Institutionalizing Agrarian Thought
By Leah Bayens
February Featured Essay
Editor’s note: this is part one of Leah’s two-part series on the Berry Farming and Ecological Agrarianism Program at St. Catharine College in Kentucky. PBS has also recently featured Wendell Berry and the program; watch the PBS video here.
Before I ever met him, Wendell Berry had already influenced some of my most deeply held beliefs. This is not particularly novel. People from across the country and further afield say the same of their experience reading this Kentucky farmer and writer’s essays, fiction, and poetry. His aficionados run the gamut: farmers, teachers, writers, women religious, monks, economists, gardeners, shopkeepers, journalists, heiresses, artists, researchers of all stripes, community organizers, doctors, cooks, ascetics, distillers, lawyers, politicians, conservationists, preservationist, wilderness advocates, and even the President of the United States and the Prince of Wales.
Visitors to Berry’s Henry County, Kentucky, farm lay out their personal and philosophical quandaries, seeking his advice on farming practices and on peaceable ways in the presence of fear. Colleges and universities grant him honorary degrees, citing, as Duke University did, their admiration for Berry’s “respect for the land, love of community, and the stewardship of creation,” as well as his “belief that industrialization poses a threat to the natural world.” The U.S. government bestows on him the nation’s highest honors, recognizing his persistence as “a great contrary to the compromises others take in stride” and his defense of “what is being lost to the forces of modernization.” Economists look to him for counsel about how to reunite ecology and economy through oikos, home, or as Berry puts it, “the making of the human household upon the earth: the arts of adapting kindly the many human households to the earth’s many ecosystems and human neighborhoods.”