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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Wisdom #6

Wow! Way back long ago, before I had even read a Michael Pollan book or The Shock Doctrine, heard of WWOOFing or succeeded in not eating meat for a week, while visiting Kristin in San Fran, one of her roommates introduced me to the works of Wendell Berry. I bought a few of his books at the same time that I bought the Derrick Jensen, but hadn't got around to reading them until yesterday, enmeshed as I was in my DJ-inspired book rampage.

Yesterday, I finished Richard Heinberg's "The Party's Over: Oil, War, and the Fate of Industrial Societies," and I won't be going to visit Julio at Seoul National University for another week or so to pick up other stuff on my list. So I decided to pluck something off my shelf. It's been so long since I've read with pen in hand!

Without Further Ado:

"In promoting an agrarian culture...it is imperative that we not understand Berry to be saying that we must all become farmers. This is neither practically feasible nor desirable, since there is not enough land, nor does everyone have the appropriate temperament for farming. What is possible, however, is that people, urbanites included, adopt agrarian responsibilities and concerns. Just as we have adopted in our thought and practice the assumptions of an industrial mind-set without ourselves becoming industrialists - we are still teachers, health-carer providers, builders, students, and so forth - so too can we integrate agrarian principles without ourselves becoming farmers.

...We must learn to resist those practices that further isolate us and turn us away from the earth. This can begin practically by cultivating a new relationship with food. Food, rather than simply being fuel, is the most concrete and intimate connection between ourselves and the earth that exists. We often have little sense of where food comes from or under what conditions it is produced. Educating ourselves or, better yet, participating in the production of our own food, as when we tend gardens, or getting to know and working with farmers more directly, will enable us to appreciate a variety of concerns - medical, economic, political, religious - from an agrarian point of view. It will force us to reconsider the meaning of health, and prompt us to see that the context of health extends beyond our own bodies to include rural communities and the land."

- Norman Wirzba, "The Challenge of Berry's Agrarian Vision," introduction to Berry's anthology the art of the commonplace: the agrarian essays of Wendell Berry


AZ said...

Yep. I love this passage as well!

Laura said...

I'm in Kosovo right now working with farmers to improve practices and introduce new technologies to extend their growing seasons that that they can 1) eat foods that aren't normally available at that time of year 2) introduce new varieties that aren't typically grown in Kosovo and 3) export their foods to the rest of the balkans/europe. I'm teaching technologies like heated greenhouses and telling a lot of people that growing organically isn't practical for them. I'm kind of your antithesis.

Mike said...

This is a topic that's come up before and I suppose is probably bound to continue doing so. How do we balance the short-term benefits (increases in income and living standards over the life of a single farmer or farming family) against the long-term damage done to the environment (loss of topsoil, degradation of the ecosystem already in place, fossil fuels, etc)?

I'm volunteering at an organic pumpkin farm. The farmer is great and hard-working and honest and generous and it would break my heart to tell him I don't think he should be trying to export stuff to Europe. But it seems that a lot of people see commerce with the developed West and the money of first-world consumers as the quickest way out of (relative) poverty. It's a completely understandable position. And who am I to tell them it's the wrong one?

left coast said...

Great passage, Mizike. Very level-headed.