‘I was asked to talk about ‘Labor Intensive Micro-Systems Agriculture.’ That’s not my language.’

Despite the fact that one word is included within the other, the words culture and agriculture too rarely come together in my mind, except, that is, when reading the work of Wendell Berry.

Speaking at the Agriculture for a Small Planet symposium in Spokane, 1974, literary master and pioneer of sustainable agriculture, Wendell Berry paints a sad picture of the changing face of agriculture following the Second World War. His account of a technocratic and large scale approach ends up with the demise of the family farm, livelihoods and community. His subsequent message is clear: food is a cultural, not a technological product, and a destruction of culture, which is far from a collection of relics or ornaments, invokes calamity for us all. Big-agriculture’s ‘efficiency at the expense of community, and quantity at the expense of quality, may already have been disastrous, and we have not yet seen the worst,’ he says. Today, ‘the worst’ seems imminent and Berry’s call to live in harmony with the complex and natural rhythms of the earth should resonate louder than ever.

Below is a video of Wendell’s speech in which he responds to his invitation to represent the viewpoint of the ‘Labor Intensive Micro-Systems,’ on a panel at the Agriculture for a Small Planet symposium. Wendell’s talk, written in longhand on yellow legal pad, was the nucleus for his book, The Unsettling of America, published in 1977. His speech and subsequent letter to members of the symposium staff, inspired the Tilth movement in the Pacific Northwest and should go on to inspire many more today.

Feature image by Centre for Interfaith Relations

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