Friday, October 12, 2018

Wendell Berry: Embrace of factory farming hurts farmers

Wendell Berry
America’s embrace of factory farming and industrialization has hurt rural ecology, communities and economies, according to Kentucky farmer, author and poet Wendell Berry. In a recent interview with The New York Times’ Gracy Olmstead, Berry “argues that healthy forms of agriculture require intentional cultivation on the part of both consumers and farmers. Americans presume there will always be enough — money, clean soil, healthy water — to fulfill our desires. But our ravenous economic disposition goes against the very nature of our world and its finite resources. Advocates for sustainable agriculture argue that we ought to recognize the limits of our world and, as Mr. Berry writes, ‘live in it on its terms, not ours.’”

Of the Farm Bill, which is now being reconciled, he says: “A farm bill sincerely intending to help rural communities might begin by proposing a program of production controls and price supports for every product of farming and forestry,” modeled on the tobacco program that his father helped start.

And on the subject of economics, Berry says “I distrust entirely the terms ‘free market’ and ‘level playing field.’ Those phrases are intoned as if they were the names of gods, but what do they mean? How exactly do the conservatives and the libertarians think small farmers would be served by the free market and the level playing field?”

Farmers can better control production and crop prices, while ensuring their financial wellbeing, he advises, by forming cooperatives like the Burley Tobacco Growers Cooperative Association that his father, John Berry Sr., founded in 1941.

Fewer young farmers are getting into the business, partly because of misconceptions about rural areas and the intelligence of farmers. What can be done to combat this? “First, those of us who care must keep trying to bring about improvements, which we can do, and are doing, locally — where, in any event, the improvements will have to be made,” he told Olmstead. “Second, we have got to be patient. That this is a cultural problem means that it can’t be simply or quickly solved. What you speak of as a ‘passion for farming’ can grow only from an understanding of the intelligence and the learning involved in the right kind of farming, and we should add an understanding of the better cultures of husbandry and of the traditional agrarian values. These things we must try to keep alive, not because of their ‘potential value’ but because they are now and forever right.”

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