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Remembering a visit with Wendell Berry

So one day in late June of 2017, I was driving down a winding road in the farmland of Northern Kentucky, almost thinking I had taken a wrong turn until I approached a two-story white farm house matching the address Mr. Berry had given me.

I approached the front door, was greeted by two of Mr. Berry's dogs and his wife, Tanya, who was cutting roses to put in the house. She brought me into the kitchen and offered me a seat, and her husband came down the stairs within minutes.

Tanya, Wendell and I sat in their kitchen for two hours talking. For some reason, I expected their house to be abnormal, as both of them are well-known internationally, but I shouldn’t have been surprised that a couple who had moved back to Kentucky to take over the family farm had a simple, modest house.

Read all of "Kitchen Conversations" by Alexis Draut at the Rome News-Tribune.


A review of Wendell Berry's collected essays

What Wendell Berry stands on, quite literally, is dirt. And if dirt seems an odd thing to also stand for, then reading fifteen hundred pages of his essays will fill you in on the ramifying significance of dirt.

The importance of dirt may be the most prominent thread running through fifty years of Berry’s writing on remarkably diverse topics. When we neglect the health of the soil, Berry warns, it is not just our diet that suffers; our homes, communities, and politics wither. Without a healthy, sustainable agriculture preserving the soil’s fertility, no human culture can survive. In standing for dirt, it turns out, Berry stands for a countercultural view of humans as radically dependent creatures, formed from dust and sustained by the Creator’s breath.

The Library of America’s mission is to publish “America’s greatest writing in authoritative new editions,” and in 2018 they recognized Berry’s literary achievements by releasing a volume of his fiction. This year, they are publishing What I Stand On: The Collected Essays of Wendell Berry 1969 – 2017.

Read the complete review by Jeffrey Bilbro of What I Stand On: The Collected Essays of Wendell Berry 1969–2017 at Plough

What I Stand On: The Collected Essays of Wendell Berry 1969–2017 at Library of America


An overview of The Wendell Berry Farming Program of Sterling College

“I believe that Henry County ought to be used as a classroom to instruct young people who want to take up a life of farming,” Mary Berry says.

As part of the program, students will use draft animals to learn more about sustainable farm practices. “There’s a way that working with draft horses teaches farming like nothing else can,” Berry explains. Her father said the same in his essay “Taking Draft Animals Seriously.” Participants will also learn about the economics of agriculture, including studying the history of the Burley Tobacco Growers Cooperative Association, a one-hundred-year-old organization that John Berry Sr., Mary Berry’s grandfather, helped found to provide stability for small farmers in the region. The Berry Center is trying to recreate that approach with its Our Home Place Meat initiative, a cooperative for local livestock farmers through which students will have the opportunity to gain real-world experience.

Read all of "Now Enrolling: The Wendell Berry Farm School" by Latria Graham at Garden & Gun.


Wendell Berry in conversation with Helena Norberg-Hodge

Wendell Berry: The issue there again, it seems to me, is the acceptance of a limit. Science that accepts limits would do no harm to an ecosystem or a human body. This is very different from the kind of science that too frequently turns out to be product development, without control of its application. The nuclear scientists who developed the atomic bomb are a very good example. But so are chemists who develop toxic substances for a limited use that they have in mind, but then turn it loose on the market and into the world. So you develop a chemical to control weeds in crops, and you ask only the question of whether or not the weeds are controlled; you don’t ask what happens when it runs off into the rivers.

Helena Norberg-Hodge: This is why there has to be the precautionary principle, as Rachel Carson reminded us. But the only entities really capable of enforcing the precautionary principle are governments—and trade treaties and the globalizing economy have given giant multinational companies more and more power over governments. We’ve seen these last thirty years the enormous damage that this power shift created. And then with the financial breakdown in 2008, it was so clear that we needed regulation; but it didn’t happen.

WB: The global economy is almost by definition not subject to regulation. And this simply means that corporations can pursue economic advantage without limit, wherever in the world those advantages are to be found. And as I’ve thought of it in the last several years, it has seemed to me that we’ve had a global economy for about five hundred years—ever since the time of Columbus. And this allowed us to think that if we don’t have some necessity of life here, we can get it from somewhere else. This is the most damaging idea that we’ve ever had. It’s still with us, still current, and it still excuses local plunder and theft and enslavement. It’s an extreme fantasy or unreality, the idea that if we don’t have it here, we can get it somewhere else—if we use it up here, we can get it somewhere else. It’s the stuff of fantasy.

Read all of "Caretaking," a conversation between Wendell Berry and Helena Norberg-Hodge at Orion.


On Wendell Berry's Christianity

It was in 1979 that Berry published his first essay on a biblical vision of stewardship, started writing his sabbath poems, and began drafting Remembering. At this time, he was also carrying on a remarkable correspondence with the Buddhist poet Gary Snyder in which he takes up, albeit uneasily, the defense of the biblical tradition. Berry’s revisions to his earlier work provide another window into his changing stance toward Christianity during these years; when he selects his poems for the 1985 Collected Poems, he omits several of his early poems that conveyed a kind of pagan, animist vision of creation.

What seems to underlie this shift is Berry’s growing sense that the Christian language of Creation was indispensable for rightly articulating the human place in the world. As he writes in his 1979 essay “The Gift of Good Land,” “the idea of the land as a gift—not a free or a deserved gift, but a gift given upon certain rigorous conditions” has far-reaching implications, and working out the implications of Creation-as-gift animates much of Berry’s later work.

Read  a section of Jeffrey Bilbro's "When Did Wendell Berry Start Talking Like a Christian?" at Christianity & Literature.