Friday, November 16, 2012

Wendell Berry: Our present agriculture is in a constant state of emergency. We can change that.

Internationally acclaimed farmer-author-poet-philosopher Wendell Berry graces the pages of The Atlantic online this week with an essay titled "The 50-Year Farm Bill." In it, he writes, "The entirely predictable ruination of land and people is the result of degenerate science and the collapse of local farming cultures. Industrial agriculture characteristically proceeds by single solutions to single problems: If you want the most money from your land this year, grow the crops for which the market price is highest." For many, that means grow only corn and soybeans. (Reuters photo by John Sommers II)

There is human instinct at work here and Berry gets it. But the land isn't so understanding. "A good or a sustainable farm cannot be made in this way. Its parts, even its industrial parts, can be made coherent and lasting only in obedience to the natural laws that order and sustain the local forest or prairie ecosystem. This obedience is not just an option," he writes. "It is a necessity. By ignoring it, we have condemned our land to continuous waste and pollution, and our cultures of husbandry to extinction. If we hope to correct the consequent disorder, which is both human and natural, we have to begin by recognizing the fundamental incompatibility between industrial systems and natural systems, machines and creatures."

There is more, so much more. But here's the crux of it: "By this rule, our present agriculture, which gives 80 percent of our farmland to annuals, is in a state of emergency. You can't run a landscape, any more than you can run your life, indefinitely in a state of emergency. To live your life, to live in your place, you have got to bring about a settlement that does not involve you continuously in worry, loss, and grief. And so 'A 50-Year Farm Bill' proposes a 50-year schedule by which the present ratio of 80 percent annual to 20 percent perennial would be exactly reversed. The ratio then would be 20 percent annual to 80 percent perennial." Berry lays out a plan for that in his essay, which explains  monocultures, soil erosion and fertility cycles to anyone willing to save their farms, the environment and the land. (Read more)

No comments: