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BILL MOYERS: Welcome. In this broadcast you will meet an effervescent man who still believes we can make democracy work. Later we’ll talk about those people in Washington who refuse to let it work, but first Wendell Berry. A master of the written word, he rarely appears on television. For one thing, when he’s not writing, he’s farming—and that can keep a fellow busy from sunrise to sunset. But we met recently and after considerable persuasion he said “OK, bring your cameras with you.” This portrait is the result. Produced with the Schumann Media Center, which I head.

WENDELL BERRY: We don’t have a right to ask whether we’re going to succeed or not. The only question we have a right to ask is what’s the right thing to do? What does this earth require of us if we want to continue to live on it?

BILL MOYERS: For Wendell Berry, the defense of the Earth is a mission that admits no compromise. This quiet and modest man who lives and works far from the center of power on a farm in Kentucky where his family has lived for 200 years has become an outspoken, even angry advocate for a revolution in our treatment of the land.

WENDELL BERRY: “A Warning to My Readers.”

Do not think me gentle because I speak in praise of gentleness, or elegant because I honor the grace that keeps this world. I am a man crude as any, gross of speech, intolerant, stubborn, angry, full of fits and furies. That I may have spoken well at times, is not natural. A wonder is what it is.

BILL MOYERS: Berry rarely gives television interviews, but recently, here at St. Catharine College, near Louisville, he agreed to sit down with me to read some of his work and talk about his passions.

PRESIDENT WILLIAM HUSTON: Good morning everyone, my name is….

BILL MOYERS: It was a special occasion, from far and wide, friends and followers of Berry gathered in the Louisville area to celebrate the 35th Anniversary of his landmark work, The Unsettling Of America. It’s one of forty books in Berry’s prolific career: poems, essays, novels, short stories. The two day conference addressing what it will take to resettle America, brought together advocates of sustainable agriculture, environmentalists, leaders in the local food movement, and others who recognize Wendell Berry as a visionary.

BILL MCKIBBEN: He understood what was happening on this planet a long time before everybody else. He’s, you might say, a prophet of responsibility.

PATRICK HOLDEN: This conference is at a very important moment because it’s a turning point. You’ve got all the elders, the founders of the sustainable agriculture movement gathered here and we’re all now involved with the need for a transition towards more sustainable food systems.

VANDANA SHIVA: I do see this as a defense of democracy and freedom, for survival. And so I’m here.

BILL MOYERS: It was just a year ago on Earth Day you said, “People who own the world outright for profit will have to be stopped by influence, by power, by us.” And some of us who have read you and followed you took that as an indication that maybe, maybe the mad farmer is getting a little madder, a little more radical.

WENDELL BERRY: Well I have grown more radical the older I’ve become. I don’t remember saying that, but it sounds like me.

BILL MOYERS: Which is why I could have made it up, but I didn’t.

WENDELL BERRY: Well when you say you have to stop somebody, in our time, you would... ought to qualify. You don’t mean bomb them. And I didn’t mean stop them by violence, but they do have to be stopped.

“The Contrariness of the Mad Farmer.”

I am done with apologies. If contrariness is my inheritance and destiny, so be it. If it is my mission to go in at exits and come out at entrances, so be it. I have planted by the stars in defiance of the experts, and tilled somewhat by incantation and by singing, and reaped, as I knew, by luck in Heaven’s favor, in spite of the best advice…

BILL MCKIBBEN: He is one of if not the great writer at work in American letters right now, he’s built this body of work that’s coherence, cohesive, powerful, beautiful, quite amazing. And it also happens that it’s about the most important subject that we have. Whether or not we’re going to be able to build the kind of communities that can successfully inhabit this Earth or not.

BILL MOYERS: As he nears 80 years of age, Berry is going beyond words to civil disobedience.

WENDELL BERRY: Keep up the good fight you all.

BILL MOYERS: In 2011 he joined a four day sit-in at the Kentucky governor’s office to protest the mountaintop removal of coal.

What prompted that? A man your age?

WENDELL BERRY: Well good company. What prompted me was the thought that when you have a major problem in your state, to which state government is utterly indifferent, and you’ve taken every obvious and legitimate recourse, trying to meet and talk and influence and demonstrate and speak and write and nothing had worked.

BILL MOYERS: Why is that? Why do we concede to organizations like the coal companies such monolithic control over resources that should be the people’s?

WENDELL BERRY: Because in our society, people with money are bigger and more powerful and more noticeable and count more as citizens than people without much money. So we did confront the governor and tell him we weren’t going to leave.

WENDELL BERRY: We’re here to make our grievances and our petition heard.

And the governor then made a very, very clever move, he invited us to stay. And we did stay the whole weekend, did a lot of publicity for our side and were beautifully treated by the security staff. And people who sent us food and bedding and good wishes and even came in and gave us massages. And it was all together one of the loveliest weekends I’ve ever spent in my life.

BILL MOYERS: Are...are you going to do it again?

WENDELL BERRY: I don’t think that there’s any plan afoot again, but I wouldn’t mind it.

BILL MOYERS: Did you have a conversation with the governor about why you were there and what you hoped would happen?

WENDELL BERRY: We tried to have a conversation with the governor and we tried previously to have a conversation with the governor, but the uh, state government of Kentucky is not set up for dialogue or discourse on difficult problems. The issue of clean water in eastern Kentucky has so far not been possible to raise in the halls of the government.

BILL MOYERS: What’s happened to the water there?

WENDELL BERRY: Well it’s being poisoned by the, uh, outflow from those strip mines. If you expose those streams to surface erosion and runoff you let loose all kinds of poisons. And so they’re getting into the watershed.

BILL MOYERS: What do you think you accomplished. The streams are still flowing dirty in eastern…

WENDELL BERRY: The streams are still flowing dirty. But a lot has been done in the last 50 years to stop that and they’re still flowing dirty. That’s a tragedy and it’s to be suffered. And I live on the Kentucky River. I know that it’s got stuff in it that nobody is talking about. I know it has. For one thing, the native black willows are gone from the shores. For some reason, they can’t live by the Kentucky River anymore. As a resident of the uh, Kentucky River valley, I feel directly is a threat. If the willows can’t live there, how sure can I be that I will continue to be able to live there?

BILL MOYERS: Why can’t they live there?

WENDELL BERRY: I don’t know. It’s something in the water. That’s why we went down to the governor’s office. This is intolerable. There’s no excuse for it. And there’s no justification for the permanent destruction of the world. My belief and I’ve written out of it for many years is that the world and our life in it are conditional gifts. We have the world to live in and the use of it to live from on the condition that we will take good care of it. And to take good care of it we have to know it and we have to know how to take care of it. And to know it and to be willing to take care of it, we have to love it. And we’ve ignored all that all these years.

BILL MOYERS: You wrote quite recently that the two great aims of industrialization, replacement of people by technology and the concentration of wealth in the hands of a small plutocracy seem, in your words, close to fulfillment. What do you think from your life’s experience might stall the momentum and perhaps even reverse it?

WENDELL BERRY: I don’t know. There are two or three things that we haven’t been able to confront or even acknowledge politically. One is that the aim of the Industrial Revolution from year one has been to replace people with technology. So it’s a little contemptible to hear these people express in surprise at this late date that we have an unemployment problem. I don’t know that there’s any politician of visibility who could say that. So that’s, it’s important for people like me to say it, who have no power.

The other thing that we’re having trouble confronting and both sides are having trouble to confront it publicly and speak of it, is the disaster of being governed by the corporations. Those fictitious persons. And uh, you know you’re waiting for the day when some politician of stature and visibility will finally say, we can’t have this any longer, we’re here in Washington or Frankfort to represent the people, not to be employed or bought by the corporations and to serve them.

BILL MOYERS: Are corporations which have been given person rights under the First Amendment, are they acting humanly, even though they possess......

WENDELL BERRY: Well of course not. They can’t act human. You can’t have a bunch of people uh, combining into a person. That’s not physically possible. In confronting these people who are so immensely more powerful than we are...they’re in trouble on two fronts.

BILL MOYERS: The...the big corporations?

WENDELL BERRY: The big corporations. One is the people like these who are working against them so to speak from the inside. And then because their premises are wrong, creation is working against them from the outside.

BILL MOYERS: What have you come to understand is the natural logic of capitalism?

WENDELL BERRY: That you have a right to as much as you want of anything you want and by extension, the right to use any means available to get it. I’ve been talking for a long time about leadership from the bottom and I’m convinced perfectly that it’s happening and the, that leadership consists of people who simply see something that needs to be done and they start doing it.

BILL MOYERS: I’m wondering if putting your faith in the people is a wise investment.

WENDELL BERRY: I’m not putting my faith in the people, I’m putting my faith in some of the people.

BILL MOYERS: Which ones?

WENDELL BERRY: The ones who are committed. These people. The, the country and I think Vandana could tell you, the world is full of people now who are doing what I just said, seeing something that needs to be done and starting to do it, without the government’s permission, or official advice, or expert advice, or applying for grants or anything else. They just start doing it.

BILL MOYERS: At the age of 30, Wendell Berry decided to return to the land of his birthplace. He left the writers life in New York City to settle on the farm in Kentucky with his wife Tanya.

BILL MCKIBBEN: One of the reasons that his realization and his writing was so powerful, was that it stemmed directly from his life and what he was doing. Had he written all the things that he wrote without that piece of land, they would have still been powerful but it was that wedding of man and message, of life and of idea that I think makes him uniquely powerful character in our culture.

BILL MOYERS: Can you talk about what sustains you, what has grounded you, you talked about coming home to Kentucky. Somehow it seems to me that your love for language, your...your continuing search to find the word that expresses precisely what you think. Your, your determination to do justice to the subject may have also grounded you. There’s a remarkable consistency in the 40 books and works that you’ve produced.

WENDELL BERRY: Well, the language is secondary, but it imposes an obligation. I’ve been extraordinarily fortunate in my life. I’ve lived in a place I’ve loved. I’ve been a friend and ally with my brother all these years. Lived with a woman I’ve loved….love. It’s a sacrament and it’s probably some kind of necessity, to take responsibility, to be, to love somebody, and marriage is a way of acknowledging and accepting the responsibility.

BILL MOYERS: How long have you and Tanya been married?

WENDELL BERRY: Fifty…seven? Long time. And then I’ve had my children for neighbors, which is really unusual in, in our time, to have your children for neighbors. And then I’ve had a part in raising my grandchildren.

BILL MOYERS: Many years ago, you said, if you make a commitment and you stick to it to the end, there will be rewards.

WENDELL BERRY: Well that’s a, that’s...comes under the heading, faith.

BILL MOYERS: Faith. You still consider yourself a Christian.

WENDELL BERRY: I still consider myself a person who takes the gospels very seriously. And I read in them and am sometimes shamed by them and sometimes utterly baffled by them. But there is a good bit of the gospel that I do get, I think. I believe I understand it accurately. And I’m sticking to that. And I’m hanging on for the parts that I don’t understand. And, you know willing to endure the shame of falling short as a price of admission. All that places a very heavy and exacting obligation on me as a writer. A lot of my writing I think has been, when it hasn’t been in defense of precious things, has been a giving of thanks for precious things. So that enforces the art.

BILL MOYERS: What are the precious things that you think are endangered now?

WENDELL BERRY: It’s mighty hard right now to think of anything that’s precious that isn’t endangered. But maybe that’s an advantage. The poet, William Butler Yeats said somewhere, “things reveal themselves passing away.” And it may be that the danger that we’ve now inflicted upon every precious thing reveals the preciousness of it and shows us our duty. Some of us, these people and their friends and allies that now cover the world, these people are free to acknowledge the preciousness of the precious things.

BILL MOYERS: When did you know you were free? And I ask that because of the poem you wrote, “The Peace of Wild Things.”

WENDELL BERRY: You’re free when you realize that you’re willing to go to the length that’s necessary.

BILL MOYERS: Then read your own poem.

WENDELL BERRY: This....this was a long time ago. “The Peace of Wild Things.”

When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the middle of the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world and am free.

BILL MOYERS: The grace of the world, take that a little further for me.

WENDELL BERRY: I meant it in the religious sense. The people of, people of religious faith know that the world is, is maintained every day by the same force that created it. It’s an article of my faith and belief, that all creatures live by breathing God’s breath and participating in his spirit. And this means that the whole thing is holy. The whole shooting match. There are no sacred and unsacred places, there are only sacred and desecrated places. So finally I see those gouges in the surface mine country as desecrations, not just as land abuse. Not just as…as human oppression. But as desecration. As blasphemy.

BILL MOYERS: Let me read you this. “No amount…” This is you. “No amount of fiddling with capitalism to regulate and humanize it … can for long disguise its failure" to conserve the wealth and health of nature. "Eroded, wasted, or degraded soils; damaged or destroyed ecosystems; extinction of biodiversity, species; whole landscapes defaced, gouged, flooded, or blown up … thoughtless squandering of fossil fuels and fossil waters, of mineable minerals and ores, natural health and beauty replaced by a heartless and sickening ugliness. Perhaps its greatest success is an astounding increase in the destructiveness and therefore the profitability of war.” That’s as powerful an indictment of the consequences of runaway capitalism as I’ve ever read and surely if that’s happening as we know it is, it takes more than reverence, and it takes more than words to try to reverse it. What do you say to those people who say Wendell, please tell me what I can do?

WENDELL BERRY: All right. Well, you’ve put me in the place I’m always winding up in and…that is to say well we’ve acknowledged that the problems are big, now where’s the big solution? When you ask the question what is the big answer, then you’re implying that we can impose the answer. But that’s the problem we’re in to start with, we’ve tried to impose the answers. The answers will come not from walking up to your farm and saying this is what I want and this is what I expect from you. You walk up and you say what do you need. And you commit yourself to say all right, I’m not going to do any extensive damage here until I know what it is that you are asking of me. And this can’t be hurried. This is the dreadful situation that young people are in. I think of them and I say well, the situation you’re in now is a situation that’s going to call for a lot of patience. And to be patient in an emergency is a terrible trial.

BILL MOYERS: Among Wendell Berry’s neighbors in Kentucky, young people are taking up that challenge. Jonas Hurley is an emergency room doctor, but he and his wife Julie want to become fulltime farmers.

JONAS HURLEY: We looked for about two years for land. We lived in a neighboring town, in town and just been dying to get…get some ground under our feet and looked for a couple years and found this little parcel of land a few years back. Not certified organic, but we don’t use any, any chemicals. All of our own animal manures to fertilize the field.

JULIE HURLEY: Movable fences for the animals. That’s key, movable fences. We move our fences around a lot just so the animals have fresh pasture regularly and then they leave behind what nurtures the field.

JONAS HURLEY: Good rich soil makes good strong plants, good strong plants can fight many, many diseases on their own. There’s netting on the bottom because they will burrow out. Come on out. We’re fairly well self-sufficient feeding ourselves and friends and family. We’d like for it to pay the bills so I can quite my day job and putter here and we’d like for it to you know help feed good food to our community.

WENDELL BERRY: I say to the young people, don’t get into this with the idea that you're going to save it and solve all the problems even in your lifetime. The important thing to do is to learn all you can about where you are and if you're going to work there it becomes even more important to learn everything you can about that place to make common cause with that place and then resigning yourself, becoming patient enough to work with it over a long time. And then what you do is increase the possibility that you will make a good example and what we’re looking for in this is good examples.

BILL MOYERS: You and Wes Jackson have proposed, speaking of patience, and part of the answer, a 50 year farm bill. What is the heart of it?

WENDELL BERRY: The heart of it is to recognize that agriculture as we are now practicing it involves a highly destructive ratio between people and land. More and more land is being used and used fairly destructively by fewer and fewer people. This…used destructively because the fewness of the people implies and requires a dependence on more and more mechanical power and more and more toxic chemicals.

BILL MOYERS: Arthur Young, a farmer whose land is down the road from St. Catharine College, learned for himself what chemicals can do.

ARTHUR YOUNG: I got to looking around at modern farming and I knew something was not right on my land. The water was running off quickly, it was not going in the soil, the land was becoming compacted, and I said this is not going to work. And I…I just said enough is enough and that’s really when I got into this thing of sustained agriculture. See that little pile of dirt? That is a worm casting. It’s very, very rich in nutrients. I’m on about my third year without fertilizer. Not a lot of synthetic stuff goes on this soil. But I know it’s getting better because I can see the production and my grasses are getting better every year.

BILL MOYERS: You also recommend taking animals out of their confinement and putting them back in…

WENDELL BERRY: Putting them back on grass where they belong.

BILL MOYERS: Why?

WENDELL BERRY: Because in the first place it’s wrong for people to mistreat fellow creatures. To use them inconsiderately and...and cruelly. Let me say that there is an inescapable cruelty involved in our life. We have to live at the expense of other creatures. Doesn’t make any difference how vegetarian we are, we’re still displacing other creatures. But the rule in using other creatures and I mean plants and animals is to use them with the minimum of violence.

BILL MOYERS: As you talk about that I thought of your poem, “For the Hog Killing.” Would you read that?

WENDELL BERRY: All right. This is all about the…the practical ethics.

Let them stand still for the bullet, and stare the shooter in the eye, let them die while the sound of the shot is in the air, let them die as they fall, let the jugular blood spring hot to the knife, let its freshet be full, let this day begin again the change of hogs into people, not the other way around, for today we celebrate again our lives' wedding with the world, for by our hunger, by this provisioning, we renew the bond.

BILL MOYERS: When you and I were born in 1934 there were almost seven million family farms in this country. There are now roughly around two million family farms and most of us are further away from the foundations of nature than we’ve ever been.

WENDELL BERRY: Well, there’s another tough problem. And so you have to look ahead a little bit. I don't like to talk about the future very much because it doesn’t exist, and we don’t know anything about it. But one thing we know right now is that people want to be healthy and to be healthy you have to have a diverse diet and diverse agriculture employs a lot more people than monoculture. So you imagine people moving out into the landscape because it will pay them to do it. It’ll be what we now vulgarly call job creation.

BILL MOYERS: But this will take a lot of patience, won’t it?

WENDELL BERRY: It’ll take a long time.

BILL MOYERS: Do we have time given what agribusiness is doing?

WENDELL BERRY: We don’t have a right to ask that question. We have to ask what’s the right thing to do and go ahead and do it and take no thought for the morrow.

BILL MOYERS: Resettling of America means….?

WENDELL BERRY: It means putting people on the land enough people on the land to take proper care of it and pay them decently for doing it. The fact that we and our families know the history of people having to leave the country because they couldn’t make a living there, is the history of rural America. But that they left because they couldn’t make a living is an indictment of our land policies. The idea that you have to go somewhere else, that you have to leave a fertile country in order to make a living is preposterous and it’s a result of the wrong idea of what we mean by making a living in the first place. To make a living is not to make a killing, it’s to have enough.

BILL MOYERS: What have you seen over a long life that prevents you from being fatally pessimistic?

WENDELL BERRY: Well, hope. And…and in my work, in my…especially in the essays, I’ve always been trying to construct or lay out, map out the grounds of a legitimate, authentic hope. And if you can find one good example, then you’ve got the grounds for hope. If you can change yourself, if you can make certain requirements of yourself that you are then able to fulfill, you have a reason for hope.

BILL MOYERS: Do you think that you’ve put yourself in front of the locomotive of history, waving your arms and shouting, “Stop!”?

WENDELL BERRY: Oh sure. And you can do that very comfortably if you’re willing to be run over. I suppose I went with my friends to sit in the governor’s office because I was willing to be run over.

BILL MOYERS: Were you?

WENDELL BERRY: Yeah. Of course. You can’t do that without being willing to be…it’s dangerous to…to do acts of civil disobedience. I think once you’ve…once you’ve crossed that line, well, something is settled.

BILL MOYERS: You’ve got to be contrary.

WENDELL BERRY: Well, you’ve got to be contrary, but there’s a world of pleasure in contrariness.

"Dance," they told me, and I stood still, and while they stood quiet in line at the gate of the Kingdom, I danced. "Pray," they said, and I laughed, covering myself in the earth’s brightnesses, and then stole off gray into the midst of a revel, and prayed like an orphan. When they said, "I know that my Redeemer liveth," I told them, "He’s dead." And when they told me, "God is dead," I answered, "He goes fishing every day in the Kentucky River. I see him often. … Going against men, I’ve heard at times a deep harmony thrumming in the mixture, and when they asked me what I say I don't know. It is not the only or the easiest way to come to the truth. It is one way.

BILL MOYERS: So as you talked about hope and I thought of your poem, “A Poem on Hope”, if you will read this.

WENDELL BERRY: All right.

It is hard to have hope. It is harder as you grow old, for hope must not depend on feeling good and there’s the dream of loneliness at absolute midnight. You also have withdrawn belief in the present reality of the future, which surely will surprise us, and hope is harder when it cannot come by prediction anymore than by wishing. But stop dithering. The young ask the old to hope. What will you tell them? Tell them at least what you say to yourself. Because we have not made our lives to fit our places, the forests are ruined, the fields, eroded, the streams polluted, the mountains, overturned. Hope then to belong to your place by your own knowledge of what it is that no other place is, and by your caring for it, as you care for no other place… This knowledge cannot be taken from you by power or by wealth. It will stop your ears to the powerful when they ask for your faith, and to the wealthy when they ask for your land and your work. … Be still and listen to the voices that belong to the stream banks and the trees and the open fields. … Find your hope, then, on the ground under your feet. Your hope of Heaven, let it rest on the ground underfoot…. The world is no better than its places. Its places at last are no better than their people while their people continue in them. When the people make dark the light within them, the world darkens.

BILL MOYERS: Wendell Berry, thank you for…

Segment: Wendell Berry on His Hopes for Humanity

November 29, 2013

Previously aired October 4, 2013.

Wendell Berry, a quiet and humble man, has become an outspoken advocate for revolution. He urges immediate action as he mourns how America has turned its back on the land and rejected Jeffersonian principles of respect for the environment and sustainable agriculture. Berry warns, “People who own the world outright for profit will have to be stopped; by influence, by power, by us.”  In a rare television interview, this visionary, author, and farmer discusses a sensible, but no-compromise plan to save the Earth.

This week on Moyers & Company, Bill Moyers profiles Berry, a man of the land and one of America’s most influential writers, whose prolific career includes more than forty books of poetry, novels, short stories and essays. This one-on-one conversation was taped at Kentucky’s St. Catharine College during a two-day conference celebrating Wendell Berry’s life and ideas and marking the 35th anniversary of the publication of his landmark book, The Unsettling of America.

Berry, described by environmental activist Bill McKibben as “a prophet of responsibility,” lives and works on the Kentucky farm where his family has tilled the soil for 200 years. He’s a man of action as well as words. In 2011, he joined a four-day sit-in at the Kentucky governor’s office to protest mountaintop mining, a brutally destructive method of extracting coal. Moyers explores Berry’s views on civil disobedience as well as his strong opposition to agribusiness and massive industrial farms. They also discuss Berry’s support for sustainable farming and the local food movement.

“It’s mighty hard right now to think of anything that’s precious that isn’t endangered,” Berry tells Moyers. “There are no sacred and unsacred places; there are only sacred and desecrated places. My belief is that the world and our life in it are conditional gifts.”

“We have the world to live in on the condition that we will take good care of it. And to take good care of it we have to know it. And to know it and to be willing to take care of it, we have to love it.”

Wendell Berry: Poet & Prophet is a collaboration between Mannes Productions, Inc. and Schumann Media Center, Inc., headed by Bill Moyers, which supports independent journalism and media programs to advance the understanding of the critical issues of democracy for the benefit of the public.

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  • Renee Greene

    I was mesmerized with this interview re: Wendall Berry. I must confess that my knowledge of him was no better than “recognizing” his name… but I know better now. He’s a realist but his glimpse of hope and resolve was inspiring, to say the least. The best 30 minutes invested in a long time. Thank you, Bill Moyers.

  • Chachita

    This is awesome! Thank you very much Mr Berry for understanding.

  • Mary Vermeulen

    Wendell Berry is at the top of the list of my heroes, favorite poets, and favorite economist. I own most of his nonfiction books and books of poetry. Whenever I feel depressed about the state of the world, I read his poem, “The Peace of Wild Things”. This world needs his writings. Thank you, Bill, for having him on your show. He is, indeed, a national treasure! We need to listen to him and act on behalf of our earth.

  • http://about.me/humntorch Human Torch

    This was truly a terrific interview. We need more people like Wendell Berry.

  • Brenda Duffey

    So glad you are sharing this message. That has been the message I am trying to share. Unfortunately, your recent comments don’t seem to be helpful to the American public in getting this message and realizing that they are being led down the same path that has started to hemorrhage with nothing more than the government offering band aids that only keep the problem alive.

  • Robert Thomas

    Mr. Berry’s writing is compelling. His insistence upon ethical pragmatism in general and in particular with respect to agriculture seems consistent to me and unusually free from bucolic romance. To be an involved, potent public figure in one’s mature years and also to possess a talent for elegant verse displays an enviable aspect.

    When Mr. Moyers mentioned the demography of rural America, though, I think Berry went off the rails.

    Moyers offers that in 1934 there were seven million “family farms” (however that label is exactly defined – I won’t dispute) and that now there are two million of them, Berry says that he doesn’t “like to talk about the future very much because it doesn’t exist”. This is a fair and prudent attitude but also an easy out. While we can’t predict the future, equally we must estimate it in order to proceed wisely and responsibly. Berry would certainly concede this. When Moyers points to this trend (implying, some how, that moving six or seven percent of the current population back to agriculture from other employment would make a pervasively enlightening change in society), Berry claims, essentially, that the marketplace of the “non-existent” future will require a return of the population to rural pursuits because people require divers agriculture for good health.

    Despite evidence to the contrary, that simple diets of legumes and simple carbohydrates sustained populations in better health longer than our more varied modern diet, it’s likely true that SOME consumers will support a return of a HANDFUL of others to specialty agriculture, but nothing like the return of 25 million. So, what’s the point, exactly? “Vulgar” or not, it won’t represent a measurable amount of job creation, that’s for sure.

    Moyers asks if we must not urgently do something “given what agribusiness is doing” (listen, all farmers of farms large or small, are in agribusiness, if they’re responsible and successful. They’re not priests or gurus or objects of idyllic agrarian fantasy – they’re business people). Berry says we must do the right thing “without regard for the morrow”. This is wrong and silly, on its face. We must do what’s right with careful regard for the likely future.

    My father was born in 1925 in Calvin, North Dakota – a township that’s now all but abandoned (48.853054,-98.935318). The demise of that community was predictable by its residents when he was a child – and that was after the Nonpartisan League’s successes in repelling the Great Northern’s corrupt and malignant stranglehold on the region and before the Great Depression. It was predictable because it was already clear that the land didn’t require the population there unless everyone went back to cultivating with oxen.

    It’s a mistake to think you can remake the world as a better place by going back in time. Add to this notion a sufficiently belligerent attitude, a volume of Rousseau and a pyramid stack of human skulls, and you risk channelling Pol Pot.

  • Yar

    Wendell Berry was the keynote speaker at this year’s annual meeting of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth. We are some of “these people” who are working for positive change in our communities.
    More Wendell Berry:
    http://www.kftc.org/blog/kftc-annual-meeting-what-democracy-looks

  • Ilene

    Heartfelt interview with this brilliant, caring, and humble man. While some of the solutions suggested may not be entirely feasible, at least it causes us to rethink the way we do things. Care for the earth should be our top priority. We each need to take responsibility for doing our part no matter how big or how small our actions. Indifference will be at the cost of our earth’s demise.

  • sylvia kronstadt

    Moyers program is consistently the best thing on TV, in my opinion.

    This program, though, was even more than the ever-superb political, economic, moral and environmental analysis that we have come to expect each week.

    It was a work of art, thanks not just to the lovably modest and insightful Mr. Berry but also to Bill and his staff, who edited the program so beautifully with stunning images and pacing.

  • GOD’S TRUE WORDr

    As to Obamascare two people, one at church the other at work, .Health plans are being raised,BUT deductable is going from $1,000 to $5,000 a year.affordable?

  • GOD’S TRUE WORDr

    As to the earth, God turned the nile red and cleaned it up.
    He can clean anything we do to it.

  • Yar

    It is written do not put God to the test. The concept that our actions don’t matter is bad science, and bad theology.

  • GOD’S TRUE WORDr

    Malachi 3:9-11 (New International Version)

  • Michigan Farmer

    Let’s be clear about those no-till crops you’re saying are so great. They involve huge amounts of herbicides, generally Round-Up on GMO crops, or atrazine which is even worse. Now that we know Round-Up DOES persist in the soil and water instead of instantly degrading as we were told, no-till relying on it and other herbicides doesn’t look like such a wonderful option for our own health, let alone the health of, say, the monarch butterflies which relied on the milkweed that survived tilling for weed control but does not survive herbicides.

    Also, plowing does NOT destroy organic matter; it sequesters it and allows it to become available over time instead of all at once. And if you are trying to say that commerical fertilizers don’t wash into the water supply but manure does, that’s hogwash.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for this interview. So important. I listen with a lump in my throat. Teachers, professors, please share this interview with your young people in your classrooms. Then discuss. Share some more. Discuss. Education and discussion.

  • Anonymous

    Robo bee, reminds me of mechanical killer drones from Phillip Pullman’s trilogy: “His Dark Materials”.

  • Alice M

    My notes summary for facebook post :-) Don’t fail to watch this. “There are no sacred and unsacred places; only sacred and desecrated places.” No amount of fiddling with capitalism will address its destruction of the environment. “It’s mighty hard right now to think of anything that’s precious that isn’t endangered. But maybe that’s an advantage. The poet, William Butler Yeats said somewhere, ‘things reveal themselves passing away.’ And it may be that the danger that we’ve now inflicted upon every precious thing reveals the preciousness of it and shows us our duty. Some of us, these people and their friends and allies that now cover the world, these people are free to acknowledge the preciousness of the precious things.” In short, “there’s no justification for the permanent destruction of the world.”

  • Buddha and Dog

    Thank you once again Bill Moyers and Co. for bringing to light an incredible thinker who makes a profound difference to the world and helps others appreciate their lives and the land on which they live. Mr Moyers, you have brought so much inspiration to my life by introducing to me such great minds. I would like someone to interview and acknowledge YOU because YOU too bring so much to the world in which you live. Thanks and thank you for showcasing Wendell Berry. I have been an admirer of his writing since I read A PLACE ON EARTH years ago and I met Mr. Berry and his wife Tanya at a reading in NY. I felt very strongly that I was meant to be in the same air space with them. It was a moment I will always remember. Thanks again.

  • Anonymous

    This was a most powerful program Bill. Thank you so much for for bringing our national treasure Wendell Berry to a wider audience. May he inspire millions to heed his call to act in defense of our small blue planet.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the link. : )

  • Cristina Ortega

    Thank you Mr. Moyers for sharing the words and wisdom of Mr. Berry. Brilliant! this is Fernando Ortega’s sister…..

  • Anonymous

    WE HAVE A RESPONSIBILITY TO REVOLT

  • Anonymous

    when I say, we have a responsibility to revolt, what I mean this…if we love the precious gifts of Life and nature, we must stand confident in the Lord, by defending every bit of it, daily…our daily ‘bread’. Thanks-Giving is love, made manifest.

  • Tranacria

    More anticapitalist hypocrisy from benefactors of the system they seek to destroy.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you Mr. Moyers; thank you for introducing me to this incredible human being.

  • Gayle Lin

    If you had cancer, would you stay away from medical knowledge and expect God to take care of it?
    The I AM created Nature and its laws. That power doesn’t drop back down to undo the mess we make by defiling the laws of nature.
    He made them perfect, and doesn’t fiddle with them.
    It is entirely up to us.

  • Anonymous

    My Mom who is 75 years old watched the wonderful program yesterday , told me she believed I would be extremely interested in what Wendell Berry discussed, I certainly was, This man should be in every school teaching our future generations how they can save themselves and their future!
    We the people had better wake up! Man is slowly destroying all living organisms on the planet with chemicals!
    Thanks Mr. Moyers for having this wonderful intellectual man on your show!

  • Stephen King – KY&NH

    Many years ago, Wendell Berry’s writing removed the veil surrounding so much in our country that didn’t make sense. I consider myself fortunate to be part of a generation that remembers real farming and has been able to follow and benefit from the evolution of his thinking. Thank you Bill Moyers, for featuring this wonderful, kind, wise, and enlightened, man. A debt of gratitude is owed to him for opening the door – the beginning of wisdom for many of us having trouble understanding what was happening to our farmers our land, our country, and its people. He is without doubt a national treasure to be venerated.

  • dkf2222

    Wendell Berry has been living right beside the river full of poison. He has no proof but he says he just knows it has bad stuff in it. Yet he is an old man that hasn’t died from the poison yet…and obviously hasn’t tested it or he would have proof.

  • Anonymous

    I had a very similar reaction. Wonderful. Please share with young people.

  • Chris Etheridge

    As a reader and follower of Wendell Berry, I must thank you, Bill Moyers, for this wonderful interview!

  • Ed Marksberry

    Kentucky owes a great debt to Mr. Berry. The coal industry giants have a strangle hold on our policy makers here in Ky and that is why I’m running for the US Senate as an independent. My former party (Democratic) along with the Republican party refuse to recognize that we need to stand now for the future generations and to stop treating our workers as if they are expendable, while extorting our natural resources at the cost of our health and environment.
    A half trillion dollars in coal has been taken out of Eastern Ky and what have we got to show for it; the highest poverty region in the nation. Help support my campaign Ed Marksberry for US Senate by sharing with others. Saving Ky is saving the world.
    http://www.Marksberry2014.com

  • David Stone

    Anyone moved by Wendell Berry’s artistic wisdom should explore “permaculture”. It’s a quiet, worldwide revolution that embodies ecological living intended to heal and care for our planet and and all it’s creatures. It is “sustainable agriculture” and “organic farming” to the tenth power. Permaculture is our hope for a better future.

  • Vivian Parker

    Could not watch and listen without tears….thank you BIll for sharing this, thank you…We do have hope.

  • Kerry Kurt

    Be not afraid of the Life spring of tears that much Love brings. They are the birthing of our common Wellness. Place no energy in holding them rigid against the damned, they cry out to cover the land with their sacred sanguine richness. The waters must break forth – and they do – one gentle soul at a time.

  • Anonymous

    I grew up on my granddad’s small family dairy. It was in south central new jersey but he would recognize the style. Our gernseys spent warm weather in pasture with a stream & trees for the hot days. In the winter it was a toasty barn with a thick mat of straw from the barley or wheat we grew for grain. We bred & raised our own replacement cows, the chickens had a big yard complete with tart cherry trees to browse & the garden was plowed each spring with the old Farmall.Super M & manure went on the fields to improve the soil. No antibiotics unless an animal was sick. When I was really little – before kindergarden – my noon chore was to open the barnyard gate so granddad could drive the work team in for their midday rest. A wonderful way to grow up.

    PS School in the fall was a vacation after a summer of processing the garden produce into canned, preserved, pickled & frozen vegetables & fruit. Nothing like a New Jersey summer in the kitchen with tomato canning gear & no AC.

  • Anonymous

    Large operations don’t have to be the dreadful factories but they require a lot more land and people. Food would cost more but many of the currently externalized costs inflicted on society would nearly vanish (various community MRSAs, etc) there is economic value in cleaner water & avoiding these infections and better quality food. Milk from lower out put gernseys & jerseys actually have more types of proteins in larger quantity than holsteins – we used to say that with them you get skim milk right from the cow.

  • Lolita Buxton

    Good to hear Wendell Berry. We do have to stand for a revolution by accepting our responsibility and by being accountable. Thank you Mr. Berry. There’s hope and a way to change without violence.

  • Anonymous

    I find it almost inconceivable that, despite all contrary evidence, an intelligent individual might still have faith in man and the majority, and keep banging his head against the wall. Why won’t such a person admit that the survival of man — when nature can take no more — is possible only when the discipline, prohibition, enforcement and oppression meted out by another clear-sighted human prevents him from indulging in his destructive impulses and committing suicide? How can such a person justify democracy? Does he not see that unless man, unless all of Western culture, grows humble and takes a deep bow of submission, it will assuredly ransack the whole Earth and strip it to the bone, no matter how it might manage to change some chemicals into others or switch to alternative sources of energy? How can such a person not perceive that if we maintain man’s rule over nature and preserve the value of human life as it is conceived in Western nations, what remains is but a straight path leading to the pothole of extinction? How can anyone be so crazy as to think that all human life has the same value and all humans the same morality, regardless of numbers? It is clear to me that every time a new child is born, the value of each human on the Earth slightly decreases. It is obvious to me that human morality during the population explosion is wholly unlike that adopted when in the beginning man was a sparse and noble species.

    Linkola, Pentti (2011-12-25). Can Life Prevail? (Kindle Locations 2094-2104). Arktos. Kindle Edition.

  • Anonymous

    Unfortunately the fact is that Berry is living in a privileged hypocritical fantasy-land, much like Al Gore.

  • Anonymous

    There is always a pearl crusher isn’t there. See the message not the messenger!

  • vitaconstancia

    The fact is that Berry was born and raised on a humble farm, went to college locally and taught all his life not far from his own small farm. That’s the fact. He is not living a privileged life. He is a real person. We Kentuckians respect him for this very reason.

  • Anonymous

    The message is one of Jeffersonian agrarian fantasy given the reality of what is going on in the US and the rest of the world.

  • Anonymous

    Thankfully some of us still live in parts of the world where we haven’t done irreversible damage. Sustainability should not be beyond the human race.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t know where you live but in Wisconsin we have dairy farmers constructing CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feed Operations) that are going up to 5000 cows. My neighbor recently built a 15 million gallon manure lagoon. This emphasis on land, erosion small farming etc. is fine viz. going back to the new celeb
    Agrarians like Louis Bromfield. That world is gone. In the US water is probably much more under threat than land with practices like fracking and construction of giant toxic lakes of animal waste. Combine that with things like GMOs, neonic systemic insecticides, and more making it an increasing all out war on nature at this point. And for what? So we can have more KFC for China? More boondoggle ethanol making political cronies rich? What is now obvious with people too cowardly to admit is the core problem with civilization itself and humanity thinking that democracy, capitalism and humanitarian rights and values that will solve these problems. So that is what I mean about a Wendell Berry living in a humanitarian fantasy world.

  • Eleanor Milligan

    Let there be Hope.

  • Pam Rieli

    What’s the right thing to do? Stop the unscrupulous
    profiteers by violently wrenching our minds from dependency on capitalism, our bodies from contributing to wars for fossil fuels, and our souls from collaborating with satanic governments & industries engaged in greed economics.

    I concede that some technologies were conceived in rebellion against God & His creation. My husband Ken, however, has reached into the spiritual realm & received technical solutions that are gifts from God – high-efficiency engines that clean our air & restore the oxygen that is relentlessly being destroyed by deadly diesels & polluting piston ICE’s. Solar fusion engines & bird-friendly micro-wind generators that even the poor can afford. Low-cost vehicles that can be built by the world, for the world. Liberty technologies that we’re boiling down into DIY plans for a takeover economy.

    It’s past time to “come out from among them” & create a sustainable democratic economy. The Earth can’t wait for us to slowly spread the seeds of sustainable living. The only thing that stops the wicked is fear of God killing them.

    Our strategy is to make them obsolete. Become personal power producers, sustainable growers, cooperative industrialists who protect health, life & liberty – and violently displace the need for greed.

  • Carl

    Bill Moyers has been a very positive influence in my life and I always come away having learned something positive and encouraging. Bill always had someone who could teach us something good and encouraging. I very much appreciate that in a world today that is often dark and foreboding. The media and “news” of today leave us not in hope, but with often times fear and uncertainy. Wish we had more Bill Moyers and Wendell Berry’s around.
    We as a human species need to straighten ourselves out and figure out what is good and postive, and was is not. We need to stay with the good and positive and let the rest fall as it will. We shouldn’t fear that falling – it was meant to be.

  • Rigoberto O’Higgins

    Wait, are you one of these eco-Stalinists I keep hearing about in the right-wing media? I thought they were made up. “How can [we] justify democracy?” I dunno, I guess we’d better get us a philosopher king… And I imagine you’re especially concerned about the exploding population of the Darker Nations… “soon the white race will be utterly submerged,” as Tom Buchanan observed so long ago? Dude, population paranoia=racism, full stop.

  • Anonymous

    If I quote Al Gore will that make me an eco-leftist. I forget what the word is for when a reader always takes a quote to be the same beliefs as the person quoting it. How about stupid?

  • Nimmi

    I have watched Bill’s shows but so far this show touché me more. It is an eye opener about corporations, greed for money at the cost of creation and how the powerful does not listen to the public if their interests are against them. What can the public do? A deep classic!!! All politicians all over the world must see.

  • Nimmi

    What a great way of growing up and raising farm animals! God “Creation” Bless You.

  • Nimmi

    What is permaculture?

  • Karin Barnaby

    I’ve long believed that we need a revolution to restore and renew democracy in our country–not by means of violence, guns and bombs, but by means of decent, thoughtful people speaking up and doing the right thing and refusing to go along with unjust, inhumane and environmentally degrading policies and actions. Wendell Berry, in so many ways speaks truth to corporate and political power–the two being almost completely merged and indistinguishable one from the other at this point–albeit understanding how futile it is. A fool’s errand, but–knowing it’s the right thing to do–doing it anyway.

  • http://memerocket.com Bill Burcham

    The idea at 10:00 that “the World and our life in it, are conditional gifts” seems like it should hold some power for the religious. However, that idea must contend with end time theology which concludes that conservation doesn’t matter since this world is going away soon.

  • Anonymous

    Until all the issues are fixed, being outspoken is a duty to take on for each of us. Nice at this point -is- being outspoken, so you see.

  • Anonymous

    Can do more.

  • Anonymous

    This comment is wholly irrelevant and unhelpful. What we can learn is that god is everything, and no religion will ever speak for god. God is goodness before the word. And if you only know god through words, you don’t know god through deeds, and if you don’t know god through deeds, you don’t know god at all. God is good, and only good. If you have no faith in human nature, you have no faith in god.

  • Anonymous

    SPEAKING BEAUTY TO POWER.

  • Justin King

    Talking morality to the BANKSTERS is a waste of breath in this desperate world.

    It will take the major sovereign CRASH to get the attention of the correct people.

  • Tonia S.

    What a great broadcast and wonderful being! Mr. Berry has motivated me this Sunday morning to do more than sit on the sidelines and talk about what is happening to this earth but to get involved! Thank you!!!

  • Anonymous

    Wendell Berry could have performed a great act of service to his country and Earth by refusing the National Humanities Medal. I’m sorry he did not.

  • Joy P

    Thank you for this very special visit with Wendell Berry, Mr. Moyers. Berry’s ability to hit the nail on the head is inspirational. I would like to offer the book by Gar Alperovitz, “What Then Must We Do? Straight Talk About the Next American Revolution” who is a mid-west college professor:who begins the discussion of how to save our future for ourselves, our children and grandchildren. I tell you this because both of these amazing men, Alerovitz and Berry define our enemy as Corporations who control all the wealth and power in the USA and world. Daniel Ellsberg, Seymour M Hersh, Juliet Schor, James Gusrav Speth, Naomi Wolf, Michael Kazin,Ralph Nader, Van Jones, Leo Gerard, Jeremy Rifkin, Herman Daly, Frances Moore Lappe, Richard D. Wolff, David Korten,James Galbraith, Grace Lee Boggs, and Bertell Ollman all write praise of Alperovitz book. And now we have a 39 minute interview of a man of calm and reason, Wendell Berry, to speak of our need to protect our earth and environment. It is our responsibility to begin discussions now and continue to be inspired by Berry’s challenge to make changes now without permission from anyone. .

  • Joy P

    When you are awarded the national Humanities Medal, you can refuse it.

  • Margaret Alexa

    Wendell Berry, thank you. Bill Moyers, thank you. I saw this interview with tears running down my face. My little 8 acres has been in my extended family since I was a very little kid. Now I’m old and live here, too handicapped to fulfill the dream I had for it. I know where each wild flower blooms, can walk it in the dark and never stumble, know where the cats have been because I can smell which field, which grasses and weeds from the pollens in their fur and herb oils on their feet. My creek sings to me, deer and turkey come with wild birds and other wildlife to the feeders. I feed my wild bees sugar water in shallow plates if they’re still searching pollen in warm autumns after the frosts, they come by the thousands, and land on my hands. I frighten my friends (both of them). There is no pesticide of any kind here, because there are no pests. I let paper wasps make nests on my porch, we respect each others’ spaces. I raise my mower over ground bee nests, they let me be, as I let them. I brake for caterpillars, and frogs, and grasshoppers and moths. I leave great patches of clover for the bees, and swaths of mallow and indian paintbrush. My “lawn” is a patchwork of lunacy, mowed I think only because otherwise I couldn’t find the house. Where I let the groundhogs have their burrows, they dig up arrowheads and knapped flint from the ancient Eriez Indians who hunted the ancestors of my whitetail deer in the huge riverine valley that is my back yard. If it were possible, my flesh would nourish my worms when I die, and my bones would be embraced by the roots of saplings I have planted here. As it is, my ashes will have to do.

    Some of us understand what you are saying with every cell in our bodies. I’m afraid those who don’t “get it” never will. My regret is that all my family is gone, I have no one to pass this land on to, no one to teach the hidden beauties, where the land is poorer or more fertile, where the springs run just barely beneath the ground, which wild bird is singing, why the crows know I am their friend. And so will it be lost, unless it calls to someone else, and they have the ears to hear its song, and the courage to answer, and begin the dance anew.

    Once again, Wendell Berry, thank you. And Bill Moyers, I literally grew up with you, have been a fan since I was quite young. You rarely disappoint. Thank you.

  • http://www.exploringthegreenroad.com/ Monica

    Perhaps donate your property to a local non-profit who will care for
    your property? Your post was very moving … I love that you have been
    able to live your life in this way. Your lawn sounds like my lawn! The
    right person or group will appear – is that too hokey to write out? Perhaps. I think so tho.

  • Cathy

    I agree. Get a permanent conservation easement on that land so it can’t be developed, and get it willed to someone or some organization that will take care of it.

  • Anonymous

    The fact that “end time theology” was cooked up in the 1800s to con the rubes is the scariest part of this heresy.

  • Joanne Newey

    Dear Margaret, I thank you sincerely for living such a beautiful lifestyle, it is with gratitude that I read your comments. I too had the joy of living with my Grandmother on a small plot of land where she taught me the ways of the past generations, the respect and love one has when connected to the natural world that can be carried forward in life no matter what transpires in our lives, now homeless in a large city, I am constantly using those lessons taught by gran to care (often in small ways) for the nature that I find in day to day travels, it may only be a small green/orange caterpillar that I spy on the floor of a peak hour train, i have no difficulty asking other passengers to step aside for its small rescue, this caring for nature can be passed on in these small ways and I am happy indeed if my intervention can set a small example for others
    thanks again for your words they have reminded me of my earth connection and your story has replenished my sole

  • Lisa Seaman

    What a wonderful picture you paint with your words, Margaret. Blessings to you.

  • Anonymous

    “The earth belongs to the living in usufruct.”
    Thomas Jefferson

  • http://www.exploringthegreenroad.com/ Monica

    Not sure what state you are in Margaret but the Nature Conservancy has funds just for reasons as you state. I would think that they would also arrange that you can stay on as long as you need or want too. You are in my thoughts this week and I wish you all and only the best!

  • Gary Wade McGee

    Berry talked about people with money having more power and therefore perceived as more important. Here are some strategies for how we can turn the tables on power and how to expiate that power… http://letter-z.hubpages.com/hub/How-to-get-Power-over-Power-Capital-Munificence-and-Hero-Expiation

  • Anonymous

    Thank you Bill Moyers and Wendell Berry for being a light during a time of great darkness. Though I cannot claim to be half the poet Berry is, my own poem ‘Hope’ resonates with his poem. Here’s an excerpt:

    “Banish hope

    from your lexicon.

    Say instead: Action

    or no action.

    No friend of the forest

    he who merely mourns.”

  • Kate Hunter

    Where can I purchase a copy of this video? Thank you!

  • Anonymous

    I think you will find he grows corn and small grains on his farm. His ancestors were indeed tobacco farmers, his brother may still be though I doubt it.