Agriculture

Wendell Berry Earns Highest Humanities Award, Lectures on Economy and Imagination

Obama awards Wendell E. Berry the 2010 National Medal of Arts and Humanities. Ph

Obama awards Wendell E. Berry the 2010 National Medal of Arts and Humanities. Photo by Mark Wilson / Getty Images

On Monday evening Wendell Berry delivered the 41st annual Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities, sponsored by the National Endowment of the Humanities, at the John F. Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. According to the NEH, this is “the most prestigious honor the federal government bestows for distinguished intellectual achievement in the humanities.”

In front of hundreds, Berry took his place among former recipients (Walker Percy, Toni Morrison, Arthur Miller, John Updike, and many others) to deliver a resonating essay on the beauty of place, imagination, and pleasure, titled “It All Turns on Affection.” The title hinges on E.M. Forster’s 1910 novel Howards End, which Berry said, takes some of its thrust as a “manifesto against materialism.”

The Agricultural 99 Percent

Dockery Farm in MIssissippi by Natalie Maynor via Wylio http://www.wylio.com/credits/Flickr/139476025

It was a record year for U.S. farmers in 2011, with farm income topping $100 billion. This includes sales of $22 billion in fruits and nuts and $21 billion in vegetables and melons — crops that rely on immigrant farm labor.

But even as U.S. farmers prospered in 2011, those working on farms had less to celebrate.

The nation’s agricultural mecca — Fresno Country, California — had the state’s highest agricultural sales ($5.9 billion) and its highest poverty rate – 27 percent. More than 36 percent of the county’s children were poor, also the highest rate in the state. As one agricultural expert puts it, “High farm sales and high poverty rates often go together.”

Low wages, the seasonal nature of agricultural work, and, for many, unauthorized immigration status make it difficult for farm workers and their families to escape poverty. Farm workers’ high poverty rates aren’t totally attributable to immigration status, but it’s certainly one of the causes: 71 percent of all hired farm workers in the United States are immigrants, and about half of them are in the country illegally.

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