Practical Poetry: An Interview with Wendell Berry

Discover the wisdom of this great thinker, which resonates as much today as it did almost 50 years ago in this interview.

Wendell Berry at the 2014 Festival of Faiths, Talking about poet Gary Snyder. Photo by Festival of Faiths

Readers, to mark our 50th anniversary as a magazine, we’re reprinting some of the more notable stories from our archive. This interview was originally published in the March/April 1973 issue. Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and cultural critic who was born and raised in Kentucky. He has lived and worked the land on his farm, Lane’s Landing, since 1965, and he was awarded the 2010 National Humanities Medal. —MOTHER

Mr. Berry, for some time now, you’ve been writing about the meaning of farming in your own life and its importance to the modern world. It seems more and more people are coming around to your point of view. Do you think small-scale farming is finally being reaccepted as a viable and necessary contribution to the stability of both urban and rural life?

I’m not sure. When I first started saying it was important to grow a garden, it seemed like really risky stuff to me. You can defend farming on an aesthetic basis, and say it’s a great thing to go off into the country and breathe good air and lead a healthy life and grow your own vegetables. That’s really nice and lovely. But to get on from there and say that you can learn things of great practical, moral, and spiritual importance from doing it — that’s still going to take awhile.

Yet many people are willing to make a serious commitment to the land, investing their money and their hopes in the ideal of an independent life.

Yes, but it seems to me that they shouldn’t try to be too pure. That is, to throw over a well-paying job — and training that prepares you for some kind of profession —and go back to the farm and attempt to survive there under conditions that are destroying a lot of experienced farmers. That might be a dangerous thing to do, unless you know very well what you’re doing and are young. I think it’s worthwhile to support your farm by some other work. It’s worth it to keep your hands on a piece of land and to keep that part of your life away from the corporations and the speculators and the fools.



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