VOX Profiles Wendell Berry

Berry Farm

Hope Reese has written a nice introduction to Wendell Berry and his place-centered, agrarian ideas.  Here is a taste:

Bill McKibben’s environmental activism was spurred after his wife gave him a copy of Berry’s 1979 essay collection Home Economics, which offered ideas on how we can live a simple and grounded life at home. “There’s no writer working in the English language I admire as much,” McKibben says.

For the author Barbara Kingsolver, he’s something more: A fellow Kentuckian whose writings she turned to, she wrote in an email, “after I left home and learned with a shock that the outside world looks down on us.

“Decade after decade, I keep running up against the bigotry of American mainstream culture against Appalachians, farmers, and rural life, and I always come back to Wendell for solace,” she wrote. “Quietly and without bitterness he brings me home to myself, reminding me that all the ‘hillbilly elegies’ in the world can’t touch the strength of our souls or the poetry of our language.”

Berry is now at work on a book about race, a follow-up of sorts to one he wrote 50 years ago called The Hidden Wound. “The conversation about race has become really degraded,” he says. “It has been reduced to slogans and stereotypes.” His new book will address the removal of Confederate monuments as well as “deal with the persistence of slavery” — Berry’s great-grandparents, in fact, owned slaves — and the idea that this ended when the Emancipation Proclamation took effect, he says.

Read the entire piece here.

The Wendell Berry Farming Program

Berry Farm

It is a two-year degree program with Sterling College in Craftsbury, Vermont and it is run by the Berry Center in New Castle, Kentucky  Learn more from Latria Graham‘s piece at Garden & Gun.  Here is a taste:

Now, the Berry Center has revived the program with a new educational partner, Sterling College, based in Craftsbury Common, Vermont. The school has a legacy of focusing on environmental stewardship, and though the college is based in the northeast, the Wendell Berry Farming Program will be located in the Berrys’ own Henry County, Kentucky, and a number of Sterling staff will now call this place home.

Sterling students have already done two short sessions in Henry County, in August 2018 and January 2019. They worked side-by-side with cattle farmers, learned from foresters, and spent time gaining an appreciation for the knobs and barrens that dot the landscape. When the new program kicks off in the fall, it will once again be a two-year capstone experience designed for students in their junior and senior years of college. Interested students don’t need to have previously attended Sterling to be considered and can transfer into the program, earning a Bachelor of Arts in Sustainable Agriculture upon completion.

“I believe that Henry County ought to be used as a classroom to instruct young people who want to take up a life of farming,” Mary Berry says.

As part of the program, students will use draft animals to learn more about sustainable farm practices. “There’s a way that working with draft horses teaches farming like nothing else can,” Berry explains. Her father said the same in his essay “Taking Draft Animals Seriously.” Participants will also learn about the economics of agriculture, including studying the history of the Burley Tobacco Growers Cooperative Association, a one-hundred-year-old organization that John Berry Sr., Mary Berry’s grandfather, helped found to provide stability for small farmers in the region. The Berry Center is trying to recreate that approach with its Our Home Place Meat initiative, a cooperative for local livestock farmers through which students will have the opportunity to gain real-world experience.

Read the entire piece here.

Liberal Arts on the Farm

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The teachers who attend the Gilder-Lehrman Princeton seminar on colonial America read The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  One teacher took the assignment very seriously.

Back in 2003 I coined the phrase “rural Enlightenment” in an article in The Journal of American History.  Five years later, I defined this phrase more fully in The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in Early America (now available at Amazon at 68% off with free shipping). In this article and book I tried to show that “rural Enlightenment” was not an oxymoron in eighteenth-century America.  I traced Fithian’s attempt to pursue an intellectual life amid the rural confines of his southern New Jersey home.  Fithian managed to combine the pursuit of an educated life in the midst of harvesting grain, making apple cider, and building sluices along the Cohansey River.

Over at The Pietist Schoolman, Samford University history professor Anthony Minnema reflects on the relationship between Christian colleges, the liberal arts, and farm work.  He asks: “If perhaps we’ve too long looked at the liberal arts as coffee shops and quads, what about the farm?”  Here is a taste of his post:

Work colleges and programs come in many shapes and sizes, but all offer discounted or even no tuition in exchange for a commitment of 10-15 hours of work per week. The exchange of work for tuition would go a long way to address the perception of elitism. The need to create work opportunities for these students also led these colleges to create majors in agricultural science and sustainability before these programs became popular, which undermines the accusation that LACs are impractical and divorced from the working world. The more successful work colleges, such as Berea College and College of the Ozarks, emphasize their working environment as a recruitment tool and describe themselves as a place to learn and work. A quick perusal of statistics indicates that work colleges enjoy near-parity of men and women (45-55), likely because the rhetoric of a work program and the majors that sustain it have historically been more appealing to men. More speculatively, I suspect that the work-program creates a sense of ownership for students and alumni that most LACs’ advancement offices would envy, since it changes the narrative of the ask from “Please continue giving to the college on top of your debt” to “How much was this education worth to you?” The donor base of the Christian liberal arts college (to say nothing of the corporate world), which tends more toward conservative values, might donate gladly to an institution that requires some or all of its students to work.

How might a work program interact with the liberal arts and Christian mission of a college? The relationship to both is surprisingly close. All colleges within the Work College Consortium describe themselves as “liberal arts colleges” and many retain a Great Books program. (Indeed, students might be more apt to discuss virtue ethics if they’ve just come in from a morning of work.) All but one of the work colleges I found possess a Christian history or tradition and still use the language of Christian service in their mission statements. Several couch their sustainability efforts in terms of stewardship. Thus, the work program might help Christian LACs make good on their claims to be places that foster faith, learning, and service.

So how to create the Christian liberal arts work college from scratch? What I would like to see exists as a two-year program in California at Deep Springs College. It’s a very small program (20-30 students) that boasts an impressive track record for its graduates according to a 2017 Economist article. It emphasizes rigorous liberal arts with a work college component, and until recently was open only to men, but lacks the faith component.

Read the entire piece here.  Interesting.

Wendell Berry: “What I stand for is what I stand on”

Berry BrushWendell Berry has a new book out.  It is a collection of essays, short stories, and poetry titled The Art of Loading Brush: New Agrarian Writings.  Brian Barth reviews it at Modern Farmer.

Here is a taste:

In his latest book, The Art of Loading Brush: New Agrarian Writings (available in November from Counterpoint), Berry continues to rage against machines: the laptops and high-tech tractors he believes are causing us to lose touch with each other and our environments. He laments the “dispersed lives of dispersed individuals, commuting and consuming, scattering in every direction every morning, returning at night only to their screens and carryout meals.”

Yes, Berry’s a bit of a curmudgeon, who likens our smartphone obsession to drug addiction and prefers horse-drawn plows to simulated horsepower. He writes longhand before his wife, Tanya, converts the manuscripts on a Royal Standard typewriter. Such anachronistic tendencies, however, point to more than mere nostalgia—namely, a clear-eyed view of the ways in which modern society is wrecking the Earth under the guise of progress. As the journalist David Skinner noted in 2012, “Instead of being at odds with his conscience, he is at odds with his times.”

God willing, the times may have finally swung back around to meet the man. Though Berry would no doubt heap scorn upon today’s $8 heirloom tomatoes and $200 farm-to-table dinners, he did participate in the new documentary Look & See: A Portrait of Wendell Berry, produced by Robert Redford and Nick Offerman. The reluctant subject never shows his face in the film; rather, he shares selections from his work in powerful low-pitched voiceovers. (Visit lookandseefilm.com for information on how to host a screening.) Not coincidentally, the rare photographs on these pages were captured by his intimates: former students and dear friends.

Read the rest here, including a new Berry poem.

 

Wendell Berry on Pope Francis and the Amish

Over at Modern Farmer, Corby Kummer interviews noted farmer and writer Wendell Berry about the state of family farming in the United States (or at least in Berry’s Kentucky neighborhood).  Here is a taste:

MF: Is the spiritual connection between farmer and farm being lost?

WB: I think that’s an immediate danger. This is dangerous territory now. I’ve been reading the Pope’s encyclical. It’s very impressive. As the issues arise, he faces them. He makes the connection between the biblical imperative and the local obligation of the farmer or land user.

The Amish, like the Pope, take the gospels pretty seriously. They’re pacifists, for one thing. Remember when the madmen killed children in their school? The Amish went straight and forgave the killer. The black people in Charleston did it too. The Amish have that capacity to take the moral imperative literally. I think they take stewardship with the same, and consequent, seriousness. They’ve asked the essential question about technological innovation: What would this do to our community, if we do it? That governs their discussion. They have done very well. They’re not perfect people. But that Holmes County example is right there to be seen, and mostly our agriculture experts don’t look at it, or can’t see it, or can’t recognize the goodness of it if they do see it.

MF: Do you see that connection being rebuilt?

WB: Our neighbor with a CSA was telling Tanya about his little boy who wanted to pick the cherry tomatoes, and did. To have your heart thus warmed is part of a farm’s income. Neighbors working together have an income that’s never booked.

The old way of neighborly work-swapping here involved much talk. Neighbors worked together, a matter of utmost practicality, with a needed economic result, but the day’s work was also a social occasion. Is this a “spiritual” connection between neighbors, and between the neighborhood and its land? I suppose so, but only by being also a connection that is practical, economic, social, and pleasant. And affectionate.

That whole thing of looking somebody straight in the eye and saying something—my goodness. “I love you,” right into somebody’s face, right into their eyes, what a fine thing. Who would want to miss it?

People who talk only to communicate are different from people who talk for pleasure. People who talk for pleasure, as opposed to people who talk to communicate, become wonderful talkers over the years. They have eloquence.

11th Century Farming in the 21st Century

Keith Ferrell, the former editor of Omni magazine, lives on a farm in Virginia.  He works his farm with the tools available to 11th century farmers. 

He tells his story in this essay at Aeon.  Here is a taste:

I arrived in the 11th century through circumstances in my life and career. Purchased in the mid-1990s as a weekend and summer home, a getaway, part of the farm’s attraction was the old barn, already half-converted into living quarters. The downstairs had electricity, running water from a good well, a water heater (an old one, non of these tankless water heater systems had been invented yet), a tub and a toilet, a septic system. There was a range in the kitchen. The place had a phone line, which meant that we had dial-up internet (virtually the only option at the time). The nearest town, Rocky Mount, with just over 4,000 people, was 15 miles away. On clear nights with the lights turned low, the stars came out nearly as brilliantly as they would have a thousand years before.
The first couple of years of ownership had a peaceful pace – peaceful, that is, once I arrived here at the end of a work week or the beginning of a vacation. At the time, I was still editor-in-chief of OMNI magazine, often travelling throughout the country and around the world. My wife was teaching high school. The farm was our weekend refuge, a place for rejuvenation, for gardening and exploring. I left most of the fields in meadow, hiring a neighbour for a few hundred dollars to bring in a tractor and mow them a couple of times a year. I enjoyed watching an experienced farmer drive a tractor dragging a brush hog – a cutter for taking down thickets of briars and small trees. Most people with a weekend farm would have had the sense to buy a small tractor or at least a riding mower. Not me. It would have made sense to buy a four-wheel drive vehicle, too, not to mention a generator for times of power outages, but I never did.

Thomas Jefferson Would Have Been Proud

“Those who labour in the earth are the chosen people of God, if ever he had a chosen people, whose breasts he has made his peculiar deposit for substantial and genuine virtue. It is the focus in which he keeps alive that sacred fire, which otherwise might escape from the face of the earth.”  –Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia

Al Zambone Explains Cattleblogging…

…and it has everything to do with place, farmers, rootedness, and the “rural Enlightenment.”

Here is a taste of his “Manifesto on Cattleblogging“:

This blog is a representation of some of my scholarly and intellectual interests.  Among these are what John Fea has cunningly termed the “Rural Enlightenment” of the eighteenth century.  I am, however, even more interested in a Rural Enlightenment–or Rural Renaissance, or Reformation, or Rebirth–of the 21st century.  This interest is deeply personal.  Noel Perrin entitled one of his books First Person Rural, and I think I can say the same of my own personal identity.  In some way I don’t fully understand myself, I in large part understand myself in relation to the rural landscape in which I grew up…

…Thus cattle are for me the symbol of rural life, and thus of symbol of place, of rootedness, of a pre-modern response (or post-modern rightly-understood response) to the anomie and rootlessness of modern life.  They are responsible for keeping us alive. And they cannot be photographed inside an apartment.