Seems it’s a rare bird who writes actual letters these days, and rarer still two friends so thoughtful and thorough when sorting out what we all need our relationship to the land – and each other- to be. I am thankful these favorite writers and humans, farmers and marvelous poets, Wendell Berry and Gary Snyder, just published their conversation of the last 40 years+ in the book Distant Neighbors. The two were at Copperfields Montgomery Village last month!

“A few raindrops are hitting the roof. We would be glad to have a lot of them,” says Wendell to Gary. “Dear Wendell,” says Gary after reading manuscript for Wendell’s The Unsettling of America “…I think the chapter on energy is weak. It needs, simply, a better use of terms, and, I think there are some minor confusions…I’m glad to get to Sacramento about 2 days a month- they’re too frantic.”

Yes, guys, you are relevant because you live wisely, use words so beautifully – and you cross reference stuff like “Odum’s Environment, Power and Society and the Scientific American Energy book.” All from these “folks whose heart is in the right place.” Thank you for your clear sense of direction, Gary and Wendell! Wish I could fix you dinner and talk till we’re tired.

A fan of Wendell Berry, our friend, Petaluma Grange Vice President, environmental writer, Chris Fisher, wrote in his Raucous Rooster blog: (

This month marks the 40th anniversary of Berry’s beautiful speech. I love to think of all the great things Grangers and others are doing nowadays in response to the situation he saw then. Video of the ’74 presentation below, transcript below that. (find w. Chris’ blog)

Wise Counsel From the Past: Wendell Berry’s “The Culture of Agriculture” – July 1, 1974
July 16, 2014

Posted as a tribute to the memory of my great uncle, Olen Riggle, 1921-2014, the last of the Riggle family to leave their Cripple Creek, Virginia farm for a home in the nearby city of Wytheville.

Forty years ago this month, Kentucky farmer and writer Wendell Berry gave the following speech to the “Agriculture for a Small Planet” symposium in Spokane, Washington.

Invited to the West Coast to give voice to a “Labor Intensive Micro-Systems Viewpoint” – a phrase he promptly took issue with – Berry’s presentation eventually became the foundation of his classic, timeless work on farming and the land, The Unsettling of America.

This presentation and a subsequent letter to symposium staffers Gigi Coe and Bob Stilfer helped inspire the the Pacific Northwest’s Tilth movement. See below for a transcript and links to The Berry Center and Tilth Producers.

Forty years later, Berry’s words sound uncannily prescient, and to those of us from his part of the world – West Virginia in my case – like the loveliest music to the ears. (end)

All that and let me reprint yet again:

Wendell Berry’s 17 Rules for a Sustainable Community
from Another Turn of the Crank

So now we must ask how a sustainable local community (which is to say a sustainable local economy) might function. I am going to suggest a set of rules that I think such a community would have to follow. And I hasten to say that I do not consider these rules to be predictions; I am not interested in foretelling the future. If these rules have any validity, that is because they apply now.

1. Always ask of any proposed change or innovation: What will this do to our community? How will this affect our common wealth?

2. Always include local nature – the land, the water the air, the native creatures – within the membership of the community.

3. Always ask how local needs might be supplied from local sources, including the mutual help of neighbors.

4. Always supply local needs first. (And only then think of exporting their products, first to nearly cities, and then to others.)

5. Understand the unsoundness of the industrial doctrine of “labor saving” if that implies poor work, unemployment, or any kind of pollution or contamination.

6. Develop properly scaled value-adding industries for local products to ensure that the community does not become merely a colony of the national or global economy.

7. Develop small-scare industries ad businesses to support local farm and/or forest economy.

8. Strive to produce as much of the community’s own energy as possible.

9. Strive to increase earnings (in whatever form) within the community and decrease expenditures outside the community.

10. Make sure that money paid into the local economy circulates within the community for as long as possible before it is paid out.

11. Make the community able to invest in itself by maintaining its properties,keeping itself clean (without dirtying some other place), caring for its old people, teaching its children.

12. See that the old and the young take care of one another. The young must learn from the old, not necessarily and not always in school. There must be no institutionalized “child care” and “homes for the aged.”

13. Account for costs now conveniently hidden or “externalized.” Whenever possible, these costs must be debited against monetary income.

14. Look into the possible uses of local currency, community-funded loan programs, systems of barter, and the like.

15. Always be aware of the economic value of neighborly acts. In our time the costs of living are greatly increased by the loss of neighborhood, leaving people to face their calamities alone.

16. A rural community should always be acquainted with, and complexly connected with, community-minded people in nearby towns and cities.

17. A sustainable rural economy will be dependent on urban consumers loyal to products. Therefore, we are talking about an economy that will always be more cooperative than competitive.

These rules are derived from Western political and religious traditions, from the promptings of ecologists and certain agriculturists, and from common sense. They may seem radical, but only because the modern national and global economies have been formed in almost perfect disregard of community and ecological interests. A community economy is not an economy in which well-placed persons can make a “killing.” It is not a killing economy. It is an economy whose aim is generosity and a well-distributed and safeguarded abundance. If it seems unusual to hope and work for such an economy, then we must remember that a willingness to put the community ahead of profit is hardly unprecedented among community business people and local banks.