Anthony Ronzio

Anthony Ronzio

Over the past two years the Bangor Daily News, a small-town newspaper in central Maine, has made a name for itself by publishing ambitious multimedia features online. The paper made its first foray into digital native storytelling in June 2013 with “Proof,” a story about sexual assault. Following Proof, editor Anthony Ronzio pushed his editorial team to see how far they could take this new storytelling medium. The end result is “The Good Life: The Movement That Changed Maine,” winner of the 2014 Online News Association award for Best Feature, Small Category. The package launched in its entirety online, and was serialized over five days in the newspaper. Ronzio spoke with me by phone.

Storyboard: How did this story come about?

Ronzio: The whole idea of looking at the back-to-the-land movement in Maine and its legacy was a topic I was interested in as a journalist off and on for a long time and never had the opportunity to explore. We started talking about it in story meetings in early 2013 as part of what big stories we could do. We had done a couple of smaller stories about farming and agriculture and sustainability, and farm-to-table, trends that were emerging, and they all seemed to be rooted in this common sentiment, and this common community of people that were around a certain area of Maine in Waldo County. We decided just to continue to gather string around this topic for as long as we could. A lot of the visuals for “The Good Life,” especially some of the live video, we shot at something called at Common Ground Country Fair in 2013. Our visuals editor at the time [Brian Feulner] just went to the fair and shot tons of video and stills, not really knowing what we were going to do with it but knowing that if we were ever going to do something big, this is the kind of event that we need to chronicle. Around that same time we met a couple that became central characters to the project. John [McIntire] and Nancy [Rosalie], they live off the grid in the same home they have lived in for many years, and are sort of emblematic of that culture [The couple are featured in Chapter 5, which is a photo slide show, and in a video]. We met them and were going to do a feature story on them. We went and visited them and [Feulner] was doing a lot of the shooting there. He just fell in love with them as characters and just kept wanting to go back and collected a lot with them as well.

You ended up doing more than a feature on two people.

Right, I was talking about this project with Jay Davis, an old friend of mine that I used to work with years ago [at VillageSoup, a hyper-local site in Maine], and he mentioned that Maine Public Broadcasting back in the ’70s featured him as part of this story about the back-to-the-land movement and how it was changing Maine. He had no idea where the documentary had gone, but I was able to find it in an historic film archive. So, all these pieces came together and we were talking about it one day and realized we had the making of something really interesting. We had a documentary from the ’70s with a central character that we can talk to today, we had these great characters in John and Nancy that tell us about the culture, and we had all of this great color from the fair. From there we just started sketching it out, and everywhere we looked we found different ways to tell this one large narrative about what was a sea change in Maine—demographically, politically, socially, culturally—and we just kept pulling at it.

How did you decide to make this a multimedia-driven piece?

We had started experimenting with doing multimedia-native pieces about four or five months before we started on “The Good Life.” We started with “Proof,” this was within the year that “Snowfall” [a pioneering online multimedia feature and Pulitzer Prize winner from the New York Times] came out and “Firestorm” in the Guardian. We saw all these pieces and thought, ‘Oh, that is cool, can we do something like this?’ “Proof” was our first effort at it, and it was really well received, the audience really liked it, [even though] it was a really tough topic, it was about sexual assault. It was really meaty, and dark and meaningful. And we thought, ‘Alright, how else can we apply this storytelling narrative?’ One of our reporters had a story he always wanted to do, which was to go out to a remote Maine island in winter and write about the people who live there year round. We said, ‘Alright, let’s do this and do it in a way that is multimedia native.’ That turned into a project called “Six Miles Out.” The audience really loved that, it’s where we started experimenting with GIF, a cross between a video and a still – our visuals editor said, “Hey, I can make that flag move,” and I was like, “Make it move, see what happens.’

And then we just kind of got a little bit bigger and brazen, and creative, and then we had all this back-to-the-land material and I asked, ‘What can we do to make this even bigger and better than anything we’ve done before?’

We looked around for a couple of models, some storytelling platforms we really liked. There was one from Sports Illustrated of all places that was a story about Tim Tebow, that used a lot of evocative background images to frame the text. We looked at that and said, ‘That would be cool, we have a lot of strong stills, a lot of contextual imagery, how do we make that the baseline for the project?’ And that is where the text and stills integration came from. We shot everything knowing we would run everything to the left or right of the subject.

In addition to video and stills you also recorded an original soundtrack?

Yes, the music is all traditional folk music, but they are original productions. We have another staff member here [photographer-videographer Troy Bennett] who is a really talented musician who does a lot of folk music and has a home studio. He recorded all of the soundtrack with a couple of friends of his. They just recorded a lot of these folk standards fresh for the project so that we could use them without running into copyright issues. If you go all the way to the end and get to the credits we allow people to download them. So if you want ‘em, feel free.

Big brazen multi-media pieces like this are something that much bigger publications with far greater resources struggle to do. And yet you started taking on such projects within a year of Snowfall. What were you thinking?

We are pretty aggressive and pretty brazen on what we think we can do digitally and have a lot of talented people that work for us. One thing that I wanted to do as an editor and as a newsroom is say, ‘Look, we have the ability and the talent and the smarts in this newsroom to do work that is of a scale well beyond anything that we have done before.’ It’s a two-pronged thing for me. If we are going to be in this business, let’s try to do amazing things and try to do stuff that really matters and really gets people’s attention and snaps their head back.

But also, we kind of have to push our envelope and think bigger to be as relevant and innovative as possible to be a sustainable business. We have to change, we have to do things like this.

What about resources?

Resources matter, but guile and innovation and bootstrapping matter even more. You can do great work, it doesn’t matter if you have a billionaire owner, and it doesn’t matter if you have a circulation of 100,000 [BDN publishes six days a week, average circulation is 40,000]. You can do great work if you make the most of the people that you have. If you are smart and you plan and if you toughen your standards, but are also flexible in your approach, you can do anything you want. [The major costs outside of staff time were mileage for traveling to shoots and $75 for the rights to the documentary.]

You did all of your web development for this and prior online multimedia pieces in house. Did you ever consider using an existing template like Creativist instead of writing all the code yourself?

We thought about that but we wanted to do this ourselves. We wanted to build something from the ground up. We wanted to conceptualize it and I wanted it to look the way I wanted it to look, I didn’t want to cram it into a template. We are lucky enough to have some really talented developers on staff and some people who could really think their way through this and problem solve on this. Our ‘Dev Blog’ goes into that a little bit. People would say, “I want it to look this way,” and our newsroom developers would say, “Alright, I have no idea how to do that, but we are going to go figure it out.” That was a very valuable process. Yes, it would have been easier to use something existing, but that’s just using something that is already there; it’s not creating something of your own. Part of the challenge for us and the mission for us on this was to be like, ‘We are the least likely news organization to do something this big and this bold. Let’s really show what we can do. We have the people, we have the skill, we scratched the surface with “Proof” and “Six Miles Out,” let’s go all the way and see what we can do.’

Have you done a project of this size and scope since?

No, one of the things we recognized was that it was a tremendous amount of effort. But, one of the great parts about what “The Good Life” has done is it gave us a lot of knowledge and experience in doing big projects like this. We also built a lot of tools that we’ve repurposed over and over again to do other projects since then. We did two other projects after “The Good Life,” one earlier this year about a missing hiker on the Appalachian Trail called “Vanished.” If you look at “Vanished” it’s built on the same code base as “The Good Life.” When we are building them now, it’s not building from scratch.

How do you maintain the narrative on such a multi media piece?

We let the visuals drive the storytelling and collected as much as we could visually before we put a word down to text. We had a really good idea about what this project was going to look like from a video and stills perspective, both from the archival footage that we had, from the live video that we shot, from the characters that we met, and we sort of tailored a lot of our writing to fit the visual palate of what we already had. That is something I think a lot of newspaper-based organizations don’t do a lot. The text drives and the visuals supplement. We turned that on its head with this project and I thought that was one of the ways it was really effective.

Was there anything that didn’t work?

We didn’t do mobile as well as we could. This is a heavy read on a desktop, but it’s brutal on a phone. It looked okay on a phone, but it wasn’t optimized for a phone viewer. It works really well on an iPad, but I think we kept ourselves from a pretty large audience because of the challenge of trying to take a project like this and making it consumable on a phone.

How so?

I think it was really long. Knowing what we know about people who are primarily mobile phone users, I think a project that would take 20 minutes to go from front to end is just a real heavy ask. If I could do it over again, I would have asked, ‘Would there have been a way to do a mobile version of this piece? Something that maybe didn’t require so much clicking and scrolling?’ Because the whole idea of having background images with text on it is just something that I think for a phone is not perfect. The project itself was really great, but for that one device I think we could have done a better job.

My questions are in red; his responses in blue. To read the story without annotations first, click the ‘Hide all annotations’ button to the right and above the tags.

The Good Life

The movement that changed Maine
Originally published in April 2014 on


Sixty years ago, two rebellious homesteaders in Brooksville published their story of living closer to the land. Their ideal of a more purposeful life inspired thousands to visit them at their Forest Farm, and a generation of idealists to move to Maine to make a better life.   You begin with Scott and Helen Nearing, a couple that you return to throughout this story. How did you decide to lede with them and how central to the entire story are they? They are the hook, the why are we doing this project now, it was because of the 60th anniversary of “The Good Life” [a 1954 book by the Nearings] being published, and they are credited with being the originators of the movement. They were the broad inspiration, for good or ill, for a lot of people who wanted to live this lifestyle, some who were successful and some who were not. They are central to this story in that you can’t tell a back-to-the-land story in Maine without mentioning them. There is a whole generation of back to the landers that were intimately knowledgeable of who the Nearings were, but there is a whole ‘nother generation of people who have the same sensibilities that may never have known who they were, the millennial back-to-the-landers that are really prevalent in Maine. We felt that we needed to talk about them and cite them for who they were but we didn’t need to make it about them.

The back-to-the-land movement, as it’s now known, has no clear beginning or end. What is certain is it changed Maine socially, politically and culturally forever. The newcomers were young, educated and civic-minded. They brought new ideas, and founded new institutions.

What started as farm-to-table, through sustainable, organic agriculture that defied Maine’s conventional farms, evolved into farm-to-gavel, as back-to-the-land homesteaders and kindred spirits earned elective office and influenced decades of our public policy.

Today, there are back-to-the-landers representing us in Congress and preserving their good life off-the-grid in Unity. Their story has become Maine’s, and it continues through the lives of their children and the young people still drawn here, in search of The Good Life.



‘Couldn’t live anywhere else’

It was an adventure Judy Berk thought would last just a few months.

In March 1975, Berk, 21, and and her metal-sculptor boyfriend arrived in tiny Brooks, Maine, from Cambridge, Mass. Her boyfriend had bought the derelict Black and Gay vegetable canning factory in the village for $18,000 because he needed an expansive workspace for his forges and other metal-working equipment.

By the end of her first summer, she had accumulated three goats and some guardian angels: locals who showed the young immigrants how to split wood, stay warm, care for their new animals, and get by in Maine. She survived her first cold winter without running water or electricity, even when the mercury dipped to 27 below.

“I very soon felt like I couldn’t live anywhere else,” she recalls today. “At the time, I thought it was very real. I grew up in the Boston suburbs, about as different from Brooks as you can get. The values were very different.”

Berk’s sentiment was shared by many who found their way to Maine during the 1970s as part of the wave now known as “back to the land,” which saw thousands of young, educated idealists flood into the state’s rural corners in a complex pursuit of a more satisfying life. You introduce us to a number of young back-to-the-landers here leading with Judy Berk. This chapter follows Berk up to the present and, while some of your characters are a constant throughout, many are only in one chapter. Is this something you struggled with, how to connect the different chapters with so many different individuals? The main character of this whole piece is really rural Maine in the 70s. That is the unifying piece, the back to the land movement in Maine. All the characters in here are rooted somehow in that time frame, a post-Watergate, pre-80s, urban flight that took place at that time for a lot of idealistic people that went back to the land. Other characters, like Jay Davis, for example, appear throughout. I modeled him after Shelby Foote, a [now deceased] civil war historian and a southerner in almost every episode of Ken Burns’ “The Civil War” documentary. Foote serves a narrative purpose, if they are talking about a particular battle of the Civil War Shelby will come on and give some sort of historical context. When we were planning this project I thought that is what Jay is. Jay is the narrator who can take us through from beginning to end. That really came into a crystalline purpose when we were able to secure a copy of the documentary that featured him back in the 70s, where we could have Jay the character as an original back-to-the-lander but also Jay the character that was here with us today to be able to sit and talk about himself at that time but also about the movement in general.

Most back-to-the-landers were richer in dreams than money, and trekked north in pickups, Volvo wagons or squeezed into Volkswagen vans. In their knapsacks they packed gardening tools, the Whole Earth catalog, some seed money and, usually, a dog-eared copy of “Living The Good Life,” the homesteading bible born in Maine 60 years ago.

Their parents, back in suburbia, thought they were crazy.

Many of them didn’t expect to stay for long. But the state and the “good life,” neither of which was perhaps quite as simple as they thought it would be, seduced them.

Since then, the cumulative effect of the back-to-the land movement has been seismic, fundamentally altering the cultural, economic and political direction of Maine.

No place in the state felt this more acutely than Waldo County, which was a magnet for the movement in Maine. Its population grew by more than 20 percent between 1970 and 1980 as communities built upon poultry gave way to a community embracing “The Good Life.” Just how unique is this in the decades-long, nationwide migration from farms to cities? What was it about the time and Maine that facilitated this unique reverse migration? You had a lot of idealistic people that were well educated but also looking for a more meaningful life. Urban culture was not nearly as attractive as it is today. I think that people were fleeing cities because they didn’t feel them as safe, they didn’t feel them as nice places to raise a family, as nice places to live your life, so you had some real idealism running through it. In Maine you had the opportunity to have your dollars go a long way and live the way you wanted to live. These are people that would buy enormous tracts of land and farms that were no longer commercially viable. They could buy a 100-acre farm and land and property for $20,000 and then it’s theirs and they could live however they want to live. I think that sort of freedom was a big driving force.

‘In control of my life’

Though locals often called them all “long-haired hippies,” the newcomers to rural Waldo County saw themselves differently.

“We shunned the word ‘hippies,’” says Gusta Ronson, a cup of herbal tea close at hand, in the cozy kitchen of her Belfast surveying business, Good Deeds Inc. “We came with children. We came in a pickup truck and with 11 goats and frying pans. It was really about doing your own thing.”

Hippies, she says, were barefoot flower children who didn’t want to work, while the new Maine life called for nothing if not an abundance of hard labor. She and her partner came from Vermont in an old truck with their baby girl, Dallas, and bought land in Monroe for $50 per acre. They slept in the back of their truck while they built their home by hand and lived with an outhouse and without electricity for a decade.

“My daughter [Dallas] laughs about being raised by wolves,” says Ronson, 63, who still lives on her farm. “I grew up in New York City, and I always wanted to get out of there. I had the idea of how it would be great to be self-reliant.”

Ronson says she relished learning the new skills she needed in Maine. The hard work didn’t erode her idealism or sense of adventure.

“I wanted to be in control of my life,” Ronson says. “We really wanted to reject the military industrial complex, assassinations, the Vietnam War. There was so much bad in the world. People wanted to make a new kind of world.”

Some called the newcomers  the “volunteer poor,” says Jerry Savitz, whose father owned one of Belfast’s broiler plants. They bought farms vacated by people who sought their own American dream: a factory job with steady paychecks and the upshot of plumbing.

“They thought it was upward mobility,” he says. “That lifestyle got traded in. Nobody was going to farm anymore. You couldn’t give those farms away. They’d pay $20,000 for 200 acres and a house.”

‘A hard way of living’

David Smith, a retired schoolteacher from Belfast, was 22 when he came to Montville from Boston, where he had been living communally with a group of radical friends in a dangerous part of the city’s South End. They were getting mugged and robbed in their neighborhood and needed to go somewhere else.

Their copy of Helen and Scott Nearing’s homesteading manifesto, “Living the Good Life,” resonated, says Smith.

“I can remember. I can see the book,” he says. “The idea of organizing, living a life, growing enough food to live on, talking to local people in the community and living in the country, where we could be safe.”

A member of his commune came into an inheritance and they purchased 100 acres of blueberry barrens on Twitchell Hill in Montville. Smith came up early that first summer to set up a stone patio, wood stove and a big National Guard Army tent for his 18 comrades who planned to move north, build a house and grow blueberries as a cash crop.

By the end of the first summer, half departed.

But even though the commune on the hill confused locals at first, they freely gave advice and help to the newcomers.

“It was November, the beginning of the first winter. Henry Peavey, who’s deceased now, showed up with a low-bed trailer and a shed on the back of it. He backed his truck underneath the building and brought it up to us. ‘Thought you might be needing this.’ Isn’t that amazing?” says Smith. “I spent the first winter in that building.” Throughout your story there seems to be this great relationship between native, rural Mainers and these long-haired outsiders from the cities with different ideas and different ways of doing things. Was there anything you left out, where things didn’t get off to such an amicable start? We didn’t have any specific conflicts. I don’t think there was anything requiring even a police intervention. There is a great video in “Bloom.”

It’s my favorite one of the project. It starts with Jay in his car driving to the local selectman meeting. It has the town manager of Monroe, Maine with a crew cut and the wicked-old farmer, saying, “They bring a lot of new ideas into town and it’s a little bit different but sometimes we need that.” The children of that generation were fleeing Maine and leaving, there has always been an out-migration from Maine, a smaller percentage actually stay. For the locals at first these were people that were not what they were accustomed to and not living in ways they were accustomed to and doing things in ways they were not accustomed to, but there was a begrudging respect that was earned, because both sides wanted the same thing. Both sides wanted the best for their community. Both sides wanted to work together. I’m sure there was a little bit of frostiness but we never found any examples of out and out conflict that needed to rise to being mentioned. There was one photo that we tried to find that was taken years ago for a documentary or a magazine piece at that Twitchell Hill commune of a football game between locals and back to the landers. It was crew cuts on one side and long hairs on the other playing football in the yard. We looked high and low for that image but couldn’t find it. That would have been the perfect sort of detente photo.

Toni Clark of Liberty, a retired local schoolteacher, says the Mainers wondered why on earth the Twitchell Hill group chose to live that way.

“I think people were wary at first but ended up really liking them,” she says. “It was kind of a mystery to everybody why they’d want to live a communal lifestyle and live the way they were living. It was hard. A hard way of living.”

‘All the best things’

The new people did not stay on their hill, but eagerly came to public suppers and town meeting, where they were not shy about sharing ideas.

They dressed differently, women in sundresses and work boots, or shorts and not much else on top, she says. Some moved off the hill and settled down, having families. Their kids attended local schools, where they added a lot to classrooms such as Clark’s.

“They were very bright, inquisitive kids,” she says. “There were a lot of really good people who wound up staying as a result of coming up here. They became good citizens. They cared about children and the environment. All the best things you’d want in the town.”

Slowly, though, the newcomers started to change their new communities. After all, Maine’s population increased by 16 percent from the late 1960s through the 1970s, the majority of which in cities and towns with fewer than 10,000 residents, per the U.S. Census.

They would gather at town meetings, public suppers, food cooperatives and cafes. Berk, not 5 feet tall, joined her town’s volunteer firefighting squad. Others ran for their communities’ boards of selectmen and won.

As more children were born, back-to-the-land moms started organizations such as the Belfast Area Children’s Center, a low-cost day care. The food cooperative eventually morphed into what’s known today as the Belfast Co-op.

They filtered out of their farms and found jobs in the area. Many worked in Waldo County’s poultry industry. Smith became a roofer, then went to the University of Maine to get his teaching certificate.

Ronson and three friends formed Dainty Maids Construction, wearing little pink nail aprons to jobs roofing and shingling houses. Berk sold wood stoves at a store in Belfast before her current work as spokesperson for the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

Not all of the homesteaders made Maine their life. But those who did have left a mark.

“I think it was a great diaspora of people,” Berk says of the back-to-the-land movement. “It wasn’t for everybody. But those of us who stayed valued something around here — whether it was the landscape, the community or the hardscrabble nature of things.”



‘A new way of living’

Scott Nearing died Aug. 6, 1983, at the age of 100. A month before his final breath, surrounded by family and friends at his home, Forest Farm in Brooksville, he gave the following advice:

“Do one thing you believe in. Do it with all your might. Keep at it no matter what. The life we have been living is so far away from the really worthwhile goals of life that we’ve got to stop fooling around and move toward a new way of living.”

You start with a great quote from Scott Nearing soon before his death, yet this is from 30 plus years ago. How did you decide to lead with this? This quote just really stood out to us. We were also able to get some of the images from Scott Nearing’s 100th Birthday. We thought that was just a good pairing for the section. Taking a look at the totality of the man’s life and his teachings and use it as the intro for this section. What was it about that quote that stood out to you? When you are doing a project like this you want to have those quotes that are quintessential, that are all encompassing. When you are looking at the back-to-the-land movement as kind of like an ideology and, for some people who are really into the movement, like a religion, what are the statements, what is the dogma that stood out? This quote did that, it summed up everything we knew about the movement that they started and it did it in a much better way than any words we could write, so we used Scott’s.

A man who practiced what he preached, Nearing spent his life acting on his beliefs. More important, he taught others to do the same.

He and his wife, Helen, are considered the “grandparents” of the back-to-the-land movement. Their simple way of living, first in Vermont and then in Maine, inspired thousands to embark on similar journeys in pursuit of a better, more fulfilling life.

Their message was simple, universal and powerful.

“We wanted to find a way in which we could put more into life and get more out of it,” the Nearings wrote in “Living the Good Life,” their seminal tome on homesteading — which marked its 60th anniversary in 2014.

It was this message that resonated in the United States during the late 1960s and 1970s, helping catalyze a migration of young, educated people into rural Maine that’s had a lasting effect on the state.

‘The Good Life’

The Nearings’ “Good Life” was rooted in the Great Depression. In 1932, they left New York City and headed for the Green Mountains of Vermont. They waved goodbye to careers and the trappings of the urban lifestyle to pursue a simpler life.

In rural Vermont, the couple built a stone house, planted organic vegetables and herbs, and tapped trees for maple syrup, their chief source of income. Through hard labor and a dedication to “purposeful” living, they transformed from urbanites to homesteaders.

For the Nearings, as for many homesteaders, their reasoning for this switch was complex.

They sought to make a living independent of the country’s failing economy. They aspired to improve their health and well-being through closeness to nature and organic food. They wanted to disassociate from what they perceived as the ills of modern society — war, pollution, greed and overconsumption.

“There’s been a long history of people seeing parts of the conventional world that [the Nearings] didn’t feel comfortable with and trying to live a life that didn’t involve them in the things they didn’t feel comfortable with,” says Eliot Coleman, a homesteader and author who lived beside the Nearings in Brooksville.

In 1952, the couple left Vermont to build a new homestead in the even more remote Brooksville, in an area on Cape Rosier known colloquially as Harborside. There they purchased 140 acres for the cheap price of $7,500 — approximately $54 an acre.

The Maine appeal

In Maine, the Nearings lived quietly, publishing “Living The Good Life” in 1954 and introducing their principles to the country.

The national tensions of the 1960s and 1970s — and a reissue of “Living the Good Life” in 1970 — renewed interest in their writings and inspired many young, educated Americans to mimic their journey toward simpler, rural lifestyles.

This movement was significant in rural northern New England. Though Maine’s population growth lagged for many years, by 1973, the U.S. Department of Agriculture cited Maine as one of the leading states in population turnaround.

From 1970 to 1973, Maine’s population grew 4.4 percent, against a national average of 3.2 percent, and was the fastest growing state in the Northeast next to New Hampshire.

Hancock, Franklin, Lincoln, Sagadahoc, Waldo and York counties all saw more than a 20 percent increase in population between 1970 and 1980, despite not having any of Maine’s largest cities within their borders.

Most of the new Maine residents did not consider themselves homesteaders, but according to a 1984 study by the Maine Agricultural Experiment Station, most migrants chose Maine for “quality of life,” citing natural beauty, the ocean, the woods and small towns.

Among these newcomers were thousands of “seekers” who would travel each year to Forest Farm, where they were welcomed with open arms — then perhaps handed a rake.

If the Nearings were working, they expected their guests to join them. And if it was dinnertime, they made room at the table.

Margaret Killinger, University of Maine professor and author of “The Good Life of Helen K. Nearing,” said the Nearings created something “very real” in Brooksville that attracted people searching for meaning in their own lives.

“It’s a visible expression of a choice that is profound and alluring in very good ways, important ways,” she said.  “It really does inspire you to make some different choices.”

In 1968, Eliot and Sue Coleman purchased 60 acres from the Nearings and built a neighboring homestead. The young couple worked side by side with the elderly couple, learning gardening skills and life philosophies.

Eliot Coleman recalled the process of putting in a driveway for the new house in 1973.

“[Scott Nearing] took a little bow saw out of his wheelbarrow and went up and cut the first little sapling and looked at it and figured there was at least a 1-foot piece of firewood in there, laid it on his wheelbarrow, cut it, and then dragged the brush over the road, where they were going to dump it … and he went back and started cutting the next sapling,” he says.

“And here am I — I’m 60 years his junior — and I’m standing there thinking, ‘My God, man, you’re 90 years old. You’re about to build a house. Let’s get a chain saw in here. Let’s get a bulldozer. Let’s get serious about this.’ But fortunately, I didn’t say anything. I pondered for a minute, and I realized what was going on. Scott took his delight in the process.”

‘The ideal and the real’

The Colemans built a one-room house and organic garden beside the Nearings, but it didn’t last. The couple eventually divorced, and Eliot, 76, has replaced the homestead with a large, energy-efficient home surrounded by a sizeable organic farm.

His story isn’t unusual. Many of the original homesteads of the 1960s and 1970s failed or transformed into entities far less “simple,” as the ideologies and practices of the Nearings were tested by the reality of Maine living.

Mark and Terry Silber were homesteaders from Boston who moved to Sumner in 1978 to start Hedgehog Hill Farm.

In her book about the move, “A Small Farm in Maine,” Terry Silber writes, a “goodly number of us who participated in the movement became disappointed and disillusioned by its realities.”

“Scott and Helen [Nearing] were wonderful people, and we met them. They provided a wonderful ideal,” says Mark Silber today. (Terry Silber died in 2003.) “But we were in a world where there was the ideal and the real. We could never really connect to what they were saying.”

The Nearings were entrepreneurial businesspeople, earning good livings from agriculture, foresighted land sales, their writing and public appearances.

Margaret Killinger, author of the Helen Nearing biography, says the couple certainly idealized their simple lifestyle, while omitting key truths about their financing, like profitable land deals and inheritances, and obscuring just how much outside help they received for their homestead projects.

I was surprised to learn that “The Good Life” as espoused by the Nearings was part fantasy. When did you first realize this and how did it shape the story? We knew about it from Margaret Killinger, and the Nearing story is known enough in the community that we talked to in the making of this piece. To make this a piece of journalism we had to show both sides. We didn’t want to make this a halcyon rose-colored portrayal of the Nearings. We wanted to acknowledge their critics. They espoused a lifestyle that was very difficult. Some people were able to make it, a lot of people gave up, a lot of people couldn’t live the way they espoused. The Nearings also made a lot of money. They had some kind of inheritance that they were able to live off of to get started. They had a lot of advantages to building their simple life that other people couldn’t imitate. What percent of the back to the landers failed to find the good life and gave up? It’s not clear, there was no data we could rely on but we knew it was not an insignificant number.

Yet it was their message, not their truth, that resonated, according to Killinger.

“Nevertheless,” she wrote, “their good life narrative proved intriguing to a sizeable readership, and they sold 10,000 copies in the first 16 years of its publication, attracting thousands of visitors to their remote farm in Maine.”

Emotional journey
Helen Nearing died in 1995 at the age of 91. That year, the Good Life Center was established at Forest Farm, a stone house on 5 acres overlooking Spirit Cove, to promote the Nearings’ legacy.

At the center, people can learn about philosophies and lifeways that the Nearings held with the utmost importance, such as homesteading, social justice, equality, environmentalism, vegetarianism and organic gardening. Speakers present on Monday evenings, when the Nearings used to hold community meetings.

“Scott and Helen were very specific in saying that this was their good life, and people had to really go out and find their own good life based on their own principles and what was important to them,” says Warren Berkowitz, who, with his wife, Nancy, were friends of the Nearings.

He and Nancy are now stewards of Forest Farm.

There, from May to October, caretakers chosen through an application process live at the old Nearing homestead, where they welcome about 700 visitors each summer and help the Berkowitzes tend the garden and maintain the property.

“It’s a very emotional journey for some people,” says Warren Berkowitz. “Often, visitors are literally in tears when they arrive here because the Nearings had such an influence on their lives.”



Once upon a time

Once upon a time in Maine, you couldn’t sell blueberries unless they had been treated with pesticides.

“When we bought our blueberry farm in 1971, we were told that we couldn’t sell our blueberries unless we sprayed,” says Vernon LeCount, who moved to Maine from a commune in Boston where everyone shared an urban garden plot.

Lured by vast stretches of affordable, fertile soil and the dream of living life their way, LeCount and 15 friends came north and settled the Twitchell Hill Commune in Montville.

“We knew we didn’t have to spray,” says LeCount, now an employee of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, better known as MOFGA. “The incentive became to let the consumers know what was really organic and what wasn’t.”

Few could have predicted that the effect of simple sentiments such as LeCount’s, amplified across the larger back-to-the-land movement, would be so dramatic in Maine. It was Maine, after all, where the concept of organic farming began to take root and spread. Wait, the organic food we find everywhere today traces its roots to a commune in Maine that was up-in-arms over having to spray pesticides on their blueberries? It was based on the change from commercial agriculture—blueberries are still a huge commercial crop here—and the infrastructure that Maine had and the acceptance that Maine had that this is a commercial crop, it’s a business. Then all of these folks come along and make it a lifestyle. They start to conflict with these long standing interests of commercial agriculture in Maine. It was from these conflicts that the rest of that political organization and larger civic involvement and civic consciousness really came up. This kind of anecdote at the beginning really highlighted a small conflict that was eventually the key conflict as the value structure of these back to the land newcomers clashed with the established value system of what Maine had in the late 60s early 1970s. It really set the stage for today what is really a thriving local agricultural economy and community and it is rooted here in that small key conflict.

In the case of the larger movement of which LeCount was part, it becomes clear that back-to-the-land proponents created a new, powerful electorate in Maine that demanded attention from government and forced shifts in policy.

The social and cultural values of the back-to-the-land movement, so prevalent and influential today, were, as of just a few decades ago, considered at best odd or at worst threatening to Maine’s way of life.

“It’s become such a fad now that we often don’t realize it’s only 30 years old,” says Esther Locagnata, former director of Maine’s Bureau of Agriculture and Rural Resources.

The land beckoned
By 1974, Maine had fewer than 6,500 farms, the low point of a century-long decline in agriculture, due in no small part to farming, packaging and transportation advances that led to more food being imported from other parts of the world.

By 1978, however, the Census Bureau recorded more than 8,100 farms and more than 1.6 million acres of farmland. State Agriculture Commissioner Joseph N. Williams, in his January 1977 report to the Legislature, explained what was happening:

“For several years Maine has had an influx of people interested in farming,” wrote Williams. “The department encourages this trend, proposes to assist people seeking to locate farmland, and to give particular attention to conservation practices which will improve the productivity of the land, especially that which is presently marginal.”

Maine’s growth in farming and farmland quantified the significant population influx tied to the back-to-the-land movement, and foreshadowed its emergence as an influential constituency in state government.

By 1985, Williams’ successor as commissioner of agriculture, Stewart Smith, titled his annual report to the Legislature “Maine Agriculture at the Cross Roads.”

That year, Maine enacted what Smith says was groundbreaking food policy to encourage collaboration among farmers, the government and what’s now known as “locavorism,” or farm-to-table: farmers harvesting their bounty one day and selling it to locals the next.

Between 1982 and 1984, the state’s listings of “direct market farm operations” — roadside food stands, pick-your-own fields and farmers’ markets — grew by almost 100, bringing the statewide total to 450, according to Smith’s report.

Today, Smith, who lives in Newport, says it’s clear this growth was seeded — literally and figuratively — by back-to-the-landers.

“They had a great appreciation for how you could manage a farm ecosystem without importing energy across other ecosystems, without using chemical fertilizers, and by using recycled resources,” says Smith.

Smith and others launched new government programs to help farmers with financing and soil conservation and to create central processing, packaging and transportation systems.

In doing so, Maine created an unprecedented foundation for organic agriculture and local food marketing that has become a crucial part of the state’s culture, image and future.

“State government had always been involved in Maine agriculture, but most of the attention had been on larger crops like potatoes, dairy, apples and blueberries,” says Smith. “I don’t think there was a whole lot of precedent in terms of what we were doing to help with local agriculture.”

Defying convention(al)
In the 1980s, Locagnata, of Topsham, was director of the Bureau of Agriculture and Rural Resources, where she was a liaison with Maine’s farmers.

It was a difficult time.

Some conventional farmers were balking at new regulatory efforts to test pesticides and fertilizers for health and environmental risks, a priority of organic farmers. At the same time, Maine state government was working to preserve what drew back-to-the-landers to Maine in the beginning: cheap land, ripe for homesteading.

In the mid-1980s, an attempt to institute a development rights program to value farmland as farmland, and not for more lucrative commercial or residential use, was controversial. Today, the product of this effort — the Land for Maine’s Future Program, now 27 years old — has preserved hundreds of thousands of acres of conservation land and more than 1,200 miles of shoreline, as well as more than 9,000 acres of Maine farmland.

“A lot of them were hoping they could sell their farmland for their retirements,” says Locagnata. “Some of the conventional farmers were extremely threatened by the organic movement, but they came around.”

This “coming around” was emblematic of the back-to-the-landers’ sprouting clout in public policy, which grew in towns across Maine. Newcomers would attend and speak up at town meetings, volunteer for committees, earn election to school and town boards, and then influence decades of local municipal and education policy.

What started at town meetings spread to Augusta and ultimately to Congress.

The movement also gave rise to what since have become some of Maine’s most influential political, environmental and agricultural organizations, starting with MOFGA, which was formed in 1971 by back-to-the-landers in Waldo County.

Today, MOFGA is the oldest and largest state organic agriculture organization in the United States and draws thousands to its annual celebration, the Common Ground Country Fair in Unity.

Also with deep connections to the movement’s history is the Natural Resources Council of Maine, a force in environmental research, advocacy and politics that is supported by more than 16,000 members.

NRCM Executive Director Lisa Pohlmann said though the council pre-dates the back-to-the-land movement (it was founded in 1959), the sentiments of each are intertwined. Indeed, NRCM scored most of its key victories on state environmental policies during the 1970s, when the movement was reaching its peak.

“There were so many different things going on back then with the desire to be close to nature, not to lose nature and to start putting some legal protections into place so that we didn’t lose nature,” said Pohlmann. “The back-to-the-land movement was certainly a piece of that.”

Maine’s first natural resource protection agencies —  environmental protection in 1972 and conservation in 1973 — also emerged during this period. So did institutes of higher learning rooted in the movement.

At Unity College, sustainability in everything from agriculture to building techniques is a dominant focus, but it wasn’t always that way. Founded as a liberal arts college in 1965, Unity shifted its focus as the back-to-the-land movement swelled around it.

Since then, Unity has become the first American college to divest its endowment from fossil fuels, a recent cause celebre in higher education, and earned accolades for integrating “sustainability science” into its core curriculum.

“We sort of organically evolved into an environmental college,” says Unity spokesman Mark Tardif. “It’s valuable when you can graduate students who are stepping out into the world and they’re realistic in realizing they need to go out and build coalitions. We like to think we’re training environmental leaders here.”

On Mount Desert Island, College of the Atlantic, which offered its first classes in 1972 with four full-time faculty and 32 students, also grew with the movement. Today, the institution bills itself as the first college in the United States where the primary focus was the relationships between humans and the environment.

“Why not Maine?”

In 1979, COA graduated a back-to-the-lander from North Haven who wrote her college application on the back of sardine packing paper. Today, U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree represents Maine in Congress.

Pingree moved to Maine in 1971 and was influenced by Helen and Scott Nearing’s homesteading bible “Living the Good Life.” She raised chickens and vegetables, sheep for a thriving yarn business, and won her first elected office to the Maine Senate in 1992.

Pingree, a longtime member of the House Agriculture Committee, today sits on the Committee on Appropriations’ Subcommittee on Agriculture. She says Maine is an inspiration when it comes to agriculture.

“Maine is one of the few states in the country that’s going to counter all the trends because the average age of our farmers today is getting younger,” she says. “I can say honestly that there is a certain vitality in our farming and economic opportunities that are real.” Pingree is such a great illustration of the complete transition from back-to-the-land to political leadership. Was it difficult to find people like her to illustrate the story? We had her pegged in the beginning part of the project as sort of emblematic as where the movement went to. Chellie Pingree has been a politician and well known civic leader in Maine for a very long time. Her story is very well known, the bit about the sardine packet has been part of profiles of her over the years. Where it was different is we were making her the end product of 40 years of a movement, showing that from a bunch of hippies that were not happy about spraying, that little snowball on the hill rolled down into being a member of US Congress.

Tom Settlemire, a director and past president of the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust, which owns Crystal Spring Farm in Brunswick, says there’s no question that back-to-the-land ideals are still strong and growing — inside agriculture and Maine society in general.

“The farmers’ market at Crystal Spring Farm last year sold $1 million worth of vegetables from 40 farms,” he says. “Our society is really realizing again that the quality of food that we’re serving ourselves matters.”

Jim Acheson, a research professor of anthropology and marine science at the University of Maine, said Maine still has comparatively cheap farmland, a plentiful water supply and fertile soil. But just like the back-to-the-land movement, it’s the people who are making it happen.

“Once again it’s the fairly young, fairly well-educated people going into agriculture,” he says. “I think that is a trend that I hope continues. Our food is going to come from someplace. Why not Maine?”


In the foreground a horse draws a man and an old-fashioned plow, cutting furrows. In the rear of the picture is a canopy.

Steven Akeley ploughs a field Saturday morning at the 2013 Common Ground Country Fair in Unity, Maine.

I love the photo of Steven Akeley on his horse drawn plough at the start of this section. Tell me more about how you incorporated photos with the text and how you saw this as a photo-driven rather than text-driven piece. The thing that we realized early on was that we had a wealth of visuals for this before we had ever written a word and, knowing that, our visuals editor Brian Feulner spent several days at the 2013 Common Ground Country Fair just shooting and taking video of all the stuff that he could see, because we knew that if we were going to create a visual palate for this movement the fair was a one-stop shop. We also had some strong stuff in our archive. We were able to really go through and create a visual reservoir of material before we actually put any words down. We loved that photo and since it had the subject in the far right third, it fit the general layout that we wanted to use. You had to see this effect to really have it take hold in the imagination. We could write about it, but what really took it to the next level was showing people. The growth of the political movement is not so much blueberries in the 1970s but what the Common Ground Fair has grown into; 100,000 people coming to rural Maine for a weekend in September to celebrate this lifestyle. We always tried to put visuals first in everything we did and focused on collecting visuals long before putting any words to paper. And that ultimately made the project very easy to storyboard and design, because we were letting the visuals drive the narrative and inserting the text where necessary.  

Potent, well-organized and well-funded environmentalism isn’t uniformly appreciated, though.

There is a perception that the strong push for preservation and conservation, rooted in back-to-the-land ideology, has turned Maine into a “state of no” when it comes to industry and economic development.

In some ways, the modern conflict between conservatives and liberals in Maine closely echoes the conflict between organic and conventional farmers during the 1980s.

Some of Gov. Paul LePage’s earliest initiatives, for example, were to declare Maine as “open for business” and call for streamlining of environmental permitting to grow Maine’s economy.

Even so, LePage led Maine this year to become just the second state to require labeling of genetically modified food — a testament to how back-to-the-land values in Maine are influential across the political spectrum.

Last year, the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, in announcing its priorities for the next five years, included enhancing the “quality of life for all Mainers by supporting processes that balance financial, social and environmental needs.”

Chamber President Dana Connors says the latter goal is borne from the belief that business and the environment can coexist and in fact are inextricably linked.

“We’ve seen the ebb and tide,” says Connors. “Regulations can go too far and they can stymie development. They need to be reasonable, balanced, predictable and they do need to preserve and protect the environment. For us to ignore our natural resources would be a serious mistake.”



From fringe to mainstream

Sitting in his office, the executive vice president and chief strategic officer of Bangor Savings Bank looks professional and no-nonsense in his suit and tie.

His name is Yellow Light Breen, and he grew up without electricity or running water on a back-to-the-land homestead with his parents, two brothers and sister in St. Albans.

“I was born at dawn, after a week of rain, when the sun finally came out. My parents wrote a poem for it. That’s where my name comes from,” said Breen, 41, a Harvard Law School graduate who now lives in Holden with his family. “People thought we were a bunch of hippies. We weren’t, really. Growing up back to the land was more ‘Little House on the Prairie’ than it was the Grateful Dead.”

Those folks who moved to rural Maine in the 1970s raised their children with their ideals — simple living, hard work, open-mindedness, respect for the environment and community engagement — and with varying states of off-the-grid orthodoxy. Some had indoor plumbing and new clothes; some had none of that.  Yellow Light Breen is such a great symbol of the back-to-the-land movement today and such a fixture in Bangor society. You’ve known him for quite some time, when did you realize that he had to be a part of this story? He was largely a character we saw early on because of that juxtaposition. Everyone knows Yellow, everybody loves him, but the juxtaposition of him as the bank vice president who grew up this way; we targeted him early on. The same thing with Will Davis, who worked with us up until recently. He would tell us stories of his childhood while fiddling with his Blackberry and his iPhone. We realized these juxtapositions were really part of the story and so we gathered as many anecdotes and as many characters in that vein as we could. Will grew up without electricity and was your director of innovation? Exactly right and now he is working on the strategic team at the New York Times. He helped shape this chapter from his own experience and helped us understand what it was like to grow up that way. It’s the values that you get baked with, but when you start to integrate with kids from more traditional households you end up realizing what you are missing. For him he was missing technology and that connectedness. He is 25 now, so he grew up this way in the ‘90s. He grew up at a time when there were computers, early cell phones and cable TV and he still grew up in a cabin hewn by his parents with no running water. He gravitated toward technology and the future when he was able to get exposed to it. The idea for this section was the harvest of the movement, the kids, this generation reaped a whole second generation, what did they sow? They sowed a lot of kids that were very socially conscious, very community conscious, very civically engaged, very intelligent and thoughtful with a work ethic that is pretty incredible.

Those children are now adults. They’ve had to reconcile the values with which they were raised with their personal and professional aspirations, and with the ubiquity of technology. How that reconciliation has unfolded varies widely.

Kids apart from the rest

Orion Breen, Yellow’s younger brother, didn’t realize he was different from other kids until he started attending public school as a pre-teen.

“I didn’t know I was smart. I didn’t know I had read more books than anyone else,” said Breen, now 34. “I didn’t know I was a big nerd until I got to school.”

Reading was the most popular leisure activity in most TV-less back-to-the-land households. Will Davis, 24, grew up with his parents, Norris and Marina, and two older siblings on a homestead in Harmony. When they weren’t tending the garden or splitting firewood, they were reading.

“I think [reading] gives you a propensity towards always wanting to learn new things,” said Davis. “I think it makes you want to absorb information constantly… It also means that I really suck at Trivial Pursuit. I missed out on pop culture.”

“We didn’t have money for Nike sneakers, but we always had money for books,” said Yellow Breen. “That was one of the most important things that [my parents] instilled in me, the value of literacy. I excelled academically because of that.”

The progressive attitude of back-to-the-landers instilled in many a sense of obligation to community service. Yellow Breen worked for then Gov. Angus King’s administration, where he helped to launch the laptop initiative; he is now a board member for Educate Maine.

“I [grew up] in an area with historically low educational aspirations,” said Breen. “Going to Harvard, I was surrounded by a lot of affluence. None of them had ever known someone on food stamps … that reinforced this underlying, gut commitment to wanting to make a difference. I wanted to come back to Maine and work on those issues.”

Open-mindedness and resourcefulness were major elements of the childhood of Avis Brennan Hains, who grew up in Monroe on a homestead with her older sister, Dallas, and her parents, Gusta Ronson, who still lives on their farm, and Steve Brennan, who died in 2002.

“When I look back, the thing I think of most was the sense of self-sufficiency. You have what you need, and you don’t need much,” said Hains, 34. “I also remember that instead of getting Christmas presents each year, we traveled. Seeing the world and understanding other cultures and places was just as important as growing your own food. That’s probably a big reason why I wanted to leave Maine.”

Should I stay or should I go?

As soon as she graduated high school, Hains left Maine, first to go to school at Haverford College in Pennsylvania, and eventually to get her doctorate in neuroscience at Yale University. She now lives in Redwood City, Calif., outside San Francisco, and works at a Silicon Valley biotechnology firm.

“I’m in the suburbs. It was probably a hard nut for me to swallow at first,” said Hains. “But I think it’s hard to find a reality these days where you can raise your kids with a decent education and a shot at being successful, and still live a rural life, off the grid, having that kind of lifestyle. That’s the conclusion I came to, anyway.”

You have great video of Avis Hains with her three-year-old daughter in their garden with chickens and bees. They’re an excellent addition to the story , and continuation of her mother’s, Gusta Ronson’s, story from the first chapter. How did you hear of them and where did you get the money to send a reporter and videographer to California? Our visuals editor at the time, his wife was from the Bay Area and they were going back to visit family. We had known about Avis Hains for a while, and he said, “Hey if I’m out there would you want me to see if I can meet her and talk to her?” And I said, ‘Sure!’’ It was just one of those little happy accidents, like finding the documentary, that really helped bring this project together. We were able to go see here in her natural environment far away from Maine that looked a lot like the Maine she grew up in. You say visuals editor at the time, is this the one that you lost to the San Francisco Chronicle? Yes. Do you ever feel like you are shooting yourself in the foot; you do such great work that your employees get amazing offers to go elsewhere? No. That’s the tradeoff. I’m very proud of watching my staff here get great opportunities and do great things. That is a testament to us. It’s a testament to them but it’s a testament to us. You wish you could hang on to them forever but you are so proud of them when they go on and do great things that it’s well worth it.

Gabi Van Horn, 24, was born in the house in Freedom that she grew up in, with three older sisters and her parents, Doug Van Horn and Leslie Stein, who came to Maine to homestead in the 1970s. After graduating from Mt. View High School, she left Maine for college, eventually moving to New York City, where she has lived for two years, working in theater.

“I always assumed I’d move to a city. I never really gave it a second thought — I wasn’t going to make a living as an actress in Freedom,” said Van Horn. “And yet, I still miss things. I miss composting everything. I miss gardening. I miss seeing the stars at night.”

The challenges facing Mainers that came out of the back-to-the-land movement aren’t all that different from the challenges facing Mainers who did not grow up with that ethos. Jobs and other opportunities are hard to come by. It’s also universally true that children sometimes want to do the opposite of what their parents did. But those core values and desires remain: to live simply, to grow your own food, to be resourceful and to help the people around you.

Not everyone left — in addition to the Breen brothers, Will Davis stayed and is now director of innovation for the Bangor Daily News. Though he grew up back to the land, he became fascinated by computers at a very early age.

“Once personal computing came along, I think that changed things for a lot of people,” said Davis. “I think if you live off the grid today and you don’t allow your kids access to a computer and the Internet and technology, you’re putting them at a big disadvantage.”

The good life is what you make it

Tyler Yentes, 25, never felt much pressure to leave Maine. Why would he, when everything he wants is here? A few years back, he and his older brother, Seth, bought a 330-acre farm in Monroe, not far from the homestead where he and his other siblings grew up, children of back-to-the-land parents.

“I remember my parents would give my brother and I a machete and told us to go run around in the woods and chop down little saplings,” said Yentes. “It got us outside, using our bodies, and in a way, it made us ready to clear land as adults, to make grazing land for goats and dairy cows. It’s incredibly vivid, still, to me.”

The brothers, with Elsie Gawler and Anna Shapley-Quinn, grow produce and raise dairy goats and cows at their North Branch Farm. They are among a record number of young people who have started farming in Maine over the past five years.

While that explosion is fueled by many of the same values, it’s not a second wave of back to the land. Most of them live on-grid and are farming commercially, rather than for subsistence — they are farmers, not homesteaders. Is there going to be a “Good Life Part 2” at some point on this new crop of young farmers? We continue to follow that trend. One thing we did as a follow up to “The Good Life,” in April of this year, we launched a whole new section that is focused on the [current] Good Life generation called “Homestead.” The response to “The Good Life” was so strong it made us realize there is a huge untapped audience for telling stories about this generation, about the trends, about the struggles it’s having, about the problems and the solutions that it is bringing along, so we decided to devote a whole section for it.

It’s also less feasible to be a homesteader in today’s economy. The homesteading boom was fueled in large part by the cheap land available.

The great in-migration to Maine of the 1970s doesn’t appear likely to be repeated anytime soon. Those ideals mapped out by back-to-the-land pioneers Helen and Scott Nearing and their followers, however, have stuck around. They’ve changed and adapted with the times — what in the 1970s were fringe ideas are now surprisingly mainstream.

Between the popularity of homebrewing and urban farming, to the outcry against genetically modified food, to the huge success of stores such as Whole Foods or the tens of thousands of people who attend the Common Ground Country Fair each year, the evidence is concrete.

“Even though I live in the suburbs, my husband and I sought out a place where we could do things like have bees and chickens, and a garden, and instill a sense of environmental responsibility into our children,” said Avis Brennan Hains, who has two children with her husband, Bryan. “Those things are normal now. They’re trendy, even. It’s totally mainstream.”

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