On Wendell Berry vs. the metrics of winning

Both sides claim that we cannot be happy or hopeful unless “we” are winning. And both sides tend to paint grim pictures of “American carnage” to show how much we are suffering and how badly we need to do something so that we can start winning.

But what if we turned our attention away from the latest indications of whether we’re winning or losing and instead focused on practicing good work where we are? It is in this vein that Wendell Berry speaks about the need to resist both optimism and pessimism. While these may seem like opposite postures, both stem from a fixation on metrics and quantities: I’m optimistic if I expect to win and pessimistic if I expect to lose. As Berry puts it, “Optimism and pessimism are based on the idea of how things are [going to] turn out.”

Instead of either of these, then, Berry endeavors to practice the virtue of hope: “Hope is grounded in the present; it’s not about the future. It’s about the reality of possibilities, this sense of possibility that you can do better.” Thus Berry advocates for doing things that “are good now, according to [the] present understanding of present needs…  Only the present good is good. It is the presence of goods—good work, good thoughts, good acts, good places—by which we know that the present does not have to be a nightmare of the future. ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand’ because, if not at hand, it is nowhere.”

Read the whole article by Jeffrey Bilbro at Upwrite Magazine.


On Poetry, Angry Rhetoric, and Wendell Berry

Wendell Berry is a Kentucky farmer, author, poet, essayist, and activist. My high school English teacher and track coach, who is now retired, has said Wendell Berry may be the sanest man in America. I agree. Wendell Berry is a modern wise-man, a rare American sage, who speaks with the authority of the aged. I have benefited greatly from his essays, novels, and short stories. His poetry is a good introduction to his work. 

He wrote “To A Siberian Woodsman” in the late 1960s during the cold war when we were taught to hate the Russians. This poem carries the weight of a societal elder who brings insight and counsel from another world. Berry is a prophet. He is both a poet and a farmer, which offers credentials much more substantial than those so-called “prophets” with self-appointed titles, blogs, and  YouTube channels. These lackluster “prophets” are lost in a mixed-up sea of conservative politics and a doomsday eschatology. Berry isn’t like that. He is a prophet like Amos, the fig farmer.

Read the complete article by Derek Vreeland at Missio Alliance.


Social Media: Where Wendell Berry's Past is Always Present?

We use social media to remain on the culture’s cutting edge, ahead of the curve, or (at the very least) up-to-date. And yet, in keeping my eye on All Things Wendell Berry, I’ve noticed an odd trend. Folks are posting links to old news and treating them as if they are new news. A week or so ago it was a surge of interest in WB having received The National Humanities Medal from President Obama. This happened six years ago in 2010.

Today a quick glance at “Wendell Berry” on Twitter shows a wide-ranging interest in another event from 2010: the withdrawal of his archives from the University of Kentucky because UK had accepted money from Big Coal and named a student residence building Wildcat Coal Lodge. 

I’m happy to see so much attention given to Wendell’s various adventures. It’s good to celebrate & remember anyone’s noble acts. But none of these tweets begin “‪#‎otd‬ (on this day) in 2010.” 

I guess we've just hit The End of History out here on the internet where all the clocks click Now and Now and Now.

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An Appreciation of The Berry Center

The Berry Center addresses topics such as land use, farm policy, local food infrastructure, urban education about farming, and general farmer education with the overarching aim of promoting a healthy and sustainable agriculture in this state and in this country.

 In order to accomplish such a significant task, The Berry Center focuses its work around focused efforts that include programs and policies that protect local food producers in the marketplace; establishing a repository of papers, speeches and letters from three generations of Berry men on issues related to small-farm agriculture; organizing and participating in conferences with like-minded institutions that seek to work on problems and solutions for small farmers and rural communities; and preparing farmers and future generations of farmers to commit to small-farm agriculture through the Berry Farming and Ecological Agrarianism Program.

Read it all at Kentucky for Kentucky.


Despite college closing, the Berry Farming Program will continue

We are very sorry to learn of the decision on July 1 to close Saint Catharine College, a school near Springfield, Kentucky that has been sponsored by the Dominican Sisters of Peace since 1931.      

The announcement also means the St. Catharine College Berry Farming Program, launched in 2013 to offer two bachelor's degree programs in sustainable agriculture and rural leadership modeled on the teachings of author Wendell Berry, is searching for a new host university or college in Kentucky.

"The program will continue," said Berry's daughter, Mary Berry, on Wednesday. Berry's writing on farming has made him a moral authority among those concerned about climate change, the dwindling number of family farms, and healthy food and soil.

The degree program was founded by The Berry Center, a nonprofit institute located in Newcastle,  "to meet the urgent need for bolstering rural communities, small farm production and local markets."

In May, the first six graduates gained bachelor degrees from St. Catharine College in disciplines devoted to sustainable land use, plant and soil stewardship, rural community leadership and environmental arts and humanities, said Leah Bayens, chair of the Earth Studies department.

That leaves 19 undergraduates in the Berry Farming Program curriculum now facing abrupt transfer to other institutions, Bayens said.

Read more at Courier-Journal.

Concerning this closure and The Berry Farming Program, The Berry Center stated on Facebook,

We are deeply saddened by today’s announcement of the pending closure of St. Catharine College, a school located in the heart of the state and at the heart of the Washington County, Kentucky community. Though St. Catharine College is closing the Berry Farming and Ecological Agrarianism Program will continue based upon the ideals that were established in its foundational years. John Turner, St. Catharine College Board of Trustees chairman, said that the closure comes as a result of decline in enrollment caused by the federal Department of Education’s admitted wrongful withholding of student aid on several key academic programs. He said further that the decline in enrollment has proven to be too difficult to manage with the debt obligation that has been assumed by the college in recent years. 

Mary Berry, Founder and Executive Director of The Berry Center, was moved to establish the Berry Farming and Ecological Agrarianism Program at St. Catharine College when asked by faculty members and trustees how The Berry Center’s work fit with the four pillars of Dominican life. She thought that it was the right question and wanted to tie The Berry Center’s educational imperative to something established and sacred.

The first cohort of students enrolled in the Berry Farming and Ecological Agrarianism Program graduated on May 14, 2016. These students provided an example of what The Berry Center hoped for – a mix of rural and urban students deeply rooted in their places devoted to life on the land. 

We would like to thank St. Catharine College and the Dominican Sisters of Peace for giving a home to our program and for their encouragement throughout its development. The Berry Farming and Ecological Agrarianism Program will continue based on the solid footing that we have achieved at St. Catharine College.


On Wendell Berry's Jayber Crow and Donald Trump

Jayber Crow must answer the question “How does one keep faith when a place is killed by urbanization and industrialism?” Many of us are faced with a different and possibly more difficult question: “How does one keep faith when a place succeeds according to the terms of urbanization and industrialism?” To keep faith with Port William, Jayber must simply go on living as he always has in the town, honoring its life and caring for its dwindling number of members. And when Jayber departs from the world, so will much of the memory of Port William save what lives on in the work and life of the Branch family who are, in most ways, the sole modern heirs of Port William in Berry’s fictional universe.

But most of us have not been tied to places like Port William. We are not members of the small towns, neighborhood churches, and small local organizations that have been driven into extinction by the cruel forces of capitalism unhinged from anything save greed and ambition. Rather, we are tied to the sorts of places and communities that have often grown and become more successful (in a manner of speaking) thanks to those things.

Read the whole, thoughtful piece by Jake Meadow at Mere Christianity


Dreher on Wendell Berry, The Seer, and Donald Trump

Rod Dreher has posted "A Letter from Trump's America" in which, after reading said letter and viewing an advance copy of an unnamed film (what a reader may presume is Laura Dunn's The Seer), he writes:

This is Wendell Berry 101. The film shows us older Kentucky farmers talking about what they and their communities have lost — dying towns, for example — and how the system — big agribusiness, the banks, etc. — is stacked against them.

Toward the end of the film, a bizarre thought occurred to me: Donald J. Trump, who is probably the least Berryan figure in the country, is the only one of the GOP candidates who is talking to and for Republican voters who are living in the maelstrom. Don’t misunderstand me: Trump is absolutely not the standard-bearer of Berryan politics! (And that’s the understatement of the year.) But how incredibly weird is it that in 2016, the candidate that speaks most to the condition of those conservatives displaced by the economics and the wars of the Establishment is the loudmouth New York billionaire? Whether or not he has solutions to their condition is a secondary issue. He’s the one who sees, or who at least intuits, that something very wrong has happened, and that the neoliberal order built by the Republican and Democratic Establishment has broken some fundamental things.

Read the complete article at The American Conservative


Wendell Berry Cited on The Use of Symbols

“The problem with wars is that they don’t end,” Kentucky writer Wendell Berry told the American Association of State and Local History conference in Louisville in September (2015). “We’ve still got the Civil War.”

Berry and state historian James Klotter of Georgetown College addressed the gathering as part of a discussion about the relevance of history. The Charleston shootings and the ensuing debates over Confederate flags and statues became a focal point of their conversation.

“I understand about the Confederate flag and the problem it raises,” says Berry. “I don’t think that flag is a symbol so much as it is a finger… I think after the south was defeated in the Civil War, all it had left was spite and it understands how to use symbols in a spiteful way.”

Perspective is another crucial element, adds Klotter. He contends without a knowledge of history, people operate in a vacuum without a sense of where they’ve been or how they got where they are today. And from that grounding, Klotter says history gives individuals a new sense of both identity and objectivity.

“You see things in a different light,” Klotter says. “You’re more understanding of diversity, you’re more understanding of conflict, [and] more understanding of things that teach empathy.”

Berry says that anyone is capable of falling into indifference. He cautions that reducing either side – liberal or conservative, Union or Confederate, black or white – to its stereotypes involves a great risk.

“It’s easy to deal in symbols, it’s easy to deal in generalities, but what we lose then is the sense of the humanity that’s involved,” says Berry.

Read more at KET.org


Audio of Wendell Berry at AASLH, September 2015

The 2015 Annual Meeting Plenary [of the American Association for State and Local History] was a discussion with author Wendell Berry and Kentucky State Historian Dr. James C. Klotter, moderated by KET personality Renee Shaw. Berry and Klotter discussed the importance of studying the past as a way to prepare for the future. Berry is an author and Kentucky treasure, famous for his writings on nature and ecology. Klotter received his Ph.D. in history from the University of Kentucky. He is the author, co-author, or editor of almost twenty prize-winning books, including the standard works on Kentucky used at the elementary, secondary, and college level. Shaw is the host of Connections with Renee Shaw on Kentucky Educational Television.

Listen to or download the conversation HERE,


Why We Need Wendell Berry

Following the hottest year on record for Earth, as we talk again about rolling back air-quality standards or building the Keystone XL Pipeline, we need to be reminded why we need Wendell Berry. This writer-thinker-farmer from Kentucky has been making his case now for over fifty years—in fiction, poetry, essays, interviews, and speeches—that we need to change our thinking and our living if we want to continue to live. His message is cautionary and instructive; his tone is always hopeful. Indeed, in the introduction to his collection of essays The Way of Ignorance (2005a), he writes that all his work is “motivated…by fear of our violence to one another and to the world, and by the hope that we might do better” (p. x). We need to listen to him. Steeped as we all are in the narrow, compartmentalized analysis of industrialism, our culture has been taught to value quantity over quality, competition over cooperation, efficiency over effectiveness, standardization over diversity, and the ease of today over the possibility of tomorrow. We have been taught to disregard natural limits and disdain what is small. These are the lessons for despair and our eventual ruin. What we need instead are the lessons of Wendell Berry, the lessons of hope.

Read the complete essay by Jane Schreck at The Journal of Sustainability Education