For those unfamiliar with the work of Wendell Berry (and for those familiar who may need a little refresher), he is David to the agribusiness Goliath. Berry works tirelessly to promote proper land stewardship, sustainability, and conservation and uses every opportunity to point out the drastic short-sightedness of our current path.
A passage from his 2010 book What Matters: Economics for a Renewed Commonwealth sums up our current path in this way:
We know from much experience that everything that is priced will sooner or later be sold. And from the accumulating statistics of soil loss, land loss, deforestation, overuse of water, various sorts of pollution, etc., we have reason to fear that everything that is sold will be ruined. When everything has a price and the price is made endlessly variable by an economy without a stable relation to necessity or to real goods, then everything is disconnected from history, knowledge, respect, and affection–from anything at all that might preserve it–and so is implicitly eligible to be ruined…If we put wants (cheap food) first, we put needs (healthy soil, water, and food) last. If we put consumption first we put health last. If we put money first, we put food last.
Wendell Berry’s (and associates) 50-Year Farm Bill, attempts to address the destructive path down which our current 5-year farm bills keep us headed.
The 50-Year Farm Bill uses 5-year markers to assess the success of the following goals:
-Protect soil from erosion
-Cut fossil fuel dependence to zero
-Reduce toxics in soil and water
-Manage nitrogen carefully
-Reduce dead zones
-Cut wasteful water use
-Preserve or rebuild farm communities
In contrast, our current 5-year plans address:
-Some soil conservation measures
Tom Philpott, Grist’s senior food and agriculture writer, calls the 50-year plan an attempt to “rescue U.S. farm policy from its fixation on promoting the short-term interests of agribusiness over the long-term ones of farmers, the environment, and society as whole.”
Berry’s thoughts on the short-term interests of agribusiness vs. the long-term interests of society as a whole: “Simple solutions will always lead to complex troubles, and simple minds will always be surprised.”
Let’s not be surprised.
More on Wendell Berry
From The Land Institute: Wendell Berry’s 50 Year Farm Bill
From Grist: USDA chief flatters industrial ag while Obama honors its greatest critic, Wendell Berry
From Wend Magazine Greenery: The Progressive: Wendell Berry’s 10 “Authentic Reasons for Hope”
And, a Wendell Berry-inspired cartoon: A Wendell Wedgie
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