Wendell Berry On Culture And Agriculture

In his presentation at the 1974 Agriculture for a Small Planet Symposium in Spokane, Washington, Wendell Berry remarked:

“Few people, whose testimony would have mattered, have seen the connection between the modernization of agricultural techniques and disintegration of the culture and the communities of farming.”

“This community killing agriculture, with its monomania of bigness, is not primarily the work of farmers, though it has burgeoned upon their weaknesses. It is the work of institutions of agriculture, the experts and agribusinessmen who have promoted so-called efficiency at the expense of community and quantity at the expense of quality.”

“In the long run, quantity is inseparable from quality.  To pursue quantity alone is to destroy those disciplines in the producers that are the only assurance of quantity. The preserver of abundance is excellence.”

“Food is a cultural, not a technological, product.”

Our thanks to our friends at The Berry Center in Henry County, Kentucky for posting this historic video of Berry’s talk.

The Symposium launched the Tilth movement and helped Berry clarify the arguments that led to the 1977 publication of The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture —one of the most influential books of the past fifty years.

At the 1976 Lindisfarne Fellows meeting Berry read from the extraordinary “The Body and The Earth” chapter of The Unsettling of America. In it he describes the estrangement of the sexes as parallel to our estrangement from the land, and seeks for ways to address that estrangement. Our thanks to William Irwin Thompson, Lindisfarne founder, for permitting us to digitalize and post this and all the other Lindisfarne talks at the Schumacher Center’s website and on

Wendell Berry on the Cultures and Strategies of Decentralization (1976)

Then in 1981, Wendell Berry spoke at the First Annual E. F. Schumacher Lectures, setting a standard for the series now in its 34th year.  The theme of the Lectures was “People, Land, and Community.”  Berry commented that these three were linked in local culture— a culture that could not be imported.

It would begin in work and love.  People at work in communities three generations old would know that their bodies renewed, time and again, the movement of other bodies — living and dead, known and loved, remembered and loved — in the same shops, houses, and fields.  That, of course, is the description of a kind of a community dance.  And such a dance is perhaps the best way to describe harmony.

Wendell Berry at the  First Annual E. F. Schumacher Lectures

We are grateful to the Berry Center for maintaining and continuing the legacy work of Wendell Berry, of his brother John, and of their father.