Wendell Berry’s Right Kind of Farming
How we farm matters. For the past two centuries, America’s farms have expanded and homogenized, and farming equipment and chemicals have replaced personnel. Farmers have grown older and more isolated and are retiring without successors.
Our embrace of industrialization and “factory farming” has not resulted in greater economic security for most American farmers. The nation has suffered a historic slump in prices for corn, soybeans, milk, wheat and other commodities. It has lost half its dairy farmers in the past 18 years. And The Wall Street Journalwarned in early 2017 that “the next few years could bring the biggest wave of farm closures since the 1980s.”
The farmer, essayist and poet Wendell Berry has long argued that today’s agricultural practices are detrimental to ecology, community and the local economies that farms once served. A native Kentuckian, Mr. Berry has written over 40 works of fiction, nonfiction and poetry, and has received a Guggenheim fellowship, the National Humanities Medal and the Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award.
Mr. 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.”
This year’s proposed Farm Bill awards millions of dollars to wealthy agribusiness and factory farms in the form of commodity subsidies and crop insurance, while cutting funds for important conservation and stewardship programs and offering little to beginning farmers and ranchers or local farmers markets and local food promotion.
Mr. Berry, as an ally of Wes Jackson of the Land Institute and others, has long argued for a 50-year Farm Bill that would rejuvenate our nation’s ecosystems while fostering long-term food security in the United States.