Reflecting on Wendell Berry and Cory Booker's Veganism

Wendell Berry, the poet, essayist, environmental activist, and farmer, once wrote that “eating is an agricultural act.” This is a statement that should both liberate us and implicate us — we are actors in the food economy, and every decision we make about what we eat and where we buy our food from is a vote for a direction that the food economy will continue upon, or newly take, to meet consumer demand. Unfortunately, most of us are extremely disconnected from our food’s lineage, and we’re unaware of our active role in the series of relationships that is global in scope. Our role, however, isn’t merely as passive consumers, although the industrial food economy prefers the relationship between the citizenry and the food on their plates from grocery stores to be an entirely transactional one.

Senator Cory Booker (D., N.J.) has somewhat called attention to the environmental impact that our eating decisions make in comments he made to VegNews. Booker says that the planet can’t sustain people eating the quantities of meat they eat today, and that Americans need to be encouraged to switch to eating fake cheese in order to mitigate the “environmental impact” that the “standard American diet” is making. Booker became a vegan after initially becoming a vegetarian in 1992. He also noted that his friends who are lovers of cheese have tried the fake stuff and loved it — and that the pizza at the New Jersey VegFest was phenomenal.

Read all of "A Wendell Berry Solution to Cory Booker's Problem" by Marlo Safi at National Review.


Good Conversation about the Wendell Berry Farming Program and Other Important Matters

The Berry Center explains:

As we look forward to the full-time, tuition-free program starting this fall, we are thankful also to our friends at The Local Life and Edible Louisville for this interview with Dr. Leah Bayens, (Dean of the WBFP), Emma Stein (two time student of our KY short courses), and Mary Berry (our fearless leader here at the Center). If you want an introduction to what we are doing to grow the next generation of farmers, you need look no further.

Listen to The Local Life HERE.

 
 

Interview with Mary Berry and Leah Bayens on the Wendell Berry Farming Program and other good things

The fourth episode of The Membership, a podcast about the life and works of Wendell Berry, consists of an interview by John Pattison with Mary Berry, director of The Berry Center, and Dr. Leah Bayens, director of the Wendell Berry Farming Program of Sterling College.  It is a wide-ranging conversation about the ideas behind The Berry Center, the economic and cultural realities of small farming, and the Berry Farming Program.

Of that program, Mary Berry says, "We're trying to do what the culture has failed to do because the economy has wrecked farm culture. We're trying to get these kids not just the education that a citizen of this country ought to have,  but we're also putting them together with people who have the cultural knowledge, who can make a living on using and reusing and fixing and so on. So, you know, if we had the culture that my father grew up with there'd be no reason for this."

Listen HERE. And subscribe to the whole podcast for consistently great conversation about the work of Wendell Berry. And support the work of The Berry Center as best you can.


Recent Interview with Wendell Berry

You have written eloquently about how growing up in a farming community in northern Kentucky, where your family has lived for generations, shaped your life and work. Tell us about this experience and its influence on your life choices.

I grew up in Henry County, Kentucky, which at the time of my birth and for a while afterward was an agrarian county. The businesses in the towns were supported by agriculture, which they, in turn, supported. My father was a lawyer who all his life was also a farmer. He made sure that I learned farming, as well as the principles of the organization he served, the Burley Tobacco Growers Co-operative Association. By means of price supports and production controls, it maintained the small farmers of this part of the country for about six decades. Tobacco became indefensible after the 1965 Surgeon General’s report, but the principles of the Association remain right for agriculture.

My father, a principled agrarian, was concerned about having a writer for a son, afraid that I wouldn’t make enough money to feed my family. But two things happened. One was that I became gainfully employed; the other was that my writing, especially the Unsettling of America (1977), revealed to him how much I had inherited from him and how my work carried his values on into my own life and time.

Read all of "For Love of Place: Reflections of an Agrarian Sage" at Great Transition Initiative.


Wendell Berry on the Farm Bill

Gracy Olmstead: The Farm Bill usually promotes short-term economic gains over long-term ecological health (something the 50-year Farm Bill seeks to fix). How do we get Washington politicians to support more sustainable forms of agriculture?

Wendell Berry: The problem here is not so much that of the shortness of the term of planning or of shortsightedness as it is of ecological and agricultural ignorance and a sort of moral blindness. The problems we ought to be dealing with are not problems because they are going to cause us trouble in the future. They are problems because they are obviously and clearly causing trouble right now. We ought to be doing our best to solve them right now.

If politicians and journalists want to know about the problems of agriculture, they are not likely to go out into “rural America” to observe the condition of the fields and the waterways or to talk to the farmers and the ex-farmers, the ex-merchants of the small towns, or to talk to the mayors and county judges of rural counties. Instead, they are very likely to talk to academic and bureaucratic experts, who are tightly bound within the industrial structure of agriculture, agri-science and agribusiness.

Alan Guebert was right when he said in one of his columns that this farm bill will be much like the last one insofar as it will not address the real problems of agriculture. Those problems, as you know, are soil erosion, soil degradation, the pollution of waterways by sediment and toxic chemicals, various ecological damages, the elimination of small farms, the destruction of the cultures of husbandry and the ruin of country towns and communities. And maybe we should add specifically the curse of overproduction, which at present, as often before, is the major and the cruelest problem.

Those problems could be summed up as the triumph of industrialism and industrial values over the lives of living creatures, and over the life of the living world. The preferences and choices of industrialism do not imply a limit of any kind. They rest instead upon the premises of limitless economic growth and limitless consumption, which of course implies limitless waste, and finally exhaustion.

Nothing can take form except within limits. No cure is possible, either in policy or practice, except within understood limits, which is to say within a correct diagnosis. This requires patience. A good solution has to begin with a description of the problem that is full, clear, and reliable.

Read all of "Wendell Berry's Right Kind of Farming," an interview with Gracy Olmstead at The New York Times.


The Berry Farming Program begins again in Henry County

The Wendell Berry Farming Program is up and running again after a two-year hiatus, precipitated by the unexpected closing in 2016 of St. Catharine College in Springfield, where the program was based. This time, however, the program’s home will stay in Henry County, even if it’s new collegiate partner is at Sterling College in Vermont.

“My mother (Tanya Berry) always said the Berry Farming program should be in Henry County,” said Mary Berry, the director of the Berry Center in New Castle, which is devoted to her father Wendell’s agricultural and literary legacy, and oversees the farming program. “I agreed but I didn’t want to start a school myself. My mother always turns out to be right.”

After St. Catharine’s closed, Mary Berry looked at schools all around the country where the farming program could be housed. Then she was contacted by Sterling College President Matthew Derr.

Sterling College is a small school in Craftsury Common, Vt., that describes itself as an environmental college dedicated to stewardship and sustainability. Majors include ecology, environmental humanities and sustainable agriculture. Derr pitched the idea of a partnership in which a college already teaching many of the principles of Wendell Berry could work in his backyard.

Sterling is also, like Berea College and Alice Lloyd College in Kentucky, one of eight federally recognized work colleges, which emphasize work and service as part of their education.

Read all of "‘A guiding light.’ Why Vermont students are farming in Wendell Berry’s backyard" by Linda Blackford at The Lexington Herald-Leader.


A review of "The Essential Wendell Berry"

Agrarianism is the theme he returns to with great regularity and is also the subject of his best-known book, the 1977 classic The Unsettling of America, a compressed version of which is included in this collection. A good part of Berry’s career has involved excoriating mechanized, chemicalized mega-farming as a brutal, life-threatening assault that kills the soil and sends it down the river, guts farming communities, renders moot our relationship to animals and sky and other people, and widens a dualism between us and the earth that is ruining our health, our minds, our ability to live satisfying lives, and the American (and global) culture.

These works are mostly about small-town America, and mostly set on Berry’s farm at Lane’s Landing, once a riverboat stop on the Kentucky River near Port Royal, Kentucky. But not one word stoops to smug nostalgia. He is instead trying to prove that science and economics happen in a place: he draws endlessly and non-repetitively on the deep well of the lived truth of farm life, which delivers up sweet, clear lines of poetry and local lore and a kind of immediate authenticity.

That authority is the reason we read Wendell Berry. When he tells us precisely what ails us as a nation, that a “Faustian economics” of “corporate fundamentalism” fuels a “world-ending fire” of limitless consumerism that is our ruin, we believe him. We want to scream it from the rooftops. But he goes a step further. He doesn’t leave the question begged, but answers it:

Small solutions, unrelentingly practical, that will be made by individuals in relation to small parcels of land.

Read all of "How to Fight the Fire" by Dean Kuipers at Los Angeles Review of Books.


Mary Berry on making small- and middle-scale farming viable again

Many believed that increasing sales of organic foods, once considered the backbone for building local food systems, would be a boon for farmers. And for some it has been. But the global organic industry—mimicking practices of industrial agriculture—simply bypasses most domestic farmers. Consider that the value of U.S. organic exports was $548 million in 2016, while our organic imports were at $1.65 billion. While some of the imports include high-value items that can't be grown in the U.S.—bananas, coffee, etc.—we also import many organic foods that we grow conventionally in this country. For example, we import organic corn and soy even though these are the two largest industrial crops grown in the U.S.

So how do we begin to build local, healthy farm and food models that are economically viable in the shadow of an entrenched giant, globalized ag industry? In today's political climate, this is going to have to be grassroots work. That work starts with new infrastructure systems that allow farmers to afford to keep farming.

Read all of "Renewing a Vision for Rural Prosperity" by Mary Berry and Debbie Baker at Civil Eats.


Wendell Berry calls for dairy solutions, production quotas, Walmart boycott

“The Farmer’s Pride” for March 15 features a heartbreaking story by Carilynn Coombs about the “termination” by Dean Foods of its “milk procurement contract” with her family —  along with more than a hundred other dairy farmers in Kentucky.

In that issue several articles deal with this subject, all pointing to calamity for families whose lives as farmers and whose farms are at stake. For its mistreatment of its until-now faithful suppliers, Dean Foods passes the responsibility to Walmart, which has built its own milk-bottling plant and, as usual, is competing against everybody.

The problem is a surplus of milk. Sharon Burton’s editorial, also in “The Farmer’s Pride” of March 15, and on the same subject, contains a penetrating insight: “I’m not talking about dairy farmers…I’m talking about rural America.” She is right. The story of Dean Foods’ cancelled contracts is a representative piece of the story of rural America since the 1950s, when Eisenhower’s Secretary of Agriculture told farmers to “get big or get out.”

Read all of "Dairy Farmers Need Solutions" by Wendell Berry at Edible Louisville.


Wendell Berry in new Earth Day Journal from The Berry Center

from “For the Neighbors”

In the United States, which once were colonies, we made what we now call “rural America” a colony of the cities and the corporations. If the cities and corporations have wanted coal or copper or cotton or corn, the rule has been that they should go into the country and take its products for the lowest possible price but at an unbooked and immeasureable cost to the land and the people. 

And so we have had several centuries of plunder and waste and pollution, “backed” by concentrated wealth and power on a continental or global scale, but always enacted in the rural landscapes, country communities, and small towns, which have always been readily dismissable as “country” or “corny” or “the boondocks” or “the middle
of nowhere.” 

If all this adds up to global emergencies such as climate change, it also produces in universities, bureaus, think tanks, and the like, a hearty appetite for global solutions involving dramatic technologies, heroic breakthroughs, and epic sums of money. The necessary repairs, even so, will have to be made in the rural landscapes, country communities, and small towns where the trouble started. 

The great questions now overhanding these small rural places where the global problem will be solved are these: what will be the solutions? And How and on what scale and by whom and for whose ultimate benefit will they be installed? 

Read the whole article by Wendell Berry (and more from The Berry Center) at Earth Day Journal, Volume 1 (pdf).