Inspiration Across Generations

If you’ve read Prairie Grown, you may have noticed that I like to quote Wendell Berry. His writing, and his ideas about the world, have influenced my own significantly, and I got to wondering if there was a story behind why my folks have so many of his books. Mr. Berry has written over 40, and I would wager a guess that most of his titles have graced the Hillside Prairie Gardens homestead at some point during the last 40 years.  My parents have a small organic farm, one that is committed to keeping the health of the soil good and contributing in a positive way to the local community — much of Mr. Berry’s writing focuses on those basic principles of sustainable agriculture.

“For the true measure of agriculture is not the sophistication of its equipment the size of its income or even the statistics of its productivity but the good health of the land.”
Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture

In 1982, when I was two years old, my parents attended a farming workshop put on for the Center for Rural Affairs in Walthill, NE.  They had been vista volunteers with the organization, doing small farm energy outreach work, and Wendell Berry was the guest speaker.  My dad was familiar with some of Mr. Berry’s writing after taking a Philosophy class where The Unsettling of America was discussed – which was eye opening information for him.   After the presentation,  Dad was able to engage Mr. Berry in conversation and mentioned that my mother, Mary Kay,  was from Indiana and had relatives in the southern portion of the state, which is not far from the Berry farm in northern Kentucky.  Dad asked if he might consider allowing them to stop down and visit when they were in the area. Mr. Berry said that would be ok,  gave his phone number, and asked that it not be shared.

Later that year Dad wrote asking if after Christmas would be an alright time to stop down.  With me in the care of Grandma and Grandpa in Indianapolis, they drove south, and as per his directions found the farm.

As they drove into the yard Mr. Berry was driving a horse drawn wagon and stopped in welcome and to offer a ride.  Then he hesitated and said,  “but on second thought, this is new horse getting broke in to the wagon, so maybe that’s not such a good idea.”  After all parties arrived at the house, he introduced my folks to Tanya his wife.  My mom went in the house to visit with Tanya while Dad accompanied Mr. Berry for about an hour as he did his late afternoon chores.   At one point he asked Dad’s opinion about a construction issue in his barn, and they finished up the chores amidst a combination of easy silence and farming talk.  The men returned to the house for coffee, and as my parents got ready to start back, they thanked the Berrys for their generous welcome.  Dad asked if there was a good restaurant between the farm and Indianapolis, and Mr. Berry said there was not one, but invited them to “stay for supper and have a cold meatloaf sandwich with us.”  Which they did.

According to Dad, Tanya and Wendell Berry were both warm, unassuming, kind and generous hosts.

So there you have it.  Dad’s collegiate reading of one of Wendell Berry’s books set the course for decades of inspiration.

(Thanks, Mr. Wendell Berry)

For more information on Mr. Berry’s work, visit The Berry Center, a nonprofit organization that has been established for the purpose of bringing focus, knowledge and cohesiveness to the work of changing our ruinous industrial agriculture system into a system and culture that uses nature as the standard, accepts no permanent damage to the ecosphere, and takes into consideration human health in local communities.

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