conservative: policies that support local economies have the best chance of fostering a fruitful balance of rural and urban collaboration, sustainable use of natural resources, and healthy lives of people and communities. Small farmers serving the market of their rural communities and nearby cities where they live have a better chance at long term use of the land and in generating local jobs than distant huge businesses serving faceless shareholders over quarterly profits in the global economy: They are beginning to see that the social, ecological, and even the economic costs of such cheap food are, in fact, great. It may seem impossible to reverse the trend, but national policies can begin to level the playing field: We need to make our farming practices and our food economy subject to standards set not by the industrial system but by the health of ecosystems and of human communities. In a final piece, he captures some basic principles for how healthy local economies and sustainable stewardship of natural resources is connected to health of local communities and their residents by means of opportunities of healthy lifestyles and the benefits of rural life.
It progresses to powerful, well-considered ideas I disagree with but still respect because of the mix of experience, emotion, and intellect that Berry employs to make his point.
Reading this book of essays, I found myself for the first time feeling like the Farmer's prophetic voice for our country signaled too little too late. My son, Alex, and I read most of this book out loud together -- mostly because I felt like he needed some Wendell Berry thought in his repertoire before he began his undergrad political science studies. Eventually Alex admitted to me that reading the essays frustrated him more than anything else: "...I think they run the risk of being irrelevant because they're so demanding/impractical." Still, Berry's words are full of a wisdom that add hearty nutrients for any reader. One of the passages where I thought Oh...I think someone paid attention to this warning!: "If a safe, sustainable local food economy appeals to some of us as a goal that we would like to work for, then we must be careful to recognize not only the great power of the interests arrayed against us but also our own weakness... 47) Words that will never be outdated: "We know that we need to live in a world that is cared for. And so the second law is that if we want to continue living, we cannot exempt use from care. ...A third law...is that if we want to use the world with care, we cannot exempt ourselves from our cultural inheritance, our tradition.
It's been a while since I've read any of Wendell Berry's essays, and while I once again deeply enjoyed his discussions of the land, agriculture and community and his self-described "luddite" attitude that sometimes verges on grandfatherly grumpiness I became increasingly aware of the limitations of his perspective.
Berrys hometown does not have a large forest economy. Berry regards local forests critically to the community. An ideal forest economy would aim to join the local human community and the local natural community or ecosystem together as conservingly and healthfully as possible. Ownership of the land can naturally make people take good care of it. But the land should also be owned by a commonwealth that is the local community. Berry associates the private land ownership with intimacy between worker and place and says The possibility of intimacy between worker and place is virtually identical with the possibility of good work. A good personal standard of health not only includes singular integrity, but it also includes communal being. We can be healthy and whole if we are in a health community.
Berry's solutions are small and local and rural and self-sufficient. I agree with his wish to support local business, to enourage living and working in your community, owning a part of it, keeping neighborhoods integrated to include a cross-section of ages, income levels, beliefs, and though he does not consider this point, ethnicities. But Berry also romanticizes the small rural town. This is as true in a city community, where citizens live beside and on top of other neighborhoods, as a town miles away from the next one. Maybe we can't change the entire world, but you have to, and can, start somewhere: invest in and care for the place where you live.
Every time I read another Wendell Berry book, I fall further in love with his way of thinking.