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Wendell Berry, Michael Pollan, and the Leadership of Local Communities: Lessons in Sustainability and Health

Wendell Berry is a novelist, poet, essayist, and farmer. Michael Pollan is a journalist and journalism professor. Together, they are leaders of a land, food, and economic ethic that provides important lessons for local government administrators. This article explores some of the conclusions reached by Berry and Pollan about our food system and our quality of life that are germane to local government managers. It presents local practices for improving the health of our communities consistent with the themes developed in the work of Berry and Pollan.


Blog Watch: Reading "Jayber Crow"

Jayber Crow could hardly be called the story of Jayber Crow, or a story at all for that matter. Though it appears to be an auto-biographical reflection of Jayber Crow, it is a more of a literary documentary of Port William, Kentucky. If it is true that Tolkien was a philologist who created The Lord of the Rings just to give a stage to let his languages perform, Jayber Crow was created for Berry’s love of Port William.  It should come as no surprise that Wendell Berry does not live in Williamsburg, ride a fixed gear bike and blog about the pros/cons of the new iPhone OS. Wendell Berry is a tobacco farmer living in rural Kentucky who happens to write quite a bit. Having read a sampling of his non-fiction, I could not help but get a little uncomfortable with just how much Wendell Berry resembles Jayber Crow. My initial reaction to this similarity was to label this novel with the unforgivable sin of “preachy, pedantic or even mawkish”.


Blog Watch: Wendell Berry cited on the nature of culture

While mulling over these questions I stumbled upon a collection of essays by Wendell Berry titled Standing by Words. I found it in one of the few remaining old used book shops in Boulder, Colorado – the kind of place that is made of goat trails through stacks of books lit yellow and smelling of musty paper. In it, Berry wrote nearly thirty years ago (a span of time that seems ancient by today’s micro-measures of time) about this tension between true knowing and informational exchange in an essay titled “People, Land, and Community.” He writes,

People are joined to the land by work. Land, work, people, and community are all comprehended in the idea of culture. These connections cannot be understood or described by information – so many resources to be transformed by so many workers into so many products for so many consumers – because they are not quantitative. We can understand them only after we acknowledge that they should be harmonious - that a culture must be either shapely and saving or shapeless and destructive.


Blog Watch: WB cited on "stewardship of language"

If you’re a regular on Facebook, maybe you’ve been the recipient (or the perpetrator) of a status update that failed to communicate—a cryptic message about something personal in your life or an obscure song lyric posted for no apparent reason. (I’ve noticed that college students seem to favor the obscure song lyric option in what I take to be a perverse attempt to confound their elders). Such miscommunication is more than just sloppy speech or willful confusion; it falls under the category, I suggest, of what Wendell Berry calls the illegitimate use of the powers of language.[1] “Language that becomes too subjective,” says Berry, that is too cut off from a common world, “will impose, rather than elicit, its desired response.”[2] Genuine communication, real understanding, will not take place.


Blog Watch: WB cited on "systems literacy"

Why do we need another literacy? My favorite agrarian poet Wendell Berry says it so well:

“We seem to have been living for a long time on the assumption that we can safely deal with parts, leaving the whole to take care of itself. But now the news from everywhere is that we have to begin gathering up the scattered pieces, figuring out where they belong, and putting them back together. For the parts can be reconciled to one another only within the pattern of the whole thing to which they belong.” (from The Way of Ignorance, pg. 77)


Blog Watch: WB text cited to illustrate sustainable fundraising principle

Most nonprofit fundraising practices are not sustainable.

By that I’m not referring to the cost of reply cards and the stamps to mail them, nor am I referring to the salaries of development officers in comparison to most nonprofit budgets.

Instead, I’m referring to the well nigh universal nonprofit practice of attempting to grow by recruiting prospective donors totally unrelated to an organization’s existing donors.


Wendell Berry's "What Else?", a future for eastern Kentucky

For more than 100 years the coal-producing counties of eastern Kentucky have been dependent on the coal industry, which has dominated them politically and, submitting only to the limits of technology, has come near to ruining them. The legacy of the coal economy in the Kentucky mountains will be immense and lasting damage to the land and to the people. Much of the damage to the land and the streams, and to water quality downstream, will be irreparable within historical time. The lastingness of the damage to the people will, to a considerable extent, be determined by the people.


Blog Watch: Reading "Hannah Coulter"

I just finished reading one of my new all-time favorite books, Wendell Berry’s Hannah Coulter.  Berry’s poetic command of  words and storytelling transported me to another time and place.  Berry’s novel – a commentary on war, land, family, farming, modernity, and loss – was simply magnificent.  I often found myself reading the story in the same manner the characters lived…slowly, reflectively, and simply.


Berry essay included in "The CAFO Reader"

The CAFO Reader – a new book featuring essays by farmers Wendell Berry, Becky Weed, and Fred Kirschenmann, Republican speech writer Matthew Scully, journalist Michael Pollan and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., among many others – gives a full picture of the environmental, social, and ethical implications of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, and includes a section of essays on “Putting the CAFO Out to Pasture.” A CAFO is an Environmental Protection Agency designation for a farming facility that keeps numerous animals raised for food in close confinement, with the potential to pollute. These facilities often produce extreme amounts of waste, which ends up in toxic lagoons, sprayed on the land, and eventually in the watershed; require the use of high doses of antibiotics, thereby adding to the growth of drug-resistant bacteria; and are exempt from most animal cruelty laws.


More thought about Wendell Berry's papers controversy

Though the story has largely been seen as a repudiation by Berry, a tireless coal activist throughout his public life in Kentucky, of UK’s position on coal, the author’s divestment from UK was in fact rooted in a more fundamental disagreement with his alma mater: the university’s quixotic quest for becoming a “Top 20 Research University” by the year 2020, a process that has meant, Berry has argued, the sacrifice of state needs and resources for national and global interests and pursuits. For Berry, the Coal Lodge is just the most visible symptom; the disease is the neoliberal UK Top 20 Mission.