"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.


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


Ode-ing Wendell Berry

As the title of this entry would suggest, there is an inspiration of sorts. This past year, four of the eight courses I took at the College of Wooster were exclusively on the environment, farming, society, etc. It was in one of these classes, Rural Society & the Environment, that I experienced a transformation in my perception of myself as well as the world around me. I was also introduced to my newfound idol: Wendell Berry.

Now, having finished reading Bringing It to the Table: On Farming and Food by Wendell Berry I find I have drunk the Kool-Aid. Berry possesses the ability to make poetry of the every day rustic while providing a deeper analysis of society at large. Beyond that, his words are laced with a wisdom that is applicable to all parts of life. And so, each section of this post will be entitled with a quote of his, from the book or otherwise.

“Eating is an agricultural act.” – The Pleasure of Eating (1989)

I say I found myself in Paris, but the truth is I found myself in Montefalco. Working on a winery sounds glamorous and I’m sure my Instagram posts about freshly cut wheels of pecorino cheese and world-renowned awards have not helped change that perception. In truth, I live on a farm. A winery after all is a farm where they specialize in a singular product: grapes.

Read more at Crina Babina


Wendell Berry, Grant Wood and the American Farmer

Grant Wood’s 1930 painting of a pitchfork-wielding farm couple heralds our return to Wendell Berry’s The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture. How to interpret this portrait?  How to interpret American Gothic, which to my mind means the short stories of Edgar Allan Poe.  Through the lens ofThe Unsettling of America, an interpretation becomes clear; these farmers have disappeared, have sold their land to an agribusiness, and have longed ago moved to the city.  If there is a land ethic in their faces, that has been replaced with specialists.

Read more at Magic Fish Bones


Of Interest: Vandana Shiva Speaks in Kanas City

The 61-year-old physicist, ecologist and author from Delhi, India then served up a penetrating deconstruction of the mechanistic mindset and the industrial food system it has spawned. This is the same mindset Walmart and Target now intend to apply to organic food.

“For a short time,” Shiva said, “the mechanistic mind has projected onto the world the false idea that food production is and must be of necessity an industrial activity. That’s a world view that is in profound error.”

“When food becomes a commodity it loses its quality, its taste, and its capacity to provide true nutrition,” she said. Industrial agriculture turns the earth into units of production, farmers into high-tech sharecroppers, and is the single biggest contributor to our declining environment. She said industrial agriculture distorts the proper relationship between humans and the natural world.

Read more at The Call of the Land.


Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson

Last Friday three men at the heart of my passion for the intellectual investigation of food systems spoke at Cooper Union about Nature as Measure. In the forward to the eponymously titled book, Wendell Berry quotes longtime friend and the book's author Wes Jackson saying, "Do not try to improve on this patch of native prairie for it will serve as your standard by which to judge your agricultural practices. There is no higher standard..." In other words, no human intervention can create a more perfect natural world because nature is perfection. Just as one man quoted from the other in print, so too did the two men share glimpses of their intimate relationship on stage by completing their responses to Mark Bittman's prompts with quotes from each other's long histories of writings.

via Runaway Apricot


Mary Berry interviewed by In These Times

Small farmers must select which stones to throw at Big Ag. And Mary Berry, Wendell’s daughter, is helping them take aim as executive director of the Berry Center in New Castle, Ky.

Why did you and your father create the Berry Center?

The Berry Center’s goal is to institutionalize agrarian thought and make a movement towards cultural change. We’ve been developing a four-year farm degree at St. Catherine College in Washington County, Kentucky. We're also working on a farm school, in Henry County, to help new or existing farmers learn what they need to know to get out of the commodity economy and into a local food economy. We're talking about everything farmers and landowners can produce on their land—from timber to tomatoes—and how to keep them secure, and out of a boom and bust economy.

Read more at In These Times


On Wendell Berry's conversation with Michael Pollan

Berry in his opening remarks said, “This is about discovery or a book of revelation. That’s very much the kind of book this is. Robert Frost wanted his readers to think what a hell of a good time he had writing it. And your book very much communicates that. What a hell of a good time you had writing it.” Further on, he added, “It’s an adventure book, a participatory book. There’s lots of humor.”

“Thanks for your book review,” Pollan responded. “It’s the nicest one I’ve gotten and I really do appreciate it…The reason this book is dedicated to you is because you’ve connected the dots between very ordinary things—the plate in front of us and the farm and garden systems, both natural and economic, that organize our lives. “

via gardenrant.com