Wendell Berry behind the bully pulpit


It’s possible that some of you may have tried and failed to get into the Wendell Berry event yesterday—it certainly was very well-attended. At 5:30, when the man himself took the podium, he very graciously invited all those standing around in the back to come forward and sit on the stage. Apparently Charlottesville is eager to hear his message.

It sure is a strong one. The man is a poet, but he is not given to subtlety when he talks about certain issues. (On biofuels: "That supposedly simple solution is wrong in every possible way.")

The talk was essentially an argument for local agrarian economies, and against large-scale industrial economies. "We cannot have health or wealth apart from the health of the earth," Berry said early on, before listing some of the consequences of industrialized land use: soil erosion, pollution of streams, toxic food, destruction of forests, surface mining, and destruction of rural communities.

He drew a very interesting contrast between farming systems that are based on the use of draft animals, and those based on the use of machines. And he made a very novel point, to me at least, about the local food movement. A true local farm economy, he said, also needs to include a local foresty economy, where instead of shipping raw logs away to be processed, a community would make and market its own wood products.

The logic is exactly the same as it is for food, but obviously the "local foresty" movement is embryonic or nonexistent compared to the flourishing "local food" movement.

I loved his unflinching answer to an anticipated charge that, in proposing an agrarian way of life, Berry is a Luddite. "I am indeed a Luddite if by that I mean I would not willingly see my community destroyed by a technological innovation." Vintage Berry!

I see the talk is slated to be podcasted soon.

Any of y’all make it inside? What did you think?