Tuesday, November 17, 2009

We Are Fortunate To Have Wendell Berry

I first read Wendell Berry about thirty years ago, and was profoundly impressed and moved by what he had to say. He is our poet laureate of the soil and a national treasure, and his writings never cease to amaze me for their wisdom and insight whether reading his poetry or essays.

He is still at it, and the December issue of Harper's features an article entitled "The Necessity of Agriculture" taken from a speech he gave in May of this year. The entire piece is a must-read, but I have tried to pull the best lines out below; it was a hopeless task because the whole thing is just amazingly insightful and spot-on. A sampling:
"We seem now to be coming to a time when we will have to recognize the love of farming not as a quaint souvenir of an outdated past but as an economic necessity. And that recognition, when it comes, will bring with it a considerable embarrassment."

“Policy makers…are hoping newly unemployed young people will help revive Japan’s dwindling farm population...‘If they can’t find workers over the next several years, Japan’s agriculture will disappear,’ But this effort is falling significantly short of success because “many young people end up returning to cities, unable to adjust to life in the countryside.” To their surprise, evidently, farming involves hard work, long hours, and getting dirty—not to mention skills that city-bred people don’t have. Not to mention the necessity of loving farmwork if you are going to keep at it."

"And in Japan, as opposed to the United States…They even think agriculture may be a good thing for a nation of eaters to have."

"If agriculture and the necessity of food production ever penetrate the consciousness of our politicians and economists, how successful will they be in job-training our overeducated, ignorant young people to revive our own aging and dwindling farm population?"

"What will it take to get significant numbers of our young people, white of collar and soft of hands, to submit to hard work and long days, not to mention getting dirty?"

"… the necessity of agriculture will not be widely recognized without the sterner necessity of actual hunger."

"…our informal but most effective agricultural policy has been to eat as much, as effortlessly, as thoughtlessly, and as cheaply as we can, to hell with whatever else may be involved."

"But we, who have decided as a nation and by policy not to love farming, have escaped it, for a while at least, by turning it into an 'agri-industry.'”

"But agri-industry…has given us massive soil erosion and degradation, water pollution, maritime hypoxic zones; destroyed rural communities and cultures; reduced our farming population almost to disappearance; yielded toxic food; and instilled an absolute dependence on a despised and exploited force of migrant workers."

"We have ahead of us a lot of hard work that we are not going to be able to do with clean hands. We had better try to love it."
Go read the whole thing. It's all of about two pages long, and it's probably the best thing you'll read this month. The quoting of "Faust" is worth it all by itself.

No comments: