Meeting Wendell Berry

Nearly every weekday, Wendell or his wife, Tanya, will stop by his P.O. box. The retail hours of the post office are just 10:30 am to noon, but Berry, a prolific letter writer, is a frequent patron. (The mail route in Port Royal offers service on Berry’s road but, like most conveniences, he doesn’t use it. “We want to support the local post office,” Berry explains. “We need that post office.”)

Here, in Kentucky, he has seen industry — coal, for example, once one of the state’s biggest employers — fleece the land and the people, sowing resentment. “The idea that rural and urban America describe two economies, one thriving and the other failing, is preposterous,” he tells me. “We’re joined by one economy. And it’s a one-way economy — the sucking and the digging is out here. The delivery is in the city. They’re prospering because they’re plundering their own country.”

The resulting slow bleed of life and self-sufficiency from small towns alarms the author. When Berry was growing up, many people worked at local farms or businesses. Today, nearly everyone is a commuter, working under a boss, and the small farms he remembers have largely vanished. “It’s a very significant change,” Berry says, “from self-employed to employee.”

Recognizing the problem of keeping people living and working in small communities like Port Royal, Berry’s daughter, Mary, founded the Berry Center in New Castle, Kentucky, in 2011. It is a nonprofit with the goal of strengthening the bond between small farmers and the urban communities they serve. Mary says she hoped she could help “give people who want to farm something to come home to.”

Read all of "Wendell Berry is still ahead of us" by Hope Reese at Vox.


Poetic Response to Wendell Berry's Mad Farmer

Jason Rodenbeck has begun a challenge to readers to compose poems as responses to Mr. Berry's "Mad Farmer." His poem begins like this:

I saw the Mad Farmer
outside the city
standing defiant
at the treeline;
I heard his voice
crying out for the wilderness

from the false security
of my sanitized room
I witnessed his
lonesome prophecy
and I felt myself then
for the first time hollow
as I always had been
chasing dreams of
greatness and
manufactured purpose,
empty distractions and
greedy comforts

I heard his voice calling me,
“Forget those! Know your smallness!
Inhabit your incompleteness!
Embrace your partiality, your
connections to this earth and
your neighbor!”

Read all of "for the Mad Farmer" by Jason Rodenbeck at his blog,  Thinking Peacefully.


French reflection on Wendell Berry's thought

Car Berry n’est pas un simple défenseur des intérêts matériels des agriculteurs, ni ne croit naïvement – comme Jefferson – qu’ils sont des citoyens plus vertueux parce que propriétaires ; il défend la qualité du travail des paysans, parce que c’est leur travail qui les rend susceptibles de devenir plus vertueux pour la société. En effet, ils sont intrinsèquement les intendants (stewards) de la nature, cela très précisément parce que leur rapport à la nature n’est pas contemplatif, voire touristique, mais instrumental. Ils sont à la nature ce que pour Péguy les artisans étaient à la matière : ceux qui expérimentent, dans leur travail et pour leur survie, la résistance, la logique propre de ce qui est en face d’eux, de ce dont ils dépendent pour vivre. Un artisan apprend qu’une simple erreur, un petit coup de travers dans son bout de bois ou sa pierre peut rendre caduque toute son œuvre ; il apprend donc à s’adapter à la matière elle-même. Il en va de même pour le paysan qui ne peut pas faire de la glèbe ce qu’il veut, comme il le veut et quand il le veut. Péguy opposait le travail de l’artisan à celui des fonderies, soulignant (peut-être avec un peu de légèreté, d’ailleurs) que lorsqu’une pièce de métal était mal faite, il suffisait de la fondre à nouveau et de la remettre dans le moule.

Read all of “Wendell Berry: paysan, poète et penseur de l’écologie” by Frédéric Dufoing at L'inactuelle.


Responses to FPR's "Legacy of Wendell Berry" conference

In the wake of last weekend's (September 14) Front Porch Republic 10th anniversary conference on "The Legacy of Wendell Berry," some who attended have offered their reflections.

Scott P. Richert, publisher of Our Sunday Visitor, wondered about the affinity of Catholics for Wendell Berry's thought in "Incarnation and human scale."

The principle of subsidiarity — that everything should be handled at the lowest level possible — lies at the heart of Catholic social teaching. It’s what attracts Catholics who understand it to the work of localists like Mr. Berry and the Front Porch Republic. In order to accomplish anything, we must first realize that we can’t do everything. We’re called to make disciples of all nations, but the first step in doing so — and possibly the last — is to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Russell Arben Fox considers the tendency of Mr. Berry's thought to run across a range of political/ideological categories in "A Socialist on the Porch."

This gathering--the largest which FPR has ever organized, and one of their best--had Berry's life and work as its centerpiece. The 85-year-old novelist, essayist, poet, farmer, life-long Democrat, supporter of same-sex marriage, self-described "mad farmer," and all-around contrarian was interviewed by his daughter Mary and spoke with the audience at length. He is no socialist in any formal sense, that's for certain. But he is a man who, from his pastoral place in rural Kentucky, has articulated one of the greatest and most persuasive critiques of capitalism, and its ruinous environmental effects, in all American history.


Mary Berry interviewed by Library of America

Library of America: In practical terms, how do you see the work you do at the Berry Center extending or perpetuating your father’s legacy?

Mary Berry: I started the Berry Center in 2011 to continue the work of my family for small farmers and land conserving communities, and to improve the culture of agriculture. My father says that his father, John Marshall Berry, did the important work and he and his brother, John Marshall Berry, Jr., just took it up. We have now taken it up at the Center, advocating for ways to put a stabilizing economy under good farming and to foster a culture that will support it.

We started with an archive of my family’s papers, papers that tell the story of how the agrarian mind works when put into service of a particular place. My grandfather, John Marshall Berry, was a lawyer, farmer, and principal author of the only farm program in the history of our country (the Burley Tobacco Growers Co-Operative Association) that served the people it was supposed to serve—the small family farmer. His papers highlight the program and a way of life that he honored. We have to change the way we judge and understand the history of agriculture in this country. These papers give us a way to do that.

Read all of  "Mary Berry: Extending Wendell Berry’s legacy is 'the most hopeful work I can think of'” at Library of America.