10 January 2008


I have great admiration and predilection for the thinking of Wendell Berry, who has been a major influence on my life. I first saw Berry up close at Alfalfa's, a health-food restaurant across from the University of Kentucky, on Limestone Ave., just up the street from the tobacco warehouse (which makes that area of Lexington redolent with the sweet pungency of drying burley). I was part-investor in the espresso machine in the restaurant. This was ca. 1970. Then, in my first graduate program, at Ohio University, a few years later, in a Geography of Agriculture course, we were assigned his The Unsettling of America to study. (Thank you, Prof. Frank Bernard.) And, study it I did--several times. What Berry does so well is to tie the individual and her personal ways of living with resource and land use.

From a July 2004 interview in
Sojourners magazine http://www.sojo.net/index.cfm?action=magazine.article&issue=soj0407&article=040710x> I'd say that Berry is now being more direct in his language about the role of corporate totalitarianism. Good for him. In Unsettling he places emphasis on individual habits of living, which I'm sure he would still say is the responsibility of each of us. I agree. But, in the interview he seems to be saying that corporate takeover of our lives--our ability to feed ourselves, our very existence--makes it nearly impossible for society to maintain RATIONAL systems of resource and land use. It is an insane policy for cities to not depend on their own local market areas, their own "foodsheds." It IS unsustainable.

I am glad he brings in the question of
peak oil. Because when oil prices start to rise at a much faster pace, it will be farmers like Berry whom we will depend upon to supply nearby cities with food. We cannot continue to rely on Chile and even California. In the meantime, Berry and farmers like him are maintaining the health and productivity of their land--small parcels of it--as insurance, and also as exemplars of how to be productive in a sustainable way--for the time when they will be the difference between the collapse of the food production system and survival. At that crucial moment, we shall be so appreciative that farmers like Berry had the foresight to be good stewards of the land.

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