Wendell Berry Goes to Washington…again.

The Washington Post interviewed “three wise men” who presented their 50-yr plan for a new agriculture policy to Congress that ensures sustainable food systems in the U.S. At issue is their plan that spans fifty years, or ten farm bills. The Post’s Jane Black, asked these three experts whether our representatives can think that far ahead!

Good question.

Wendell Berry, a farmer and philosopher, whose writings illuminate the politics and ethics of modern agribusiness versus sustaining agriculture, told Janet Black he was not particularly hopeful (since the same issues he wrote about are the same issues he presented three decades later).

The long-term plan for a sustainable food system (conceived by Berry and geneticist Wes Jackson from the Land Institute,  and sustainable-agriculture advocate Fred Kirschenmann with the Leopold Center) emphasizes perennials, not annuals. The reason has to do with cultivation of living communities in soil that foster resiliency to stress.

Drought and increasing temperatures, followed by flooding are some of the stress factors impinging on agricultural land. Industrial scale practices that ignore how soil communities sustain the productivity of land has been the U.S. approach to farming since the 1950s when fertilizers and pesticides ended widespread hunger in the U.S.

But the land is reaching exhaustion. With the new impacts of climate change, many experts fear a collapse of our once productive fields.

As a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists, I read the discussions about “deniers” of climate change, even in the face of mounting evidence of its progress, and causal elements from humankind. As yet we don’t seem to know how to convince a large segment of our society which holds a view that climate change is a left-wing plot.

maslows-hierarchy-of-needsFor any long-term change the public has to be able to think long-term. When our economy and political focus causes citizens to worry about basic needs (food, job and home) we put them at the base of Maslowe’s famous hierachy of needs. At the level of existence, people feel anxious.

Perhaps the long-term thinking that concerned leaders wish people to exercise is not possible under current political, social, and economic circumstances, or, even if people are willing to engage in long-term planning, misguided by leaders deny climate change as a threat.

Mrs. Obama established an organic garden at the White House and the the First Family dines on the garden’s sustainable produce. Will that sensibility spread beyond their table into national policy.

The jury is out. I would love to know what you think.

2 thoughts on “Wendell Berry Goes to Washington…again.

  1. The realities of both these issues — climate change and sustainable agriculture — are directly in front of us, yet we struggle with the political realities to find ways to deal with them. Like these Three Wise Men, I an encouraged that the present administration may have the will to go beyond the political to address these issues. One of my personal contributions is to encourage the White House to take one step further, at least in their own backyard and add a flock of chickens. The full proposal is on my blog, http://poultrybookstore.blogspot.com.

  2. Thanks Christine for this thoughtful reply. See this link to a group I supported with grant writing that is really making headway in Tucson, Arizona:
    (http://www.communityfoodbank.org). Watch the video. Tucson (where I lived for over a decade) is blessed as a high desert with year round growing seasons.

    The Tohono O’odham Nation has been farming many varieties of beans, squash, greens, and corn during the monsoon season for thousands of years. Now the foodbank includes certain varieties that regulate blood sugar for diabetics who need a food box.

    These are locally based examples of a sustainable agriculture system.

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