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40th Anniversary of Wendell Berry's Tilth Speech

My friend Mark Musick has reminded me that today is a very special anniversay: "His speech was the genesis of "The Unsettling of America" and the catalyst for the Tilth movement in the Pacific Northwest."

On July 1, 1974 Wendell Berry spoke at the “Agriculture for a Small Planet” symposium in Spokane, which was one of a series of environmental conferences hosted as part of Expo 74. Wendell’s speech that day, and his subsequent letter to members of the symposium staff, inspired the Tilth movement in the Pacific Northwest.

Wendell had been invited to represent the “Labor Intensive Micro-Systems Viewpoint” on the panel and he was introduced by the moderator, Bob Stilger. Below is a transcript of Wendell’s speech, followed by questions and answers. It’s significant to note that Wendell’s talk, written in longhand on yellow legal pad, was the nucleus for his book,The Unsettling of America, published in 1977.

The Culture of Agriculture

When Bob asked me to come out here I said I wouldn’t have time to write a speech, but I largely underestimated the travel time between Kentucky and Spokane. The speech is not filled out. It sort of gives the structure of my thinking about the problems that I’ve observed in agriculture.

I was asked to talk about “Labor Intensive Micro-Systems Agriculture.” That’s not my language, and it’s not the sort of language I wish to use because it’s the way people speak when they don’t want to be understood by most people. I’m not sure what to make of these particular phrases, but they seem to suggest a very methodological or technological approach to agriculture. Part of my purpose here is to suggest that any such approach will necessarily be too simple.

Read the complete speech at Tilth Producers of Washington

Reading Wendell Berry's Sabbath Poems

You read a collection like This Day, and you quickly learn how critically important the idea is in the poet’s understanding of nature, the land, God, aging, humanity, industrial civilization, and agriculture. To read Berry’s fiction and essays is to read and gain insights into his poetry, and vice versa. His writing is consistent and whole, reflecting a philosophy and a faith stretching over decades of work.

Many of his Sabbath poems are meditations of what he understands as industrial civilization. As surprising as it might be, just below the surface of these poems lies anger directed at how much of community, nature, and relationships is sacrificed to greed.

Read more at tweetspeak.