Earl Butz v. Wendell Berry debate transcript
02 March 2023
Thanks to the generosity of Mark Musick, here is a link to a transcript of the debate (audio here) between former Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz and Wendell Berry. It occured on November 13, 1977 at Manchester College in North Manchester, Indiana. Originally published in the Spring, 1978 edition of The CoEvolution Quarterly, the text here was re-printed in News that Stayed News: Ten Years of CoEvolution Quarterly, published in 1986. Download Earl Butz v. Wendell Berry - 11-13-77
BUTZ: I asked Dr. Berry this evening how big a farm he had, and he said fifty acres. I said, "Do you farm with horses?" He said, "Yes." But you see, Dr. Berry can do that because he has a substantial income as a poet, as a writer, as a professor at the University of Kentucky. He can afford to pay the electric bill—he doesn't have to have kerosene lights. He can afford to have an automobile—he doesn't have to drive a horse and buggy. He can afford to do those things because he takes outside income. Let's never forget that. That's true of many writers who write about such things as he does.
People say, "Butz, you're not for the family farmer." Of course I am. I'm for the family farm to make a decent living for the farm family. I don't want that family to starve to death slowly. I want that family to be able to enjoy some of the amenities of life-a color TV set, electric lights, indoor toilets. I want them to be able to afford an automobile and a vacation trip once in a while.
BERRY: Well, since Mr. Butz referred to my life, which is something I didn't intend to do, I may as well tell you about it. I know a little bit more about it than Mr. Butz. I am a school teacher and a writer. I've written a lot of books, which haven't exactly sold like hot-cakes. I may have made a year's salary out of it by now—not a large year's salary. I turned away from the main line of a teaching career. I was living in New York City, and I got a chance to come home and teach in the University of Kentucky. And then I went all the way home, to Henry County where my family, seven generations of my family, have lived and now live—not on the farm I live on, but on the next farm.
I just had twelve acres for a while, most of it steep, and I could hardly have called myself a farmer then. But a developer bought the forty acres next to me and was going to cover it up with little cottages, without any plumbing or sewage. He did some rather bad bulldozer work on it and made a hideous mess of it and failed. Then I bought him out, and I've spent the last four years restoring that forty acres. It has been expensive. The land could never have paid for the operation. I paid for it out of my salary. It's productive land now—steep; by modern standards, marginal. It's producing enough cattle now to pay the taxes, and we're taking our subsistence from it. I should say that subsistence taken off that little farm makes our domestic economy extremely sound. I've done the work with horses.
I've done it because I like horses, and because driving horses, I'm independent of the oil companies. I like that. Also, having horses makes economic sense. A good broke team of young mares now brings from two thousand to ten thousand dollars without any trouble at all. So I don't want any of you all to worry about me, because I farm with horses.
I was wondering how my neighbors were thinking about it until one stopped—an old man—and told me how proud he was of me, and until another stopped just the other day, a young man, and asked me if I could find him a team. He said that he thought he'd cultivate his crops with them and do—one—a better job, and—two—a cheaper job than he could with his tractor. He's right on both counts.