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Composer scores Wendell Berry Documentary

What does Henry County sound like to a Los Angeles composer scoring the latest documentary, “The Seer,” which features work of author, activist and agrarian Wendell Berry?

“Quiet strength, quiet pride,” answered Kerry Muzzey, who worked with Director Laura Dunn to come up with understated music to match the intimate stories about the struggles faced by farmers also featured in the documentary.

Dunn’s documentary has the backing of some high-powered Hollywood stars, including actor and Sundance Film Festival founder Robert Redford as executive producer and Nick Offerman of “Parks and Recreation” fame as a co-producer, according to the blog

“The Seer” will focus on the topics of food and agriculture from a rural farm perspective, through Berry’s work.

Read more at Henry County Local (account may be required)

The Blessing of Homeplace Farm at St. Catharine College

St. Catharine, KY-- On Monday, October 19, St. Catharine College (SCC) hosted nearly seventy people from the community and college for a ceremony to bless and christen its new educational site for the Berry Farming Program (BFP): Homeplace Farm. 

The event featured a ceremony in which Sr. Mary Brigid Gregory and Jonah Hays Lucas (son of BFP professor Dr. Shawn Lucas) combined and scattered on the ground soils from the five Dominican Sisters of Peace farms and ecological education centers:

Heartland Farm (Pawnee Rock, KS)

Crystal Springs Earth Learning Center (Plainville, MA)

Crown Point Ecology Center (Bath, OH)

Shepherd's Corner Farm and Ecology Center (Blacklick, OH)

St. Catharine Farm (St. Catharine, KY). 

BFP students Hannah Spaulding and Sathya Govindasamy combined and sprinkled water from the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes in France and water from Cartwright Creek, which flows through the St. Catharine Farm. Additionally, New York State farmer and writer Kristin Kimball read the poem "A Vision" by Wendell Berry. Kimball was visiting SCC to speak about her memoir The Dirty Life , which was the common reader for SCC freshmen. Springfield resident Elaine Simms and the SCC Fine Arts Committee for hosted a beautiful reception after the ceremony.

Read more and watch video at St. Catharine College

Wendell Berry on "The Branch Way of Doing"

I don't know how long this story—published in The (excellent) Threepenny Review—has been available online, but I'm just seeing it now. Enjoy!

Danny Branch is older than Andy Catlett by about two years, which matter to them far less now than when they were young. They are growing old together with many of the same things in mind, many of the same memories. They often are at work together, just the two of them, taking a kind of solace and an ordinary happiness from their profound knowledge by now of each other’s ways and of how to do whatever they are doing. They don’t talk much. There is little to explain, they both are likely to know the same news, and Danny anyhow, unlike his father, rarely has anything extra to say.

Andy has always known Danny, but he knows that, to somebody who has not long known him, Danny might be something of a surprise. As if by nature, starting with the circumstances of his birth, as if by his birth he had been singled out and set aside, he has never been a conventional man. To Andy he has been not only a much-needed friend, but also, along with Lyda and their children, a subject of enduring interest and of study.

Danny is the son of Kate Helen Branch and Burley Coulter. His family situation was never formalized by a wedding between his parents, who for various and changing reasons lived apart, but were otherwise as loving and faithful until death as if bound by vows. And Danny was as freely owned and acknowledged, and about as attentively cared for and instructed, by Burley as by Kate Helen. “He’s my boy,” Burley would say to anybody who may have wondered. “He was caught in my trap.”

Read it all at The Threepenny Review

Some Words with Wendell Berry

MF: What is a modern farmer today?

WB: An industrial farmer. We need to say that the countryside is suffering from want of caretakers. Farming at its best was diversified and very well done. The people who did that work here are dead or gone and their children are gone. They’re being replaced by huge machines and toxic chemicals. Industrial farming leads away from and against what Aldo Leopold called the “land community.”

MF: What should a modern farmer be instead?

WB: A farmer who has understood the dependence of agriculture on nature. The responsible farmer would not own more land than he or she could know well and pay close attention to and care for properly. Farming has to do with everything. We can’t reduce it to a transaction between a technician and a machine.

Read more at Modern Farmer

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

Reading Wendell Berry's "Our Only World"

Industrialization includes everything from an agriculture dependent upon fossil fuels and chemicals and mining practices that scour the landscape to the destruction of forests. He sees both major political parties have having facilitated this, and indeed often with the collusion of environmental groups. And he sees corporate capitalism as having wreaked destruction upon the political, social, and economic landscapes as well as the physical landscape.
In Our Only World: Ten Essays, Berry continues his discussion of that violence and destruction, along with a focus on examples of where he sees people are making a difference. The title is something of a misnomer; the 10 essays are actually 10 articles, speeches and essays. But they are simultaneously vintage Berry and contemporary Berry. And he has much to say, and much that needs to be listened to and heeded.

Wendell Berry's Correspondence with Thomas Merton

I just came upon this page from The Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University. The site describes the collection of Berry-Merton letters.

This set of correspondence contains nine letters between two like-minded poets and authors. In his correspondence with Berry, one can see seeds of Merton's interest in the environment. One can only guess at the directions in this vein that his friendship with Berry might have led him. Among the letters are original typed and handwritten letters by Berry, and carbon copies of Merton's letters.

The letters themselves are not available online, but substantial descriptions of each item are provided.


Wendell Berry writes to NYRB

Though I am not an economist, I do read articles and columns by economists. One of my interests in doing so is to see if any attention is paid either to the natural world or to the economies of land use. Though “the economy” obviously depends upon both nature and land use, those subjects are rarely mentioned, let alone attended to.

At the risk of trying your patience, I will point out that “What Is Wrong with the West’s Economies?” [NYR, August 13] by Edmund Phelps makes no mention of nature or “natural resources” or any land-using economy. He speaks once of “rural life” in order, tritely, to dismiss it from any concern or importance. And he speaks once of “the crops”—“the crops may be growing…”—but that is a trope. The crops in fact “may be” growing, but he takes for granted that they are.

Read more at The New York Review of Books