Bringing it to the Table
By: Wendell Berry
Wendell Berry is an extraordinary author who constantly challenges conventional thinking. I include this short exert about the author because I think he’s a role model worth looking up to. Berry was born in Kentucky way back in 1934. He grew up watching his dad work the family’s tobacco farm. He claims his upbringing still lives deeply within what he does today. Berry is an author, farmer, environmentalist, and poet among other things. He has written both fiction (which I hope to check out later) and non-fiction alike. Please, google him when you get a chance.
Bringing it to the table is a fascinating analysis of agriculture and what is wrong with it today. Particularly this book criticizes industrial agriculture and the consumers who take no responsibility for their part in the system. Berry firmly believes nature should be used as a template for farming, I agree. The lack of diversity on most farms today is a recipe for long term disaster. No where in nature will you find a mono-culture. Farms should be diverse for the health of the environment, the health of the animals, and the health of the farm economy. One notable difference between Berry and many other environmentalist is his emphasis on not demonizing the farmer, and empathizing with the fact that farmers MUST make a living. Diversifying income streams can be a great start for many small scale farmers.
Part II of Berry’s book focuses of the spiritual health of the small farm. A chapter titled “Seven Amish Farms” was especially interesting to me. Berry’s admiration of the Amish is apparent, and I think we can all learn a little something. The Amish have lived in a family oriented communities for many generations now. While many small farmers have gone out of business since the 1950’s, the Amish have thrived. Why is that? It has to do with their commitment to family, frugality, community, and soil health. The Amish take a long term approach to healthy soils and always have. The wisdom of growing multiple crops and rearing animals on the field has proven both friendly for the environment and their wallets. Soil health has deteriorated to a point that farmers have no choice but to buy expensive petroleum based fertilizers. Not the Amish.
The last few chapters are dedicated to short stories and essays revolving around food. Mealtime should be considered a sacred event. Unfortunately over the last few decades family meals filled with colorful, healthy food have been replaced by bland, lonely fast food stops. The last chapter addresses the consumer, and places equal responsibility on healthy consumption as it does production. For the folks reading not interested in becoming a farmer, here is a list drawn from the final pages of this book of things you can do to promote a healthy world.
- Participate in food production to the extent that you can; plant a garden, grow some herbs on the window sill.
- Prepare your own food.
- Learn the origins of the food you buy, and buy the food that is produced closest to your home.
- When possible, deal directly with a local farmer, gardener, or orchardist.
- Learn as much as you can of the economy and technology of industrial food production.
- Learn what is involved in the best farming and gardening.
- Learn as much as you can of the life histories of the food species.
“Now we face overwhelming evidence that we are not smart enough to recover Eden by assault, and that nature does not tolerate or excuse our abuses.” – Wendell Berry