The Holy Earth by Liberty Hyde Bailey: Centennial Edition with Wendell Berry

On the occasion of having recently sent the complete manuscript to the publisher, I want to announce here on my website what has already been public news for some time -- in December of this year, Counterpoint Press will be publishing a Centennial Edition, under my editorship, of Liberty Hyde Bailey's agrarian manifesto The Holy Earth, featuring a new introduction by Wendell Berry and new editorial content.  You can preorder through the Liberty Hyde Bailey Museum here.

the holy earth - cover - smallerMy intellectual obsession with Liberty Hyde Bailey began in the spring of 2010, when, as a senior in college, I first discovered his name -- ironically, since he and I grew up in the same, small hometown of South Haven, Michigan just about 130 years apart.  Since then I have become involved with the Liberty Hyde Bailey Museum, located in Bailey's birthplace and childhood home, now a National Historic Place in South Haven, and Bailey's life and work have influenced the whole course of my own work -- from a creative nonfiction master's thesis exploring the altered worlds and strange resonances that Bailey and I have inhabited, to over two years handling the directorship of the museum, and now to doctoral study in English at New York University with a planned dissertation focus on American agricultural writing since the Civil War.

This special edition celebrates one hundred years of this book's quiet but powerful influence on environmental and agrarian thinking and on conservation policy.  Wendell Berry's new introduction is not to be missed, and Counterpoint Press has already been doing a wonderful job with design.  I have also done work to establish the work's authoritative text and provide a preface and some notes.  I'm very happy with how it has all come together, and believe that this edition will do the work the justice it deserves.

The cover art comes from a photograph taken by Bailey himself in the 1890s, and it depicts his elder daughter, Sara May Bailey, sitting beside a tree planted by Bailey's father in front of the Bailey homestead in South Haven, looking out towards the world beyond. The image is fitting on multiple levels, not the least of which is the role that Bailey's childhood home played for him in the writing of the book, and especially in the penultimate chapter on "the open fields," where he provides one of his most lovely descriptions of his hometown and the sense of deep local history that is so important to agrarian communities.  Berry touches on this influence of farm life in his wonderful introduction, and I describe some of the resonances in my editor's preface.  It has not often been appreciated just how much The Holy Earth subtly bridges the local and the global in ways far ahead of its time.

I hope this book will help boost the continuing revival of interest in Bailey's work, and also serve to kickstart new efforts to foster agrarian values and community in this strange twenty-first century.  I plan to post more updates and reflections related to the edition on this blog in the coming months.

The first upcoming event related to the centennial is a panel discussion that I will contribute to at the annual joint meeting and conference of the Agriculture, Food and Human Values Society (AFHVS) and the Association for the Study of Food and Society (ASFS) at Chatham University in Pittsburgh, PA -- details here.  The panel, titled "100 Years of Liberty Hyde Bailey's The Holy Earth," is organized by Amy Guptill of SUNY Brockport and Scott Peters of Cornell University, and it will consist of three papers presented on June 25 at 8:30 AM: "Ground-Levels in Democratic Agrarianism: Liberty Hyde Bailey's Communitarian Environmental Ethic," by Clark Wolf of Iowa State University; "The Holy Earth and Ecocriticism's 'Third Wave': Bridging the Dualism between Relinquishment and Superfluity," by myself; and "The Holy Earth in the Century of Climate Change" by Paul A. Morgan of Westchester University.

Counterpoint has now released its Fall 2015 catalog, including the advertisment for the centennial Holy Earth, which you can access electronically here.  Please consider preordering the book from the Liberty Hyde Bailey Museum, in order to support all they do, here.  And here is the information from the Counterpoint catalog:

"The earth is divine, because man did not make it. We are here, part in the creation. We cannot escape. We are under obligation to take part and to do our best, living with each other and with all creatures."

The agrarian tradition runs as an undercurrent through the entire history of literature, carrying the age-old wisdom that the necessary access of independent farmers to their own land both requires the responsibility of good stewardship and provides the foundation for a thriving civilization. At the turn of the last century, when farming first began to face the most rapid and extensive series of changes that industrialization would bring, the most compelling and humane voice representing the agrarian tradition came from the botanist, farmer, philosopher, and public intellectual Liberty Hyde Bailey. In 1915, Bailey's environmental manifesto, The Holy Earth, addressed the industrialization of society by utilizing the full range of human vocabulary to assert that the earth's processes and products, because they form the governing conditions of human life, should therefore be understood not first as economic, but as divine. To grasp the extent of human responsibility for the earth, Bailey called for "a new hold" that society must take to develop a "morals of land management," which would later inspire Aldo Leopold's "land ethic" and several generations of agrarian voices. This message of responsible land stewardship has never been as timely as now.

For the first time since Bailey's death, we present the restored and authoritative first edition text—with the author's 1943 retrospect and original editorial annotations newly gathered and edited by John Linstrom—to introduce this extraordinary book to a new generation of readers. Published in cooperation with the Liberty Hyde Bailey Museum, this special centennial edition of Bailey's masterwork will feature an appreciation of the book by Wendell Berry, whose own work has long been indebted to Bailey's writing.

Liberty Hyde Bailey (1858–1954), born on a humble frontier farm in southwest Michigan, went on to become the "Father of Modern Horticulture," a leading public intellectual on the question of rural communities, and a national spokesperson for agricultural policy. His birthplace and childhood home function as a museum and educational outreach center devoted to telling Bailey's story and engaging the modern world with his philosophy and ideals.

Essayist, novelist, and poet Wendell Berry has written more than thirty books. One of the major voices in for agrarianism today, he lives and works in his native Kentucky with his wife, Tanya Berry, and their children and grandchildren.

John Linstrom worked for several years as curator and then director of the Liberty Hyde Bailey Museum, where he is now a Bailey Foundation Fellow. His essays and poems have recently appeared in a number of journals, and he currently lives in New York City.

First full photograph of the Earth, image courtesy NASA

First full photograph of the Earth, courtesy NASA