Fireflies, Memories, Mental Health and Wendell Berry

Earth Day is traditionally a day of gratitude for Mother Earth, a time for celebration. But this year, we are reading daily of assaults slowing undoing environmental protections.  Has anyone in this present administration ever read a poem or essay by the activist farmer from Kentucky, Wendell Berry?  He was a National Humanities Medalist in 2010.
 
Is this administration familiar with the American Psychiatric Association research on the benefits of a natural environment? It was on September 12, 2016, that the APA noted: 

"One area of substantial research is the benefit of natural environments or green spaces which can provide a calming atmosphere, evoke positive emotions and facilitate learning and alertness. Experiencing nature helps people recover from the mental fatigue of work. Some research has found that activity in natural outdoor settings can help reduce the symptoms of ADHD in children."    

Read "An Earth Day Lament: Fireflies, Memories, and Mental Health" by Rita Watson at Psychology Today.


A suggestion to follow Wendell Berry's path of humility

Limiting ourselves to the sphere of present work requires a modesty that acknowledges we don’t have all the answers (despite our IQs or fancy data) and cannot predict the future. In this globalized era, characterized by a pervasive Internet and endless information, it seems harder than ever to take a humble approach to life’s problems. With so much information and connection at our fingertips, surely we can make the world better. Surely we can solve life’s problems.

But Berry tears away the illusion of power that so often accompanies our increased connectivity. Quantity does not equal quality. No matter what, we are still finite human beings, full of error and hubris. As Berry puts it in his essay “The Presence of Nature in the Natural World,” “Once we acknowledge, once we permit our language to acknowledge, the immense miracle of the existence of this living world, in place of nothing, then we confront again that world and our existence in it, forever more mysterious than known.”

Berry asks us to be more humble and particular in addressing problems we face—not just global problems (such as environmental and political crises, or humanitarian conflicts) but local and even personal dilemmas, too. The conservative approach to “fixing” things should be measured and humble, cognizant of our lack of control. That’s an attitude that does not describe either political party in Washington these days; neither does it generally describe our daily attitudes when tackling life’s problems. Do we really believe that life and its workings lie beyond our control? If so, will we react in fear and denial—or will we embrace our lowly and limited place in the world? 

Instead of seeking to predict, Berry suggests we should seek to “provide”: to take up humbly and thoughtfully limited actions that will best enable us to serve our families and communities in the near (not distant) future. Provision might involve eliminating debt, living within one’s means, providing food and shelter for those we love, and otherwise seeking to steward our possessions in a virtuous manner.

Read "What Wendell Berry Can Show Zuckerberg Types about Making a Better World" by Gracy Olmstead at Intercollegiate Review.


Why We Need Wendell Berry

For a healthy discourse, voices from all across the country are needed. These distinctions occur not just along the lines of race and gender, but class and region as well. Much of literature and cultural taste, like the forces of political change and economics, are dictated by those in the cities, leaving behind those in rural and farming counties. One of the most important literary voices of rural America today, telling the stories and bringing to light the issues of a forgotten region, is Wendell Berry, an author of poetry, fiction, essays, and more.

What distinguishes Berry’s talented, over half-century-long career is his sincere commitment to activism. Since the late '60s, when Berry was a professor and incipient writer, he protested the war in Vietnam. Berry has put his opposition to nuclear power plants, and his support behind small farmers. Berry still lives in Port Royal, Kentucky, on a farm he moved to with his family in the '70s. His experience on the farm has given richness to his vision for a better future and has bestowed authority to his sympathetic calls for an America that stays in touch with the land and agrarian culture that is integral to its character.

As the country’s urban-rural divide has shown itself to have ever-growing and serious consequences, Berry has emerged as a sympathetic, assertive voice for the region. Berry is an especially necessary figure in the current American literary community, in a time when most of the author bios on recent hardcovers seem to contain the sentence “... lives in Brooklyn.”

Read the complete article by Matt Reimann at Books Tell You Why.

 


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 on "Southern Despair"

Since the 2016 election, urban liberals and Democrats have newly discovered “rural America,” which is to say our country itself beyond the cities and the suburbs and a few scenic vacation spots. To its new discoverers, this is an unknown land inhabited by “white blue-collar workers” whom the discoverers fear but know nothing about. And so they are turning to experts, who actually have visited rural America or who previously have heard of it, to lift the mystery from it.

 One such expert is Nathaniel Rich, whose essay “Joan Didion in the Deep South” [NYR, March 9] offers an explanation surpassingly simple: over “the last four decades,” while the enlightened citizens of “American cities with international airports” have thought things were getting better, the “southern frame of mind” has been “expanding across the Mason-Dixon line into the rest of rural America.” As Mr. Rich trusts his readers to agree, the “southern frame of mind” is racist, sexist, and nostalgic for the time when “the men concentrated on hunting and fishing and the women on ‘their cooking, their canning, their ‘prettifying.’…”

This is provincial, uninformed, and irresponsible. Mr. Rich, who disdains all prejudices except those that are proper and just, supplies no experience or observation of his own and no factual and statistical proofs. He rests his judgment solely upon the testimony of Joan Didion in her notes from a tour of “the Gulf South for a month in the summer of 1970.” Those notes contain portraits of southerners whom “readers today will recognize, with some dismay and even horror” because (as Mr. Rich seems vaguely to mean) southerners have not changed at all since 1970. The Didion testimony alone is entirely sufficient because she “saw her era more clearly than anyone else” and therefore “she was able to see the future.”

Read the entire piece at The New York Review of Books.

See also: "Wendell Berry Sharpens His Pen and Punctures the Inflated Ego of a Provincial New Yorker" (In These Times)


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.