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.
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