Saturday, June 8, 2013


Wendell Berry is a writer, peace activist (of sorts) a Kentucky farmer and a bit of a curmudgeon. His essays support the ideas of truly sustainable agriculture, technology appropriate to the land and the people, and working to keep rural communities vital and healthy. To do that we need to protect the land not strip mine it. Rotate crops so that pests and diseases don’t get a chance to take hold. Enjoy good food in season as much as possible. Buy as close to your community as possible. I am learning to love his work.

When he isn't writing about the land he's protesting mountain top removal mining, new coal powered plants, our new, improved national security state and gave voice to his opposition to the Viet Nam War back in 1968 in statement that covers much of what he's written about over the years

"We seek to preserve peace by fighting a war, or to advance freedom by subsidizing dictatorships, or to ‘win the hearts and minds of the people' by poisoning their crops and burning their villages and confining them in concentration camps; we seek to uphold the ‘truth' of our cause with lies, or to answer conscientious dissent with threats and slurs and intimidations. . . . I have come to the realization that I can no longer imagine a war that I would believe to be either useful or necessary. I would be against any war"

Needless to say that if you believe that all life is interconnected you’ll probably treat it with a lot more respect than our current Monsanto/Dow driven industrial, factory farm, strip mine the earth model of agriculture the US has been pushing for us and the rest of the world since the end of WWII.

Back in 1979 Berry attended a conference on hunger at the University of Arizona. Someone in the audience asked a panelist about encouraging local, traditional systems of agriculture as a tool to fight hunger. The panelist dismissed such practices as “subsistence” agriculture. Apparently what was needed was more export oriented agriculture with the farmers now working for someone else for wages so they could buy food. And that "when traditions get in the way of the growth of a cash economy, they must be removed 'by surgery.' It is thus possible within the length of a breath to go from paternalistic economics to tyrannical politics." And whether the locals agree or not.
In other words we have to abandon local farming that feeds families and communities and keeps most of the produce local for large scale agriculture. In many countries the people on the land don’t own it. They’re tenant farmers or indigenous peoples who have lived on the land for generations but don’t hold the titles. The land gets consolidated; the farmers are forced out or onto marginal lands.

Some do get hired to work the export oriented cash crops, but there are never enough jobs. And the export crops force out the local food crops. Whoopie. You’re working for somebody else, you’ve got the cash but there’s little or no local food to buy and the imported products either are too expensive or not what you’re used to consuming. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is wrong with this picture?

What the panelist really meant was “we need to convince you ignorant peasants to work for cash so we can convince you to buy what we want to sell you.” And we need to convince your upper class landowners to grow crops that need our herbicides and pesticides. To use chemical fertilizers that slowly destroy the soil instead of working the land in ways that preserve it.. But by the time you figure out you’ve been had we’ll be laughing all the way to the bank. Sound depressingly familiar?


marigolds2 said...

I love him so much, Jackie - for me I love his poetry the most. I heard him speak at a Green conference in Austin too many years ago - his subject was agriculture - in his Kentucky Farmer mode. He is one of my personal heroes. I need to read your blog more often. I think our spirits are fairly kindred.

JACKIE said...

It took me awhile to get through The Unsettling of America but I blasted through The Gift of Good Land in about three days. Obviously I need to reread it, savor it. I took some time ealier this year to get the spiritual side more focussed. Now we work on the expression.

I love the way he fits the pieces together in a world where we're dong our best to break society into little pieces.