The two-party arrangement in Kentucky really has not much to
do with Republicans and Democrats. The two parties that actually matter
are the Party of Coal and the Party of All Else.
The second of
these, unlike the first, is not a one-interest party. It is necessarily
diverse, for it includes many interests, some of which are not primarily
or exclusively human. It includes most notably a substantial number of
people who respect the ecological principles of wholeness, coherence,
and endurance. They understand moreover that all living creatures are
dependent ultimately on the integrity of ecosystems, which are unities
composed of an immense number and diversity of creatures.
Kentucky author, farmer and KFTC member Wendell Berry kicked off KFTC’s annual membership meeting by lifting up the unbreakable tie between people and the land, between work and community.
In his keynote address to a crowd of more than 200 KFTC members and friends gathered at General Butler State Resort Park, he expressed an ideal of a locally-based economy built on the skills of local people and the diverse resources of the land.
Berry referred to the “tragedy” of industrialization and its emphasis on “job creation.” Industrialization has harmed rural areas all over Kentucky and especially eastern Kentucky.
We’re not scientists, and we certainly don’t have billions of dollars to spend, BUT what John and I are proposing in the Slow Church book is a vision of drawing together ecology and economy that begins in local church communities. As we come to recognize the superabundant economy of creation, and live with gratitude — and not entitlement — within that economy, we begin to live more attentively to the ecology of creation. This is not a grand, unified approach, but surely Mr. Berry can appreciate a grassroots approach that begins in our local neighborhoods, right?
The conference, sponsored by the Berry Center, builds off Berry’s
seminal 1977 book, “The Unsettling of America,” which offered a vision
of land stewardship and thinking locally about food production and
“We’re trying to get beyond that book” said Berry, a Kentucky farmer and author. “I hope we do.”
conference drew 300 people to the Brown Hotel. It concludes Saturday at
St. Catharine College in Washington County, with appearances by Berry,
Bill Moyers, Bill McKibben and others. The conference is sold out.
blessed we all are to have the opportunity to honor such an exceptional
Kentuckian,” said Christy Brown, a board member of the Berry Center.
“He’s a prophet.”
I have taken the opportunity this weekend before and on my way to the retreat to read some of what Wendell Berry has said about the necessity of limits. I’ve been meaning to do so for awhile, but this weekend I stumbled upon this fabulous essay that Berry wrote in 2008 for Harpers Magazine — Faustian Economics: Hell Hath No Limits. This is a short essay and well worth reading.
Berry gets to the heart of the issue:
The problem with us is not only prodigal extravagance but also an assumed limitlessness. We have obscured the issue by refusing to see that limitlessness is a godly trait. We have insistently, and with relief, defined ourselves as animals or as “higher animals.” But to define ourselves as animals, given our specifically human powers and desires, is to define ourselves as limitless animals—which of course is a contradiction in terms. Any definition is a limit, which is why the God of Exodus refuses to define Himself: “I am that I am.”
Like Jefferson, Henry David Thoreau idealized an agricultural society that was close to nature. Thoreau was a staunch defender of agrarian anarchy, and he focused even more closely on the individual than did Jefferson: “That government is best which governs not at all; and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have.” To my knowledge, no state governments believe we’ve yet reached that point.
Fast forward to the late twentieth century, and we find several other philosophers defending agrarian anarchy. Perhaps the best known examples are Wendell Berry, Noam Chomsky, and Howard Zinn, but the clearest voice for agrarian anarchy came from Edward Abbey in the years before he died in 1989: (1) “Anarchism is not a romantic fable but the hardheaded realization, based on five thousand years of experience, that we cannot entrust the management of our lives to kings, priests, politicians, generals, and county commissioners”; (2) “Anarchism is founded on the observation that since few men are wise enough to rule themselves, even fewer are wise enough to rule others”; and (3) “A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government.”
When my fiancée, Juliana, and I were farming, we grew the most beautiful produce I have ever seen. I do not mean to brag. It is sort of like being a parent, or a pet owner. Anyone who has grown food with love probably feels that way about the product of his or her labor. We grew 300 varieties of fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers, many heirloom varieties, and ingredients for cooking food from so many traditions. We sold them at a farmers' market in a well-heeled neighborhood, and we charged a lot of money. We did not think twice about charging $16 per pound for salad greens. We knew what work went into it, we knew how good it was, and we knew it was worth it. We sold out. And we made $12,000 a year between the two of us. We thought we were doing pretty well.
When low-income people came to our stand with food stamps, we gave them two or three for the price of one. But something was broken. At $12,000, we had low incomes ourselves, and the only people we could feed had high incomes. I wanted to change the world, and I saw farming as a piece of that work. Fairness for the farmer seemed to mean injustice for the eater. Fairness for the eater seemed to mean injustice for the farmer. How could we simply choose to fight for one, with the knowledge that it undercut the other?
What could a curmudgeonly farmer from Kentucky have to say to an urban professional who shops at Whole Foods and supports the Sierra Club, but rides the elevator up to her condo on the 78th floor? For goshsakes, the guy refuses to type his own manuscripts into a computer. So don’t expect him to gush about ultra-light polymers for fuel-efficient hypercars run by hydrogen fuel cells or even just to let you know about the latest iPhone ap for freecycling.