Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Chapter 27: The Agriculture Crisis as a Crisis of Culture

Wow my last post felt long. Thankfully this is a shorter chapter so I won't ramble too much. This author of this chapter in Wendell Berry

Windell Beery is an author, poet, essayist, farmer and professor as well as one of America's profound ecological thinkers. From his Kentucky farm he states that that humans abuse of nature stems from the fact we no longer live with the land as we once did. This chapter is from a section of The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture (Sierra Club Books, 1997). In it Berry analyzes the numerous economic and ecological problems to do with modern American agriculture and that "their roots are in the substitution of mindless technology and "bigness" for the culturally complex, thought full communities that thrived in the era of the family farm." Berry argues that in order to have economic stability and environmentally sustainable practices we need farming that promotes interdependence and responsible cooperation rather than a system based on the narrow profit-based definition of efficiency.

The Key Concept of this chapter is: the cultural dimensions of sustainable agriculture.

This chapter is not divided into multiple sections, merely a single one. It is written from author Berry's point of view giving is more "feel" in my opinion. I enjoy articles withe first person perspective sometimes because it feels more real to me (this is opinion though). Berry says in his boyhood his family lived in real farming country with small farms and the people lived within and from the farms, not on them. The farmer grew a wide variety of crops, raised animals and there were some dairy farms as well. Back i the day farms could also make a profit off minor products such as surplus creams, eggs and old chickens. Thrift was also a forceful social idea. The author admits that's this worlds was by no means perfect and people would be violent and wasteful in the use of the land and of each other. The general idea he is trying to get across is that people were more intimate with farming and more involved and knowledgeable.

Wendell states that in the decades following WWII farming became much more mechanized. He then points out that more and more land is coming under the control of profession people from cities who, despite the technology to produce agricultural miracles are still farm richer than farmers. Farmers are more worried about money and moire overworked than ever before (arguable if you think of the days of the single horse drawn plow over a few acres of field) but to an extent very true, I feel.

Minor produce markets no longer exist for items such as a bucket of cream, a few dozen eggs or a single hen. Numerous small markets have been removed by larger corporations for "sanitation reasons" "for which there is apparently no small or cheap technology." Economics and "free market" where "the freest are the richest" is the reason for the displacement of many traditional farms and farming methods, Wendell feels. Those who didn't follow with "Get big or get out" have gotten out. And those who are big are being forced out by those who are even bigger. In 1973 over 1000 Kentucky dairy producer were shut down and a agriculture expert at the Kentucky University, a Dr. John Nicolai said this was because they were inefficient producers and had to be eliminated. That's a lot of farms to shut down and how were they inefficient? Was it because they were small operations producing only small amounts of product? If so, would they not be equal all together vs a large corporation? And would it not be safer to have numerous small operations so if something went wrong at one there would be others to make up for product loss rather than an industry crippled by a single corporation shutdown? It is not discussed in the chapter but the last few sentences were my thoughts on the matter.

One main point Wendell tries to get across is that "food is a cultural product; it cannot be produced by technology alone." Agriculture has become fragmented from other disciplines which has roots in the compartmentalized structure of universities. Foe example, reading is handled by the English Department and morality is handled by the Philosophy Department. We have to deal with food as a community, not let a sing person or organization handle its production. Wendell states that: "A healthy culture is a communal order of memory, insight, value, work, conviviality, reverence, aspiration..... A healthy farm culture can be based only upon familiarity, and can grow only among a people soundly established upon the land;" .

Wendel states that the best farming requires a farmer who is also a husbandman and a nurturer (same can be said of a woman farmer as well). A good farm is a cultural product made by his experience and also the experience of past generations. A good agricultural system can be defined the same as ins Creation where everything is related to and depend son everything else.

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