This lecture was prepared for delivery at the Liberty Hyde Bailey Museum,
South Haven, Michigan, on March 5th, 2008, the day, which would have been Bailey’s 150th birthday.
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Liberty Hyde Bailey as an Agrarian Thinker
Wendell Berry has defined the agrarian as the opposite of the industrial, and he got this directly from Liberty Hyde Bailey. In one of his early books, The Outlook to Nature published in 1905, Bailey began by emphasizing nature as the norm that should govern civilization. We now live in an industrial civilization which sees the farm, or nature, merely as a producer of raw materials. The agrarian, like Bailey, recognizes the industrial sector as being the producer of the tools needed to produce food, but the agrarian would like to see the industrial sector integrated more harmoniously with nature. Although Berry goes on to relate Bailey back to a tradition of agrarian thinkers, from the ancient Roman poet, Virgil, to Thomas Jefferson, the fact is that Bailey was a new kind of agrarian, the first environmental agrarian. Berry learned a greener kind of agrarianism from Bailey. Nature is the norm. In his book, The Holy Earth, Bailey begins with the proposition that the earth is good because God created it, and while humans were given dominion over it they have no commission to devastate: “and the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and keep it.”
Reasons for Expecting an Agrarian Revival
We have indeed entered a new world since the time of Liberty Hyde Bailey. It is a world that was made possible by the burning of fossil fuels, coal, oil and natural gas. These fuels provided the energy that modern technology was able to harness, and they made possible the enormous productivity of our industrial civilization. They have also made possible a tremendous growth of population in the world: from two billion in 1930 to six billion in 1999. A large share of this population was made possible by the increased food production provided by synthetic nitrogen fertilizer. The main source of this fertilizer is natural gas. In addition, the mode of food production uses enormous quantities of oil: in trucks, farm machinery, to manufacture pesticides and fertilizer, to process food, to distribute it through wholesale and retail outlets and, increasingly, in restaurants…In the long view of history the fossil fuel era will be seen as a brief extravagance. It will be remembered, along with the industrial civilization it spawned, mainly through the pollution it left behind and through a climate much less hospitable to human life…As we learn to cooperate with nature we may recover a reverence for nature, for the Holy Earth, that would have gratified Liberty Hyde Bailey. I see the emergence of various forms of earth-centered spirituality, which had been a recessive gene in our cultural organism. One expression of this may be the kind of creation spirituality…where people worship God for the bounty provided in Creation and do not worry so much about sin and salvation.
Inside Higher Ed has a thoughtful and reflective review on Liberty Hyde Bailey’s, “The Holy Earth” by Scott McLemee. “By the time he died in 1954, Bailey was a sage and a legend — part Al Gore, part Indiana Jones, avant la lettre.”
Read the entire article at: mclemee / Intellectual Affairs – Inside Higher Ed
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A woman who knew my evolution beliefs once asked me where heaven is. There seemed to her to be no place left for it in the cosmos of the evolutionist. This is a type of difficulty which perplexes many persons. They dwell upon the physical symbolism of faith and creed, as if the things of the spirit must be measured by time and space and materials. I could only answer that I never expect to be able to discover heaven with a telescope. Perhaps heaven is much nearer than we think.
– L.H. Bailey, from the 1899 article, “An Evolutionist’s View on Nature and Religion” in The Idepedendent
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Nature does not become senile; it pauses, and then resurrects.
– L.H. Bailey
Carriage barn at the Liberty Hyde Bailey Museum, South Haven, Michigan
The new Ken Burn’s documentary, The National Park: America’s Best Ideas will take to the airwaves on September 27th. One of the featured personalities will be that of John Muir, no less reintroducing the legacy of this profound man to many Americans. Muir’s activism ripples through our culture with concentric waves touching the founding of Yosemite National Park, Sequoia National Park, the Sierra Club, and bringing awareness to Americans of the landscape they inhabit. Liberty Hyde Bailey too was effected by Muir’s legacy. Not too long after Muir’s death in 1914, Bailey wrote of him in The Holy Earth in the chapter entitled, “The separate soul.”
Click on the title link to dowload this chapter from Bailey’s, The Holy Earth.
Where does your beef come from? As author Michael Pollan points out in his book, In Defense of Food we have resigned one of the most intimate acts in our daily life, eating food, to an industrialized system. Mike Rainey, of Rainey Farms in South Haven, Michigan presented an alternative at the museum’s last Brown Bag this summer; know your farmer and know where your food comes from. Mike raises cattle without the use of synthetic hormones or steroids and are fed only all natural ingredients. As a local farmer who also sells at the South Haven Farmer’s Market, Mike is an advocate for buying food locally citing its benefits of spurring local economic growth, knowing what’s in your food and where it comes from and basically better tasting food. Put away that marinade! This beef has flavor.
To order from Rainey Farms call: 1-866-655-8855. On the web at: http://www.raineyfarms.com/, E-Mail: email@example.com
Other resources for eating & buying local: http://www.localharvest.org/; http://www.fairfoodmatters.org/;
Two leaders in environmental thought influenced by the writings of Liberty Hyde Bailey continue to inspire. Parts of Bailey’s classic The Holy Earth can be found in Wendell Berry’s What Are People For?: Essays. Aldo Leopold’s classic A Sand County Almanac furthered Bailey’s idea of how one is to live with their environment. Great reads and food for thought. What would you recommend?
This Morning Edition series takes you to America’s farmers markets and roadside stands for a sample of what’s growing on its farms, in its gardens and across the countryside.
Check it out at: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=111309533