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Right away, we had a large garden, and we kept two milk cows. We fattened two hogs to slaughter, for our own meat. We had a flock of chickens. And we had some fruit that we produced ourselves, and some that was wild. We were sitting down during that time to a lot of meals that came entirely from under our own feet by our own effort. And our children came up in that way of living. The integration of the various animals and crops into a relatively small acreage becomes a formal problem that is just as interesting and just as demanding as the arrangement of the parts of a novel.

But the parts also have to be ordered. Each thing supports the whole thing. One of the most significant themes of your recent work is debunking the myth of freedom—correcting the idea that limitless choice and limitless options make us happy. But my sense is that people are instinctively resistant to the idea that having fewer choices might ultimately lead to greater happiness. I want a limit to the amount of politics that gets into this conversation.

He clearly struggled deeply with giving up romantic love and sex when he entered the monastery. The conversion experience, whenever it happens, invites you to despise yourself as you were. And I think Merton essentially was too humorous and too complete a man to have been down in the mouth about his sins all the time.

It seems to me that if one thing is going to knock a person off his or her path, romantic love is maybe the most understandable transgression—love can hobble you, knock you down, get you.

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As I see it, when we marry we give up romance by submitting love to the limits of mortality. The traditional vows seize love by the scruff of the neck and set it down in real life, in the real world. Marriage in the traditional sense is also an economic connection, making a household. But you have to wait, and the necessity of patience invokes a tradition and discipline and way of thinking.

What are the payoffs of observing limits and accepting them? Over time, the animals will have learned how to live on your place, in your conditions, better than if they were strangers. Veterinary and other costs would likely go down.

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Just as when you keep yourself to your place, you adapt to it. And there comes a finally inscrutable history of influences back and forth. Lancie had forty acres of corn at a time when corn was selling at hardly more than it cost to raise it. And he had bought forty sows. He bred the sows so that their pigs would come on when the corn was ready to harvest, and then he put the pigs into the cornfield.

At the same time, he picked the corn that he needed for his other stock. He made about a thousand dollars per acre off the corn that year partly by feeding it to the hogs. Between and , the number of farms in the U. The absence of so many farmers and their families is seen as progress by the liberals and conservatives who have been in charge of the economy since about Meanwhile, the farmland and the few surviving farmers are being ruined both by destructive ways of production and by overproduction.

The millions who are gone have been replaced by bigger and bigger machines, and by toxic chemicals. If we should decide to replace the chemicals and some of the machinery with humans, as for health or survival we need to do, that would be very difficult and it would take a long time. Because there is no farmer pool from which farmers can be recruited ready-made.

Once, we could more or less expect good farmers to be the parents of good farmers. That kind of succession was hardly a public concern. A good farmer is one who brings competent knowledge, work wisdom, and a locally adapted agrarian culture to a particular farm that has been lovingly studied and learned over a number of years. A young-adult non-farmer can learn to farm from reading, apprenticeship to a farmer, advice from neighbors, trial and error—but that is more awkward, is personally risky, and it may be costly to the land. It seems counterintuitive for agriculture to keep moving in the present direction.

The solution is not simple in the approved, modern way. They want it to be decided by fate, or technology, or genetics, or something. To bring it back to politics, I was an Adlai Stevenson man when I was eighteen. I loved his eloquence.

My argument is that this ended official thought about agriculture. We were not to worry about it anymore. The Democrats and the liberals are not thinking yet about these people that they blame for electing Mr. The people who elected Mr. Trump are people whose expectations have been raised by the connivance of the market. Their expectations have been going up. But the lid on their economy has been coming down. Trump, but you have at least to acknowledge their real trouble, even their desperation.

Conservation groups have accepted this abuse of non-wilderness land about as readily as the corporate shareholders.

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Benson gave permission to urban America to accept that industrial technology could solve all the problems of food production. And so urban America could just forget about rural America. What a relief! And then Mr. Trump arrived. People who are hopeless will do irrational things. And these people wanted to make a disturbance in the hopes that the disturbance would bring forth something better. They were hoping for the wrong things, but also they were being ignored.

I believe in the importance of conversation. I think our conversation is worth more right now than either one of us thinking separately. I worry that some resistance to limits is built-in to the very bloody and complicated history of this country. But our problems, our human problems, actually are complex enough without adding fantasy.

As I understand my effort, it is to deal with the problems of, for example, land use, in their real complexity. I get invited to talk to a lady at Time , and we have a very nice talk, and I answer five questions. The context—the circumstances, the place, knowing your place—is all-important. Well, my father was not a bookish man. My mother was a reader, but my father was a lawyer, and so he was under constraint to be clear.

He really took pains to understand what it meant to talk to a jury. I have a big debt to his language. In the new book, you talk about how you often read seeking instruction. A well-made sentence, I think, is a thing of beauty. But then, a well-farmed farm also can feed a need for beauty.

And if not, can it be nurtured? Can we learn it?


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Is it inborn? As a kid, my experience of the natural world was intense and visceral. I think it did feel instinctive. It was fun. It was joyful. Or goes against it. Pretty much as part of the curriculum. I think we get to your question by way of the idea of elation. What is meant by that is an onset of happiness. Happiness in the onset of the unexpected good. So, you look at somebody you love. And if you live with them, maybe you do it every day.

The eyes-to-acres ratio introduced by Wes Jackson, the founder of the Land Institute, is extremely important. The artists have put limits on themselves over and over again. How do you think about those things fitting into a life or a community? They fill the bird feeders, they take care of the lawn and the garden and the orchard. They clean his house. They throw away his old scatter rugs and get him some scraps at the rug factory, have them bound and put them down.

When he comes home, the mail is sorted.