Love of the Land

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The love of the land has long characterized the American dream. “Go west young man,” the cry of a nation expanding in its first century. This reality was accompanied by growing identification not only with the land, but also with a sense of ownership and celebration nationalistic pride. Millions of acres of national parks were set aside. America became the world’s bread basket. It was a proud thing to be a farmer, a naturalist, or an outdoors man. We still celebrate Walden Pond as Thoreau captured the essence of this idyllic dream. However, post-world war, Americans have more and more become city dwellers. The family farm increasingly gives way to the big corporate farm complex. We continue to get better at producing more food per square acre, genetically modifying crops, improving pesticides and fertilizers throughout the last century. In the same way as voices like Thoreau and Teddy Roosevelt celebrated the American land dream, voices in the last half of the twentieth century like Asimov, Fuller and others have decried the environmental impacts and future risks. However, amongst those voices a unique one stands out for his socio-political views rooted in the agrarian dream of community and an urgent message of environmental stewardship. Wendell Berry, born to a Kentucky tobacco farmer, Stanford educated and an accomplished educator has become a leading voice in the Christian environmental stewardship movement. While his relationship with academics, other environmentalists and even other Christians has often been less than smooth, the consistency of his viewpoint and quality of his message makes him stand out in the crowd. In attempting to understand and share the essence of Wendell Berry, four key elements really define him: the depth of the rooting of all of his views in a profound agrarian ethos; the translation of that ethos into a fully developed socio-political agenda; the defining theology behind it; and of course his articulation of his message as a master communicator. We will explore each of these elements and attempt to draw a clear picture of the man, his message and his impact. Sustainable farming requires managed diversity in the land. There must be plants and animals, good soil, and the farm must be able to adapt locally. A farmer must protect the soil from erosion and also must return nutrients to the ground. Wendell Berry, well-known for practicing sustainable agriculture, “learned farming from his grandfather, Pryor Thomas Berry” (Goodrich 54). Wendell Berry, “The ‘Mad’ Farmer,” has created controversy with his views on sustainable farming believing that sustainable farming is the right thing to do, and continues to be rather opposed to today’s industrialized agriculture. Berry takes a hard stance against industrialized agriculture, viewing it as harmful to the earth and to people, believing that it “potentially threatens food supply by sacrificing reproduction to production, quality to seeming efficiency, stewardship to profit, local agriculture to global agribusiness” (Goodrich 56). By introducing the “Mad” Farmer in his collection of poems, Berry is able to use¬¬¬¬ his character to express his feelings and ideas about subsistence farming versus the ever-growing industrialized agriculture. The “Mad” Farmer has become Berry’s spokesman for agricultural issues while the “Farmer’s self-reflection expresses something of Berry’s own” (Goodrich 57). Acknowledging the use of the word “mad” in his own life, Berry reflects on the issue of gross commercialism and his own craziness when he speaks as the “Mad” Farmer himself and proclaims, “If that puts me among the crackpots, so be it. I’m for the agricultural renegades and for whatever it takes to remind science and business of the gross commercialism that is doing violence to the land, and violence to the people’s lives.”(_________) Many people, whether because of society’s desire for money, lack of accountability or even more sinister reasons, are not drawn in...
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