy Matsumoto is a writer and editor who covers sustainable agriculture, food, sake, arts and culture.

Three Generations of Back-to-the-land Farmers

My recent YES! magazine story on three generations of back-to-the-land farmers led with a nice, if somewhat cryptic illustration: four farmers, who seem to be treating their vegetables as musical instruments, break out into song in the fields before a rapt audience of pumpkin leaves, which are swaying and grooving to the beat. At least that was my interpretation. 

As a supplemental post to the story, here are some photographs of the actual people and places mentioned:

My reporting started at The Good Life Center in Harborside, Maine, dedicated to preserving the legacy of Helen and Scott Nearing, the first of the three-generations of back-to-the land farmers I write about. The center is housed in the Nearing's last handmade building, filled with the memorabilia of a lifetime of living off the land, thinking and writing about agriculture, socialism and righting the wrongs of a capitalist society the Nearings believed had run amok. If they returned from the grave today they would likely want to go straight back. 

My reporting started at The Good Life Center in Harborside, Maine, dedicated to preserving the legacy of Helen and Scott Nearing, the first of the three-generations of back-to-the land farmers I write about. The center is housed in the Nearing's last handmade building, filled with the memorabilia of a lifetime of living off the land, thinking and writing about agriculture, socialism and righting the wrongs of a capitalist society the Nearings believed had run amok. If they returned from the grave today they would likely want to go straight back. 

The Good Life Center is surrounded by beautiful gardens, some amazing hand-built yurts, a greenhouse and toolshed. At the time of my visit, it was being tended to by caretakers (known as "residents") Claire Briguglio and Sam Adels.

The Good Life Center is surrounded by beautiful gardens, some amazing hand-built yurts, a greenhouse and toolshed. At the time of my visit, it was being tended to by caretakers (known as "residents") Claire Briguglio and Sam Adels.

Wooden greenhouse of The Good Life Center.

Wooden greenhouse of The Good Life Center.

"Indefatigable" would be a good way to describe Scott Nearing, whose goal was complete self-sufficiency, and whose vision of how to live "the good life" inspired a generation of young people, including Eliot Coleman.  

"Indefatigable" would be a good way to describe Scott Nearing, whose goal was complete self-sufficiency, and whose vision of how to live "the good life" inspired a generation of young people, including Eliot Coleman.  

One of the rustic space ship-like yurts on the Good Life Center property, built by a visionary back-to-the-lander in his own right, Bill Coperthwaite. 

One of the rustic space ship-like yurts on the Good Life Center property, built by a visionary back-to-the-lander in his own right, Bill Coperthwaite. 

Just next door to The Good Life Center is the small diversified farm of Eliot Coleman and his wife, noted horticultural expert and writer Barbara Damrosch. The Nearings sold Coleman part of their property in 1968. 

Just next door to The Good Life Center is the small diversified farm of Eliot Coleman and his wife, noted horticultural expert and writer Barbara Damrosch. The Nearings sold Coleman part of their property in 1968. 

Several apprentices were working on the farm the day we visited. Celery, onion, potato and chard were being harvested, and chickens roamed freely. 

Several apprentices were working on the farm the day we visited. Celery, onion, potato and chard were being harvested, and chickens roamed freely. 

Damrosch and Coleman in their warm and spacious home on the farm, where Damrosch cooked and served us a delicious lunch of a chicken stew, fresh bread and a homemade pear tart. 

Damrosch and Coleman in their warm and spacious home on the farm, where Damrosch cooked and served us a delicious lunch of a chicken stew, fresh bread and a homemade pear tart. 

Coleman says he's fascinated by "where ideas come from." Tracking those ideas down, he's amassed about a 1,000-volume library of books on agriculture. Some of the figures who pop up in the history of agricultural thought, he says, might surprise you: T.S. Eliot, for one, and violinist Yehudi Menuhin, who was involved in launching the first whole foods and organic shop in London in the mid 1960s.

Coleman says he's fascinated by "where ideas come from." Tracking those ideas down, he's amassed about a 1,000-volume library of books on agriculture. Some of the figures who pop up in the history of agricultural thought, he says, might surprise you: T.S. Eliot, for one, and violinist Yehudi Menuhin, who was involved in launching the first whole foods and organic shop in London in the mid 1960s.

Damrosch's skilled hand is evident in her beautiful flowers gardens. 

Damrosch's skilled hand is evident in her beautiful flowers gardens. 

The story also took me to Saint-Armand, Quebec, where Jean-Martin Fortier--a spiritual descendent of Coleman and the Nearings--has made an international name for himself farming his acre-and-a-half diversified farm. He's picture here with daughter Rose, who is now 8 years old. 

The story also took me to Saint-Armand, Quebec, where Jean-Martin Fortier--a spiritual descendent of Coleman and the Nearings--has made an international name for himself farming his acre-and-a-half diversified farm. He's picture here with daughter Rose, who is now 8 years old. 

Fortier's farm is called Jardins de la Grelinette, named after Fortier's favorite hand tool, the "grelinette," or "broadfork."

Fortier's farm is called Jardins de la Grelinette, named after Fortier's favorite hand tool, the "grelinette," or "broadfork."

It was June when I visited. In addition to greenhouses full of ripening tomatoes, flats of tomato seedlings were just getting started. 

It was June when I visited. In addition to greenhouses full of ripening tomatoes, flats of tomato seedlings were just getting started. 

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