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"Anything that I will ever have to say on the subject of agriculture can be little more than a continuation of talk begun in childhood with my father and with my late friend Owen Flood. Their conversation, first listened to and then joined, was my first and longest and finest instruction. From them, before I knew I was being taught, I learned to think of the meanings, the responsibilities, and the pleasures of farming."

The Unsettling of America:

Culture & Agriculture
by Wendell Berry
Preface to the second edition:

Copyright (c) 1977 by Wendell Berry. All rights reserved.
Sierra Club Books softcover edition: 1986
Afterword to Third Edition (c)1996

Portions of this book have appeared in slightly altered form in
The Nation and The CoEvolution Quarterly.

the premier philosopher of community and rural life

When I was working on this book - from 1974 to 1977 - the long agricultural decline that it deals with was momentarily disguised as a "boom." The big farmers were getting bigger with the help of inflated land prices and borrowed money, and the foreign demand for American farm products was strong, so from the official point of view the situation looked good. The big were supposed to get bigger. Foreigners were supposed to be in need of our products. The official point of view, foreshortened as usual by statistics, superstitious theory, and wishful prediction, was utterly complacent. Then Secretary of Agriculture Earl L. Butz issued the most optimistic, the most widely obeyed, and the Worst advice ever given to farmers: that they should plow "fencerow to fencerow."

        That the situation was not good—for farms or farmers or rural communities or nature or the general public—was even then evident to any experienced observer who would turn aside from the pre-conceptions of ''agribusiness" and look at the marks of deterioration that were plainly visible. And now, almost a decade later, it is evident to everyone that, at least for farmers and rural communities, the situation is Catastrophic. Farmers are losing their farms, some are killing themselves, some in the madness of despair are killing other people, and rural economy and rural life are gravely stricken. TV agricultural economists chart the "liquidations of assets," the "shakeouts," and the "downturns," apparently amazed that now even the large "progressive" and "efficient" farmers are in trouble.

        But this is not just a financial crisis for country people. Critical questions are being asked of our whole society: Are we, or are we not going to take proper care of our land, our country ? And do we, or do we not, believe in a democratic distribution of usable property? At present, these questions are being answered in the negative. Our soil erosion rates are worse now than during the years of the Dust Bowl. In the arid lands of the West, we are overusing and wasting the supplies of water. Toxic pollution from agricultural chemicals is a growing problem. We are closer every day to the final destruction of private ownership not only of small family farms, but of small usable properties of all kinds. Every problem I dealt with in this book, in fact, has grown worse since the book was written.

        The one improvement has been in public concern about the problems. Among farmers there is growing distrust of the "agribusiness" line of talk and growing interest in agricultural health and sanity. Among city people there is a growing awareness that sane and healthy agriculture requires an informed urban constituency. There is hope in these developments and in the continued existence of a remnant of excellent small farms and farmers.

        Some prominent agricultural economists are still finding it possible to pretend that the only issues involved are economic, but that possibility is diminishing. I recently attended a meeting at which an agricultural economist argued that there is no essential difference between owning and renting a farm. A farmer stood up in the audience and replied: "Professor, I don't think our ancestors came to America to rent a farm."

'Nough said.

Wendell Berry, March 1986

The Unsettling of America
The Ecological Crisis as a Crisis of Character
The Ecological Crisis as a Crisis of Agriculture
The Agricultural Crisis as a Crisis of Culture
Living in the Future: The "Modern" Agricultural Ideal
The Use of Energy
The Body and the Earth
Jefferson, Morrill, and the Upper Crust

Afterward to the Third edition

        "Eventually this mechanistic line of thought brings us to the doctrine that whatever happens is inevitable. Actually, this stark determinism is altered in general use to a doctrine that is even more contemptible. Every bad thing that happens is inevitable. For every good thing that happens there are mobs of claimers of credit. Every good and perfect gift comes from politicians, scientists, researchers, governments, and corporations. Evils, however, are inevitable; there is just no use in trying to choose against them. Thus all industrial comforts and labor saving devices are the result only of human ingenuity and determination (not to mention the charity and altruism that have so conspicuously distinguished the industrial subspecies for the past two centuries), but the consequent pollution, land destruction, and social upheaval have been "inevitable."

        "Thus President Clinton (for whom I voted) could tell an audience of "farmers and agricultural organization leaders" in Billings, Montana on June 1, 1995, that the American farm population now is "dramatically lower, obviously, than it was a generation ago. And that was inevitable because of the increasing productivity of agriculture."

Who so Hath his minde on taking,
hath it no more on what he hath taken.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Berry, Wendell, 1934-
The unsettling of America.

1. Agriculture-Economic aspects-United States.
2. Agriculture-Social aspects-United States.
3. United States-Rural conditions. I. Title.
[HD176l.B47 1986] 338.I '0973 86—6426
ISBN 0—87156—877—2 (pbk )

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