NEW CASTLE — For more than a century Henry County relied on tobacco to keep its farmers and its economy going.
For most of the second half of the 20th century a federal program stabilized the price of tobacco, guaranteeing those farmers a steady, predictable income. That all changed in the new century after Congress ended tobacco price supports.
Just as all that change was underway, Mary Berry, the daughter of Henry County’s renowned author, activist, farmer and environmentalist Wendell Berry, founded The Berry Center to carry on his vision of “prosperous well-tended farms serving and supporting healthy local communities.”
Thinking about how to help farmers prosper, they began with the mantra, “start with what you have.” With tobacco gone, what Henry County had was cattle and pasture.
No state east of the Mississippi River produces more cattle than Kentucky.
Read all of "Happy Cows, good food, more profits for farmers" by Jacalyn Carfagno at Kentucky Lantern.
What would a fair and just economy look like? This isn’t a new question. It isn’t even new since the Great Recession, when reckless speculation proved much American economics was founded on air. People of wisdom and learning have asked that question since at least Adam Smith and Karl Marx, and come no closer to an answer that satisfies everyone. Poet and farmer Wendell Berry suggests we’ve been looking in the wrong direction.
Berry, who has worked the same stretch of Kentucky highland his entire life, grounds his economy in judicious management of resources; and for him, the foremost resource is land. His use of “land” broadly encompasses water and air, forests and pastures, which humans must manage, not merely use. Humans arise from land, and humans create money; any economy that places money first inverts, and thus destroys, the natural order.
America, and the world generally, has fallen under sway of “autistic industrialism,” in Berry’s words, a laser-focused belief that man-made technologies will solve everything. This finds its apotheosis in a financial services industry that sees its dollar-sign output as superior to whatever it places a price on. And it works exclusively through creating ever increasing demands: Berry writes, “Finance, as opposed to economy, is always ready and eager to confuse wants and needs.”
Read all of "Building an Economy From the Soil Up" by Kevin L. Nenstiel at hs blog, WordBasket.
I recommend second thoughts about the possibility of a “side” of love, but current political rhetoric tends toward such an absolute division. The side of hate is composed of avowed racists; avowed racists have espoused an absolute, un-excepting prejudice against a kind of people; and so they may be called “the side of hate” rightly enough. That haters hate is morally as straightforward and uncomplicated as it can be. But they themselves are perceived by the side of love as a kind of people. And the side of love, as perceived by the side of hate, is a kind of people also, another kind. And so we have a confrontation of two opposite kinds of people, lovers and haters, each side as absolute in its identity as it can make itself, and they do not know each other. They cannot imagine each other. For the haters, this situation is wonderfully simple and entirely acceptable. They don’t need even a notion of consequence. They are there to oppose. That is all. The lovers, on the contrary, have everything at stake and the situation is clouded by moral danger.
Read all of "Can Love Take Sides?" by Wendell Berry at Plough.
Berry rued the placement of a large industrial operation "right in the middle of one of our finest agricultural landscapes," and Wayne went so far as to call Angel's Envy a "colonizer."
"This is a very sacred place that God made – it's called Henry County," he said.
Despite the opposition, the commission nonetheless approved the industrial rezoning of the property and the conditional use permit for the agritourism destination. in The commission added binding elements to the development plans prior to approval that included certification of data and charts provided by Angel's Envy that concerned naturally occurring flora and ethanol concentrations related to generation of whiskey mold.
Read all of "Planning commission recommends Angel's Envy rezoning, Bourbon Trail development" by Robb Hoff in Henry County Local (12 August 2022).
While blockchain holds unfulfilled potential and some NFTs do possess aesthetic value, their rapid ascendance reveals disturbing truths about our economy. One especially ironic NFT helps uncover the NFT craze’s downsides. Strangely, a user named “Wildsheep” is selling a pixelated portrait of Wendell Berry as an NFT, which nobody has yet bid on. Front Porch Republic readers will appreciate the irony of speculating on a virtual image of Wendell Berry, who refuses to buy a computer or smartphone and instead insists on writing by pencil. What then might the great Kentucky agrarian say about NFTs? While Berry doesn’t discuss NFTs explicitly, answers to this question can be found in What Matters? Economics for a Renewed Commonwealth, a 2010 collection of Berry’s economic writings.
Primarily, Wendell Berry assails the very speculative economy that NFTs represent and entrench. An economy based around reckless gambling on digital images cannot support community or respect limits, two central themes of Berry’s work. While ostensibly promising decentralization, NFTs instead further a hyper-financialized economy built on falsehoods and abstractions, one that Berry labels in “Money Versus Goods” an “anti-economy” or “a financial system without a sound economic basis and without economic virtues.” He further lambastes how this economy produces goods that are destructive, fraudulent, unnecessary, useless, or any combination of the four.
Read all of "The Irony of a Wendell Berry NFT" by Andrew Figueiredo at Front Porch Republic.
In 1969 the agrarian writer, poet, and Kentuckian, Wendell Berry, published Think Little, a short essay dealing primarily with environmentalism and the principle of subsidiarity. I found it to be a well written and compelling piece. While it is brief, Berry’s essay contains striking observations that continue to be relevant in our own day.
As I began reading it, my immediate thought was how little has changed. This short essay could easily have been written yesterday. “First there was Civil Rights, and then there was the War, and now it is the Environment. The first two of this sequence of causes have already risen to the top of the nation’s consciousness and declined somewhat in a remarkably short time.” While the Civil Rights Movement itself has passed, the issue of race has again come to the forefront of the national and global stage. In 2020 the Black Lives Matter and George Floyd protests and riots dominated headlines, while in 2021 Critical Race Theory surfaced as a major point of contention. Then, though Berry speaks of Vietnam, one could easily replace that with the war in Afghanistan or even just the broader War on Terror. As for the Environment, there has hardly been a more prevalent and constant issue than Climate Change. The push for expanding renewable energy sources, building more electric cars, changing people’s diets, and reducing carbon emissions has been in the national and global discourse for decades now. Yet, as Berry points out, both Civil Rights (race) and the War (of your choice) have been short-lived in their prominence in the public sphere. This is not to say that racial issues have disappeared necessarily, but neither the protests of 2020 nor Critical Race Theory have actually lasted very long in terms of how important they are perceived as being and how much they dominate the political sphere. The protests came and went, and the Critical Race Theory debate has mostly given way to debates surrounding COVID-19 regulations and mandates (at least for now). Afghanistan is a similar story. While it took over headlines for a month or two, it has practically disappeared from the news and from public discourse. I doubt many people are actively thinking about our withdrawal and defeat at all, and likely will not remember it until it appears in midterm election advertisements.
Read all of "Wendell Berry’s “Think Little” Remains Relevant Today" by John Thomas at The New Utopian,.
In his 1988 essay, “Racism and the Economy,” Wendell Berry addresses these questions [of racial/economic inequality] directly with a clarity probably beyond the reach of the shared metropolitanism of Baldwin and Buckley. He begins by diagnosing the “contagion” of racism as a form of hubris or pride: “The root is in our inordinate desire to be superior – not to some inferior or subject people, though this desire leads to the subjection of people – but to our condition. We wish to rise above the sweat and bother of taking care of anything – of ourselves, of each other, or of our country” (47). This allows Berry to set racism against people of colour in the wider context of the exploitation of cheap labour. In essence, he agrees with Baldwin that the American Dream has been too often built through the sweat of others.
One of the ways we manifest this desire for superiority is in a hierarchy of labour. Many Americans enslaved Africans to do the kind of work they refused to do themselves, “what used to be known as ‘nigger work’—work that is fundamental and inescapable” (48). Berry argues that this impulse to force others to undertake menial work infects even those who push for greater racial equality and hence taints such aspirations. Berry writes,
The “success” of the black corporate executive, in fact, only reveals the shallowness, the jeopardy, and the falseness of the “success” of the white corporate executive…. It only assumes that American blacks will be made better or more useful or more secure by becoming as greedy, selfish, wasteful, and thoughtless as affluent American whites. The aims and standards of the oppressors become the aims and standards of the oppressed, and so our ills and evils survive our successive “liberations.” (49)
In short, the socio-economic order created by European expansionism and racism not only tilts systems and structures against people of colour, it also defines the goals towards which they strive. Though Berry does not explicitly make this connection, fundamentally western economies – and especially corporations – define the beata vita, the happy life, for everyone.
Read all of "Baldwin. Buckley, and Berry on Racism and the World Order" by Mark Clavier at Front Porch Republic.
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.
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.