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December 2010
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February 2011

Blog Watch: “Authentic Reasons for Hope”

Wendell Berry is a personal hero of mine. He is one of the leading voices in the world for proper land stewardship and conservation. As readers of Wend magazine (print and online) we cannot, in good conscience, travel the land without being stewards of the land. Therefore, we should take every opportunity to read Wendell’s words and learn from them. And why not here at Wend, after all you cannot spell Wendell without Wend!

The following excerpt is taken from the December and January issue of The Progressive in an article Wendell Berry wrote entitled, “The News From the Land.” Listed below are a short list of Wendell Berry’s “authentic reasons for hope.”

1. We can learn where we are. We can look around us and see. If we see, by many observable signs, that during our history here we have lost much that we once had, we will see also that much remains.


Wendell Berry as an influence

Jesse Straight never imagined himself as a farmer. His parents weren’t farmers. But then he started reading Wendell Berry and Joel Salatin in college, and his life went in a new direction. Listening to Jesse Straight’s story on WAMU radio’s Metro Connection reminded me of something I once heard Gene Logsdon say in a panel discussion about the future of farming. Logsdon, an Ohio writer and farmer, believes there are a lot of people – including “city people” – who are called to be farmers but haven’t recognized or accepted that vocation yet. Straight has accepted the call.


WB, WJ, FK and a 50-year plan

Jackson is a Ph.D. plant breeder and founder, in 1976, of The Land Institute, a Salina, Kan., nonprofit dedicated to finding sustainable solutions to food’s uncertain future. Berry is, of course, a giant of American letters, a poet, essayist, novelist, non-fiction writer and, as he unfailingly notes, a farmer.

“I am of the party of the land and the people,” Berry told the Community Farm Alliance in his native Kentucky Dec. 4.

Kirschenmann practices what he preaches: He is both a Distinguished Fellow for the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University and the manager of his family’s 3,500-acre certified organic farm in south central North Dakota.

For two years, this trinity of farm and food eloquence and evangelism has been writing and lecturing on the need for a long-term, sustainable ag policy where, as Jackson explains, “today’s awful dualism that pits production against conservation” is replaced with “more natural ecosystems where conservation is a consequence of production.”


Wendell Berry cited on 'bondage to the machines'

That may seem paradoxical; we’re used to talking about the people who don’t embrace computers as being the ones stuck in the past. After all, isn’t the internet the key to the future? Not if the future is going to be defined by less energy and less advanced technology. If the changes outlined above are an unavoidable part of our future, then we would be well advised to start weaning ourselves from the high-energy/high-technology world, not only in our personal lives but in our organizing as well. That doesn’t mean immediately abandoning all the gadgets we use, but rather always realizing that our efforts to make the most effective use of the gadgets in the short term shouldn’t crowd out the long-term planning for a dramatically different world.

That different world may well impose changes on us before we have been able to face them ourselves. Novelist/poet/critic Wendell Berry captures this when he writes, “We are going to have to learn to give up things that we have learned (in only a few years, after all) to ‘need.’ I am not an optimist; I am afraid that I won’t live long enough to escape my bondage to the machines.”


Blog Watch: Grief, Belief, and "A Place on Earth"

This morning I was surprised by grief, a sudden tipping from contentedness to tears. Wendell Berry's compassionate but measured writing was a catalyst that unleashed feelings I've held in since Dad died.

This cold Saturday morning, I opened A PLACE ON EARTH to a dogeared page where I'd left off last weekend, midway through the book. Though it has no plot, this book does have a story: the young men of the town are away at World War II, and Virgil Feltner is missing in action. Now, in a section called "A Comforter," the town's preacher calls on the home of Mat and Margaret Feltner, Bible in hand, to speak the expected words of comfort for a family in mourning. Virgil's wife Hannah is there, too, living with her husband's parents.


from "Reflecting on a Visit by Wendell Berry"

On Friday morning, Mr. Berry joined the group working on the Indiana New Farm School and others working on other aspects of our local food economy, for a brunch and conversation.  Mr. Berry was very complimentary to the group working on the farm school, considering the proposal they have put together.  While expressing his approval of the document as a whole he said his favorite line was under the description of Year Two of the program: “This year can be repeated.” He went on to talk about the time it takes to acquire the knowledge of farming – a lifetime – and the pleasure that comes from being involved in work where one is always learning. He also spoke about the importance of the community of farming and bemoaned how some aspects of this community have been lost.  He remembered a time when “no one’s harvest was done until everyone’s was.”


Blog Watch: WB cited in reflection on "inconspicuous consumption"

I have mentioned before that I like Wendell Berry.  He is a critic of modernization that is short-sighted.  Being a farmer, this typically is aimed at agriculture, but he is aware of and talks about the wider implications.  This is a point of a great essay, where he argues that we try to solve problems by immediate and short-sighted solutions, or try to get unrealistic gains that don't take into account long-terms results.  (Solve problems with solutions that are the next problem to be solved.)  He thinks that we do not think about the fact that everything is connected in some way and changes, or failings, affect the entire system for better or worse.  (other related Berry posts talking about implications of this here and here... if interested)


Blog Watch: Reading "Life is a Miracle"

I got a couple of Wendell Berry books for Christmas. The only thing of Berry's I had read until now was Hannah Coulter. This time around I'm diving into some of his nonfiction and I have been enjoying it as much as, and maybe more than, his fiction. I've been reading Life Is a Miracle: An Essay Against Modern Superstition, which I have enjoyed immensely. In particular, I've enjoyed and been challenged by what Berry has to say about the university. I've been especially captivated by his criticism of the failure of the academic lifestyle to be grounded in a social and geographical context:

All of the disciplines are failing the test of propriety because they are failing the test of locality. The professionals of the disciplines don't care where they are. Though they are inescapably in context, they assume or pretend that they think and work without context.


Blog Watch: Reading "Art of the Commonplace"

I've been reading Wendell Berry's The Art of the Commonplace, recommended by a friend. Interesting so far. I liked this passage, defending his wife's work at home:

Another decent possibility that my critics implicitly deny is that of work as a gift. ...what appears to infuriate them is their supposition that [my wife] works for nothing. They assume—and this is the orthodox assumption of the industrial economy—that the only help worth giving is not given at all, but sold. Love, friendship, neighborliness, compassion, duty—what are they? We are realists. We will be most happy to receive your check.


Blog Watch: WB cited on Fixing the Food System

In following this story I feel a bit like I've been on a roller-coaster ride. Frankly, I'm weary of it and feeling a bit cynical about the government's ability to help fix what ailes our current food system. I'm reminded of a quote from Wendell Berry regarding our undue reliance on institutions to fix what is broken in society. Berry say:

We are going to have to rebuild the substance and the integrity of private life in this country. We are going to have to gather up the fragments of knowledge and responsibility that we have parceled out to the bureaus and the corporations and the specialists, and put those fragments back together in our own minds and in our families and households and neighborhoods. We need better government, no doubt about it. But we also need better minds, better friendships, better marriages, better communities. We need persons and households that do not have to wait upon organizations, but can make necessary changes in themselves, on their own...