July 21, 2009
I have been reading the agrarian theories of Wendell Berry. However, his essays do not just pertain to farming. They talk about the whole of our society, and how the problems of agriculture are reflected and reinforced by the problems in our culture.
His mantra is connectivity. Once we separate being hungry from farming, those ideas compete, and everything we try to do to improve one of them, we inevitably make both of them worse. Instead we must focus on how they are related, and that they are mutually dependent.
He gives the example of gardening in “The Art of the Commonplace”. Gardening improves space, produces fresh vegetables that allow the planter some self-sustainability, and it gives the gardener pride in his/her food. Therefore eating is not merely consumptive, but also an act of dependence. Even more, the act of gardening itself makes the gardener hungry so that working with the soil, connecting to it and improving its fertility with ones hands nourishes the one who cared for it with healthy vegetables.
Berry explains how this philosophy can be eye-opening in its conviviality and meaning:
“A person who undertakes to grow a garden at home, by practices that will preserve rather than exploit the economy of the soil, has set his mind decisively against what is wrong with us. He is helping himself in a way that dignifies him and that is rich in meaning and pleasure. But he is doing something else that is more important: he is making vital contact with the soil and the weather on which his life depends. He will no longer look upon rain as an impediment of traffic, or upon the sun as a holiday decoration. And his sense of a man’s dependence on the world will have grown precise enough, one would hope, to be politically clarifying and useful (88-89).”
Our connectivity also becomes our responsibility. Once we realize that our way of life (exploitation) is directly diminishing our food system and our health, there will be grounds for change.
Look inside The Art of the Commonplace