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February 2011
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April 2011

Craft responds "Donation, Berry honor shouldn't be in conflict"

The Erik Reece commentary falsely contends that philanthropic contributions deprived the University of Kentucky from celebrating Wendell Berry's recent award of the National Humanities Medal from President Barack Obama. The plain fact is Berry is alone responsible for the loss.

The donors gave the funds to help the university build a new dormitory. Berry politicized the gift, taking his papers and going home and refusing to have any further affiliation with UK.


Reflections on Wendell Berry's National Humanities Medal

The farmer, simultaneously the most surprising and most deserving of the lot, was Kentucky’s Wendell Berry, man of letters, agriculturalist, and fierce laureate of the natural world. At 76, Berry’s career spans more than 50 years and includes almost as many books, including novels, essays collections, and poetry. He’s not scientifically inclined, like Bill McKibben; he’s not carved as specific a niche as Michael Pollan. Rather, he’s a writer. His beautifully wrought prose – subtle, sly cadences informed by the soft hills of his native Henry County  – and his polemical sensibility deliver a clear-eyed, intense conviction best summarized by a quote included in his award citation, drawn from The Unsettling of America: “It is wrong to think that bodily health is compatible with spiritual confusion or cultural disorder, or with polluted air and water or impoverished soil.”


Review of "The Poetry of William Carlos Williams of Rutherford"

Wendell Berry has written a thoughtful book-length meditation on the poetry of William Carlos Williams titled, appropriately, The Poetry of William Carlos Williams of Rutherford. But let us be honest with one another: with the United States fighting two wars while governments fall throughout North Africa and the Middle East, with the economy still in shambles and almost one in ten Americans out of work, and with the rising of the oceans and the temperature of the planet, what use is poetry, really? And what is there for us in a book by a farmer-poet from Kentucky about a doctor-poet from New Jersey? In a passage from his poem “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower,” Williams writes, “It is difficult / to get the news from poems / yet men die miserably every day / for lack / of what is found there.”  But what exactly can be found in poetry?


Wes Jackson featured in "Perennial Crops, Sustainable Agriculture"

In 1900 there were an estimated 29 million farmers in the United States, in 2008, 751,000*.  The century in between saw a transformation in agriculture that helped feed a flourishing human population. But we now face the consequences of high-yield, low-resilience agriculture hitting the limits of sustainability.

In an essay called Tackling the Oldest Environmental Problem (pdf) published in The Post Carbon Reader, Land Institute founder and president Wes Jackson addresses those consequences.

“I think we must recognize what the United Nations Millennium Ecosystems Assessment said,” Jackson writes, “that on a global basis, agriculture is the largest threat to biodiversity and ecosystem function of any single human activity.”


WB cited in "(GMO) Alfalfa and Our Future"

However, if we conceive of a culture as one body, which it is, we see that all of its disciplines are everybody’s business…[it is] clear that there are agricultural disciplines that have nothing to do with crop production, just as there are agricultural obligations that belong to people who are not farmers.   --Wendell Berry

Who cares?
Everyone who cares about these things now knows that GMO alfalfa (and sugar beets and biofuel corn) has been deregulated. This caring, of course, should go far beyond the companies that have spent much time and money persuading the government that it ought to be grown, and beyond the farmers who may or may not wish to grow the stuff. Those who eat meat, eggs, and cheese, and drink milk, those who buy food for their pets, those who prefer to eat organic food, those who question the wisdom of inserting into a plant’s genetic make-up the genes of a bacterium that confers resistance to a broad-spectrum herbicide—basically all of us, one way or another—should be paying close attention.


Grist: "USDA chief flatters industrial ag while Obama honors its greatest critic"

A year and a half ago, I complained that President Obama's food and ag policy was "giving me whiplash," because the administration seemed to keep zigzagging between progressive change and the agrichemical status quo.  

Since then, a definite pattern has emerged: The administration puts real policy power behind the status quo -- see, for example, the recent deregulation of controversial genetically modified crops -- and deploys what the political scientists call "soft power" (usually through Michelle Obama) to hector people to eat a little better and chide corporations to clean up their junk food a bit.

Two events last week offered a nice snapshot of what might be called Obama's dual policy on ag.


Reece: "Coal industry 'gift' cost UK a celebration"

Last week at the White House, President Barack Obama awarded Kentucky author Wendell Berry the National Humanities Medal.

Last week on the campus of the University of Kentucky, work began in earnest on the Wildcat Coal Lodge.

Because of the latter, UK can claim no institutional pride in the former. And that is sad.

Because President Lee T. Todd Jr. and the UK Board of Trustees agreed to insert the word "coal" into the name of the new men's basketball dorm, in exchange for $7 million from a group of coal operators, Berry announced last summer that he was withdrawing his papers from UK and severing all ties with the university.


Louisville Editorial: WB is "Conscience of the Commonwealth"

Surely the 76-year-old Kentuckian's life work exemplifies the President's statement that “art, literature, works of history, speak to our condition and they affirm our desire for something more and something better.” Tools of change and of revolution, Mr. Obama said, can be pickaxes and hammers but they also can be brushes and pens and cameras and guitars — and syllables in poems that move the heart and the needle of public policy.


Reading "Jayber Crow"

There is a day
When the road neither
Comes nor goes, and the way
Is not a way but a place.
            -Wendell Berry A Timbered Choir
     Some years ago I returned to the small town where I spent several years of my childhood.  My father unexpectedly (at too young of an age) passed away and I returned for the funeral.  While I was there, I visited many of the places where my dad and I spent time together.  The river bank where we fished, the little family owned store where we bought soda and other goodies, and the barbershop where we got our hair cut. 

     The barber who cut my hair that day was the same barber who had cut my dad’s hair and the same man who cut my hair when I was a little boy.  It was a joyous time sitting in that same chair after all these years and listening to the stories.  The sights, sounds, smell, and sense of place was a wonderful experience.

     If you have any memories like these, you will be quickly drawn into the world of Jayber Crow, the life of the barber of the Port Williams Community