Wendell Berry on BBC Radio 3

Ian McMillan celebrates the rural in Reformation poetry and in contemporary work, with a new commission by Luke Wright (inspired by Hans Sachs' 1523 poem 'The Wittenberg Nightingale'). He is also joined by the poets Wendell Berry, the Jamaican Poet Laureate Mervyn Morris and art historian Rosemary Shirley.

Poet and theatre maker Luke Wright's new poetry collection 'The Toll' is published by Penned in the Margins, and he is also touring a show based on the book. Luke's first play 'What I Learned from Johnny Bevan' won The Saboteur award for 'Best Spoken Word Show', and his new play 'Frankie Vah' will have its premiere at the Norfolk & Norwich Festival (26-27 May).

Mervyn Morris is the Professor Emeritus of Creative Writing and West Indian Literature at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica. His collected poems, 'Peelin Orange', is published by Carcanet.

Rosemary Shirley is a lecturer in art history at the School of Art, Manchester Metropolitan University and her work focuses on contemporary rural contexts. Rosemary has curated the exhibition 'Creating the Countryside' which is at Compton Verney Gallery until June 18th.

Wendell Berry is a poet, novelist and farmer who has been awarded The National Humanities Medal and the Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award. 'The World-Ending Fire: The Essential Wendell Berry' is published by Penguin.

Listen to the program (which vanishes 29 days from now) at BBC Radio 3.


Bees, Wendell Berry and Christian Life

As many of you know, I like quoting Wendell Berry and I think he is very pro-bee.

“The word agriculture,” Wendell Berry writes in The Unsettling of America. “After all, does not mean ‘agriscience,’ much less ‘agribusiness’. It means ‘cultivation of the land.’ And cultivation is at the root of the sense both of culture and cult.   The ideas of tillage and worship are joined in culture. And these words all come from an Indo-European root meaning both ‘to revolve’ and ‘to dwell’.   To live, to survive on the Earth, to care for the soil, and to worship, are all bound at the root to the idea of a cycle.”

Bees network with flowers and with the hive. This network creates better plants, better harvests.   The better plants wither and die, turning into better soil. The soil then houses better plants. The cycle continues.   The bees network seeks to co-operate with the local good and make it better; if the bees were ever to rob, exploit, cut-off, or steal then the honey would be threatened.

“If we corrupt agriculture we corrupt culture,” Wendell Berry adds. “For in nature and within certain invariable social necessities we are one body, and what afflicts the hand will afflict the brain.”

            A network of bees-when doing what is good- will bring good to the neighbourhood, the land.

A friend of mine once borrowed her teenage sons’ car and it smelled like a sick boy’s locker room.   When the boy came home, she insisted on why he never cleaned it. He insisted he did but there was another reason for the smell.   A quiet fellow, he simply apologized and went to his room.

The next day, she saw her son driving out of his school and she unintentionally followed him home (you do this, at times, as a parent of a teenager).   She watched him make several stops, all to people who were digging in trash cans along the way.   Her son would go in the back of his car and offer bags of recycled bottles (Or “empties” as we call them in Alberta) to these folks. He would talk to them, listen, and in one case, he prayed with them.

When they both got at home, she confronted him and he confessed that he was collecting all of the recycles from his church, school, and work for the purpose of getting to know the homeless population of his neighbourhood. “They’re invisible,” he said. “And I think it’s best for everyone if they weren’t.”

Her son was acting like a bee.

Read the whole article by Eric Kregel at ericjkregel.


Wendell Berry and others on BBC Radio 4

On Start the Week Andrew Marr talks to the American writer, poet and farmer Wendell Berry. In his latest collection of essays, The World-Ending Fire, Berry speaks out against the degradation of the earth andthe violence and greed of unbridled consumerism, while evoking the awe he feels as he walks the land in his native Kentucky.

His challenge to the false call of progress and the American Dream is echoed in the writing of Paul Kingsnorth, whose book Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist eschews the grand narrative of a global green movement to focus on what matters - the small plot of land beneath his feet.

Kate Raworth calls herself a renegade economist and, like Berry and Kingsnorth, challenges orthodox thinking, as she points to new ways to understand the global economy which take into consideration human prosperity and ecological sustainability.

Listen to the very good conversation at BBC Radio 4.


Iowa Eliminates Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture

On April 19, 2017, the Iowa state legislature voted to completely defund The Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. Founded in 1987, the Center "helps to identify and develop new ways to farm profitably while conserving natural resources."

Bryce Oates reports in The Daily Yonder:

“Yep. It’s true. After 30 years we’re dead,” [Mark] Rasmussen [director of the Leopold Center] said. “It looks like we’re closing up shop on July 1st We just learned about the possibility a week ago. It passed the Senate, and just passed the House around midnight this morning (Wednesday).”

All that remains to make the closure final for Iowa Governor Terry Branstad (R) to sign the legislation into law. Rasmussen said he’s sure Branstad will sign the bill this week.

The Leopold Center is funded through the state’s Groundwater Protection Fund, created in 1987 from a fee on nitrogen fertilizer and pesticide sales. The center also maintains an annual appropriation from Iowa State University (ISU) and has a $5 million endowment. The Leopold Center uses the state funds to pay the center’s staff and to support a grants to farmers to document sustainable-agriculture research.

Rasmussen said there is no way to stop the closure. “It’s right there in the text of the bill. ‘Elimination of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture.’ I guess I thought we had a little bit more pride than that in Iowa. I thought we cared a little bit more.”

Larry Koehrsen writes of this "shame" in the Boone News-Republican:

Over the past 30 years, the Leopold Center has been a leader in making over 500 competitive grants to further the cause of sustainable agriculture and resource conservation. Information and data resulting from these projects have been widely distributed to researchers, educators, the agricultural community, and the general public.

We owe much to the leadership of Leopold and the continuation of his legacy through the work of the Leopold Center. Iowa is a better place because of what has been accomplished. And yet, there is so much more to do. We continue to lose topsoil to wind and water erosion. Our rivers and lakes are impaired for recreation and water supply uses. Our agricultural model is not sustainable for the long term.

The destructive legislation was pushed through on a partisan basis with no advance notice. There was minimal opportunity for input from the general and agricultural community.

This was a shameful display of political arrogance. Shameful because so little is being done elsewhere by the legislature to cope with water quality and resource conservation. Shameful because this degrades the memory and heritage of one of the Iowa pioneers of land stewardship. Shameful because the image of Iowa conveyed to the nation and the world has been tainted. Shame on us if we let this action go unchallenged.

 It appears that the legislature's action has yet to be signed by Iowa Governor Terry Branstad. See one Iowan's plea HERE.

"The Loss of the Leopold Center is a Loss for All of Us" (Land Stewardship Project, 4/20/17)

"Leopold Center is honored by farmers, academics around the world" (The Des Moines Register, 4/25/17)

"Where's Aldo? Budget Kills the Leopold Center" (The Daily Iowan, 5/8/17)


Wendell Berry cited on Soil

The urge to “get the dirt on someone” fuels tabloids and websites, while focusing on actual soil seems less titillating. But it shouldn’t.

Wendell Berry calls soil “the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. … Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.”

Our soil absorbs everything we do, everything we are, everything we’ll ever create or buy or throw out or dream up or be.

The awful reality that fact entails is a lot to swallow – and swallow it, we do, since everything we eat depends on soil, too. But there are steps we can take to return our land to better health. And for Erie County residents, the Millfair Compost and Recycling Center, located on Millfair Road at the border of Millcreek and Fairview townships, is a good place to start.

Read the whole article by Katie Chriest at Erie Reader.


Thoughts about Wendell Berry and the UK

There’s a new collection of Wendell Berry’s essays available, edited by Paul Kingsnorth of Dark Mountain fame, which was reviewed by premier league literary hack DJ Taylor in last week’s Guardian Review. Taylor’s review entertained me, because his reaction was quite similar to mine when I first read Berry in the 1990s:

“Hey, this is really conservative…reactionary…utopian…”

“Hang on, this is really humane, clear-eyed and, er, pretty convincing”.

I wrote a letter to the Guardian along these lines, which to my astonishment they published in this week’s edition. I was delighted to get the phrase ‘egalitarian agrarian populism’ into a national newspaper (I’d have preferred ‘left agrarian populism’, but in view of recent harangues here at Small Farm Future I wanted to aim for maximum inclusivity).

Taylor’s review touched on the issue of whether there were any UK versions of Berry – the closest he could think of were the Distributists “a bizarre coalition of traditional conservatives…and left-leaning radicals” who were “the last genuinely reactionary political movement in the UK”, together with the likes of George Ewart Evans and John Stewart Collis, who he concedes aren’t really very close.

Read the whole article by Chris Smaje at Small Farm Future and Resilience.


Review of recent UK Wendell Berry collection

In the end Chesterton’s mock-medievalism – his idea that we should all be much better off with a pig than a radiogram – defies most of the classifications of contemporary politics. In his brief introduction to The World‑Ending Fire, Paul Kingsnorth makes the same point about Wendell Berry’s half-century campaign on behalf of old-style US agrarianism, the sanctity of the dairy farm and the sharecropper’s 40-acre plot. From one angle, Berry (born 1934), with his sonorous, preacher’s style and his horror of colonising concrete, looks like an arch-conservative, and yet money, markets and corporatism are forever looming into his sights. From another, he looks like a classic eco-lefty pitting himself against the big battalions of agri-business, and yet his assaults on individualism, rootlessness and urban snobbery will be enough to leave most leftwingers feeling deeply uncomfortable.

All this is further complicated by the particular locales (or rather, locale, as the author has stayed tethered to his native Kentucky for the last 50 years) through which Berry so observantly passes. He is not, for instance, a great-outdoors merchant in the manner of Edward Hoagland and Annie Proulx; he is more interested in soil quality than fauna. The mistiness that most British writers bring to considerations of that tantalising notion of “the land” is altogether beyond him, and on the evidence of the 30 or so pieces collected here, he never wrote a sentimental line in his life. About the closest equivalent to his tough-minded, small-scale environmentalism on this side of the Atlantic would be the George Ewart Evans of Ask the Fellows Who Cut the Hay or the John Stewart Collis of The Worm Forgives the Plough, and even that is not very close.

Read the complete review by DJ Taylor at The Guardian.


A British Appreciation of Wendell Berry

His best work is contained in his frequent salvos of essays, which I have been collecting during trips to America for much of my adult life. I first came across his work in a bookshop in Devon, where I was struck by a slim volume with the brutal title What Are People For?. It’s impossible not to wonder about the answer, so I read on and slowly accumulated a small library of books with names such as Standing by WordsThe Long-Legged House and Another Turn of the Crank (Berry is drily aware of his reputation).

He writes at least as well as George Orwell and has an urgent message for modern industrial capitalism, which he considers to be a machine based on greed and short-termism that produces grotesque unfairness and waste – and will lead us, before long, to disaster. It is an apocalyptic message but conveyed with a gentle humour and defiant belief in the possibility of social reform that keep you turning the pages. Yet he can be a difficult sod, fiercely independent and, as the Americans would say, ornery. Back in the 1990s, I wrote to Berry asking him to allow me to edit a selection of his writing to be published for a British audience, preferably by Penguin. He said no. For one thing, he did not want to be published by any of the big houses – he had a strong loyalty to the small, independent San Francisco publisher North Point Press. And there was no question of him coming here to do interviews or publicity or anything like that: he won’t travel by aircraft.

The project died. And now, with Berry in his vigorous eighties, the writer and environmentalist Paul Kingsnorth has finally teamed up with a Penguin imprint to produce an excellent selection of his essays, The World-Ending Fire.

Read the entire article by Andrew Marr at The New Statesman.


Thoughts on Wendell Berry, that Film, and His Not-Quite-Rockstar Status

Three years ago I had the pleasure to attend a talk between Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson at Cooper Union in New York City (my first time in New York City as an adult, which was a story in itself), moderated by New York Times columnist Mark Bittman. Wanting to quote a particular exchange between Berry and Jackson for a recent post here on From Filmers to Farmers I listened to the audio recording of the event to transcribe what I was after. While I was able to locate the sought after passage, I was aghast to find out that my favourite portion of the entire event was absent from the publicly available recording, something that was relevant to this post you're currently reading. So not only do I unfortunately not remember the lead-up to the particular exchange between Berry and Bittman, but I'm also forced to quote from memory. As I recall:

Bittman: You're a rock star.

Berry [quietly and sombrely]: No.

That got a bit of a giggle out of me. But as my sense of humour's fortune would have it, Bittman wasn't about to give up so easily.

Bittman: Yes, yes! You're a rock star, you're a rock star!

Eschewing an elaborate retort or explanation, and even more quietly and sombrely the second time around, Berry lowered his head, ever so slightly shook it, and once again simply said –

Berry: No.

Well that was just too much for me, and as I kid you not that that was one of the funniest things I'd ever seen and heard in my life, I couldn't help but instantly burst out with an appropriately over-the-top boisterous laugh. Thing is, and as I just as quickly noticed, not a single other person in the entire audience was laughing as well – not even a peep. So just as fast as I started laughing I somehow managed to contain my convulsions, kind of clearing my throat and sheepishly hoping that my tiny outburst could somehow be disguised and confused for a weird sounding cough.

While I of course wondered to myself why nobody in the entire audience seemed to have even snickered (Cooper Union – and the rest of New York City – was full of rock stars?), and more recently have wondered why said portion was edited out (I wanted to see if I could hear my "cough" and what it sounded like!), the more pertinent question is, Why did Berry disagree with being called – appropriated as? – a "rock star"?

This is just the beginning. Read the complete essay by Allan S. Christensen HERE.