Jim Gerritsen

Jim Gerritsen

Here’s a memory from Jim Gerritsen of Wood Prairie Family Farm in Bridgewater, Maine:

“Wendell Berry was keynote speaker at the Common Ground Country Fair at the fairgrounds in the small central Maine town of Litchfield in 1978. This was the second Common Ground Fair ever, the first occurring just one year prior. Wendell gave his keynote in the afternoon ­– memorable for potatoes and Peru – in a sprawling venue with bleachers.

Since Wendell was in town, Fair organizers decided to make the best of his visit by also arranging a homegrown breakfast with Wendell and 50 Maine farmers in an intimate setting. The dilemma of figuring out who would attend was decentralized and equitably solved by allotting two place settings per county. Because of Aroostook County’s large size it was offered four seats.

Word circulated, but the impracticality of a 7 a.m. breakfast for farmers in distant Aroostook was not missed by anyone. On a lark, I got a hold of my friend Stu across the line and farming in Debec, New Brunswick, Canada. We weighed the logistics and fortunately had enough wisdom to understand this was a rare opportunity too good to pass up.

We agreed to meet in Houlton at 2:30 a.m. I got up at half-past one, quickly milked the cow, and met Stu, who to this day has the admirable habit of always being on time. We traveled most of the remaining 200 miles on the newly opened southbound two-lanes of I-95. We made good time, didn’t get lost and arrived with 15 minutes to spare.

Inside a meeting room, the farmers and Wendell loaded up their plates with piles of organic bacon, eggs and potatoes. After a while, Wendell got up and spoke to the group for most of a half-hour. It was evident to all that Wendell was in his element speaking to this small, focused group of fellow farmers.

Then it was the farmers’ turn to speak and channel the discussion. There is no doubt most of the farmers in the room had been reading Wendell’s recently released epic work, ‘The Unsettling of America.’ One farmer, only half-joking, said that as he read the book he heard the words as if spoken in a Maine accent. Because the other farmers were in the same boat as well, the light-hearted comment generated an immediate roomful of laughter which included Wendell’s deep Kentucky drawl.”

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