On the Work of the Berry Family and the Berry Center

Mary’s work is steeped in her family’s past in more ways than one. The Berry Center is housed in what was her grandfather’s law office beginning in 1927, an historic building in downtown New Castle. To inform her own practices and the work of the future, important archival work is happening there. Big John was a fervent documentarian. In his career, he kept records of his efforts in law and in farming, as well as proof of the progress and problems around him. His sons followed suit, both continuing to observe the agrarian world where they were immersed. Combined, the efforts of the three offer a keen insight into rural, agrarian life in Kentucky, though much of their work has been lost and scattered in trash bins and forgotten files. But through the Berry Center, their writings are being assembled and organized for pressing work. 

Using the writings of her family members and her own vast experiences, Mary is going to pilot a program she hopes will restore what was lost in her hometown. 

Applying the principles of the Burley Tobacco Program, Mary Berry hopes to make local cattle agriculture thrive. As it stands, Kentucky has the most beef cattle of any state east of the Mississippi. Still, it’s uncommon for family farms to make a living on cattle alone.

The Local Beef Initiative will begin by taking a group of up to six farmers and placing them in a co-op, similar to the one established by the Burley Tobacco Growers Cooperative. Farmers in the co-op will be required to raise the cows on grass and without antibiotics or hormones, in return for access to parity pricing — achieved by maintaining a relationship with a processor and distributor. 

In this scenario, the Berry Center would play the role that the federal government did in the Burley Tobacco Program, putting mechanisms into place, establishing parity pricing, taking the farmers involved out of competition with each other and preventing them from overproducing. 

“My hope is that once we get the Local Beef Initiative going that young farmers who are involved will say to their friends, ‘You know, I've done this with the Berry Center ... and I've made some money. You should have a look.’ You could convince farmers that way a lot faster than any of us could convince them just going and knocking on their door.” 

Read the complete article by Jodi Cash at The Bitter Southerner.


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.


Wendell Berry delivers 17th Annual Dodge Lecture

On December 8, 2016 Mr. Berry delivered a talk entitled "The Thought of Limits in a Prodigal Age." The event was held at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and was sponsored by The Center for a Livable Future and the Department of Environmental Health and Engineering. Introductions begin around 9:20. Mr. Berry begins at 17:50. Johns Hopkins Livestream


Wendell Berry - Wes Jackson Conversation Sold Out

The Schumacher Center has announced that the October 22 conversation between Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson (The Land Institute) has been sold out. But the event will be filmed, so watch The Schumacher Center for news of that.

The Center has described the event as follows:

On Saturday October 22nd at 7:00 pm, award winning author Wendell Berry and The Land Institute's co-founder Wes Jackson will share the stage at the historic Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in the heart of Great Barrington, Massachusetts. They will hold a conversation about the 50-Year Farm Bill, their work, and their long friendship and collaboration in support of rural communities.
 
The occasion is the 36th Annual E. F. Schumacher Lectures, a tradition that Mr. Berry and Mr. Jackson launched when they spoke to a full house in October of 1981 on the theme of People, Land, and Community.  Over the years the Annual Schumacher Lectures have provided a platform for some of the most powerful voices for an economics that supports both people and planet – voices that include Jane Jacobs, Bill McKibben, Winona LaDuke, Van Jones, Judy Wicks, and Otto Scharmer.
 
Much has changed since the first Annual Lectures. The promise of the global economy has faded in the face of ever-greater wealth inequality and environmental degradation. There is a groundswell of interest in building a new economy that is just and recognizes planetary limits. All of us at the Schumacher Center for a New Economics are delighted that Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson have accepted our invitation to come back and share their perspectives on how far we have come, where we are, and where we believe we should go next.

For more, visit The Schumacher Center for a New Economics.

Follow The Schumacher Center at Twitter.


"Eating as Discipleship"

Wendell Berry's famous statement that "eating is an agricultural act" has motivated many to reconsider the agricultural systems our eating habits promote. Yet Berry's writings also contend that eating is a spiritual act; when we eat, we enact our relationship with the rest of creation and with the Creator. Unfortunately, the social architecture of the developed world encourages us to imagine food as a fuel that we consume. We're trained to treat food as a commodity whose sole purpose is to satisfy our desires and give us energy. 

Lisa Graham McMinn's To the Table: A Spirituality of Food, Farming, and Community joins a chorus of other books that call Christians to resist this consumerist view of food. McMinn's book begins with Leslie Leyland Fields's proclamation that "food is nothing less than Sacrament." In defending this view, McMinn—a sociologist and co-owner of a CSA—adds her voice to the growing number of books and blogs celebrating farmers' markets, gardening, and home cooking.

Read all of "Eating as Discipleship" by Jeffrey Bilbro at Comment.


A 2008 letter from Wendell Berry

After returning home (following a "craftsmanship" tour of the Jack Daniels whiskey distillery), the students organized fifteen key questions that seemed the most important to them from all of our readings. I mailed them to Mr. Berry and he kindly responded with the letter posted to the right, along with typewritten responses to each question. I'm providing them for you here:

1. How much, if any, of Andy Catlett did you base upon your own life?
Andy Catlett 
is derived fairly directly from things I learned and that I remember from this part of the country at the time of my childhood. At the same time, it is very much a work of fiction. It had to be an imagined work simply because my memories are not complete enough to give me a whole story. And so Andy's bus ride, for example, is entirely imaginary. So are several of the characters and a good many of the events.

2. Where did industry go wrong, and why?
One of the large errors of industrialism is that it treats the ecological support system as "free." That is, it does not deduct ecological costs. To that I would add the tendency of industrialists to work on a scale so large that damages to ecosystems and human communities are inevitable.

Read more of this letter at Eighth Day Institute


Mary Berry Interviewed

Founded in 2011, the Berry Center aims to put her father’s writings to work: advocating for the farmers, land conservation and healthy regional economies. Berry spoke to Jane Black about her family’s legacy and her vision to support small sustainable farms. Edited excerpts follow:

Black: Your father, Wendell Berry, is a hero to so many people in the sustainable agriculture movement. But your work at the Berry Center honors not only his work, but your uncle and grandfather’s too.

Berry: My father says that his father did the important work. He and John, his brother, took it up. The work my grandfather did—and he would not have said it this way, but I will—was as the principle author of the Burley Tobacco Program, which was voted in in 1942 and ended about 11 years ago. It brought a stable economy to farmers in the eight-state Burley tobacco region. It protected them from over production, allowed them to plan an economic year, and it fostered a lot of intangibles like the ability for rural life to thrive.

Black: What did the program do?

Berry: It offered price support, not a subsidy. And it didn’t cost the federal government anything. It offered farmers stability—a market they could count on. For example, years ago we bought a 200-acre farm with a five-acre tobacco base, and that’s what we made our farm payment with. We borrowed money against the tobacco crop because we knew what that tobacco would bring. The rest of the farm was highly diversified. It was farming that fit the farm.

Read more at Stone Barns Center


Wendell Berry writes to NYRB

Though I am not an economist, I do read articles and columns by economists. One of my interests in doing so is to see if any attention is paid either to the natural world or to the economies of land use. Though “the economy” obviously depends upon both nature and land use, those subjects are rarely mentioned, let alone attended to.

At the risk of trying your patience, I will point out that “What Is Wrong with the West’s Economies?” [NYR, August 13] by Edmund Phelps makes no mention of nature or “natural resources” or any land-using economy. He speaks once of “rural life” in order, tritely, to dismiss it from any concern or importance. And he speaks once of “the crops”—“the crops may be growing…”—but that is a trope. The crops in fact “may be” growing, but he takes for granted that they are.

Read more at The New York Review of Books


Reflection on Wendell Berry and Pope Francis

Francis and Berry both preach against an individualism that trumps community and compassion; note the Creator’s love for his creation regardless of its utility to humanity; and affirm a special status for people but rebuff a theology that equates our “dominion” with an unfettered domination. They decry what Francis calls the “rapidification” of culture and the over-specialization of knowledge; reject a hyper-dualism that completely severs body and soul, the spiritual and the earthly; and are even similarly wary of our relational reliance on electronic screens. Berry famously described “eating” as “an agricultural act.” Francis, quoting his predecessor Benedict XVI, makes a similar, if broader, point: “Purchasing is always a moral—and not simply economic—act.”

The two also offer extended criticism of what the Pope calls a “deified market” and Berry deems “an opposing religion, assigning to technological progress and ‘the market’ the same omnipotence, omniscience, unquestionability, even the same beneficence that the Christian teachings assign to God.” Moving on from the shared renunciations, they each praise the actions often taken by small landowners and local peoples and affirm the value of physical work and artistic beauty. In short, both men refuse to swallow the myth of progress or, conversely, diagnose humanity as a planetary cancer.

Read more at First Things


Wendell Berry and "Laudato Si"

As it turns out, a US author from Kentucky came to Francis' same conclusions a little over thirty years ago. Award winning author Wendell Berry advocated in his 1983 essay "Two Economies" for a system that would prioritize the spiritual "Kingdom of God" without neglecting economical necessities. 

Berry has often criticized electronic communication and modern agricultural techniques. That said, at a more universal level, this essay advocated for a practical harmony that both shaped the environment through human invention and allowed the environment to provide practical aids and limits on human development. Berry used topsoil as an example. He argued that industrialists overlooked complex ecological systems by replacing the double function of topsoil, water retention and drainage, with machines and dams that performed merely one or the other task, risking eroded ecosystems. In short, in the name of efficiency, technocrats had overlooked and reduced nature's efficiency. Turning to the ironic belief that we can or ought to control nature, Berry asked: "What is to be the fate of self-control in an economy that encourages and rewards unlimited selfishness? (68)"

Read more at Huffington Post