As far as I'm concerned, and I know I'm not alone, Wendell Berry is a national treasure and that is he a native Kentucky writer, poet, philosopher and farmer makes him all the more endearing. If you've ever read Berry's essays you realize that he has been consistently ahead of his time in terms of the local food movement, sustainable agriculture, and our political economy. He is also largely an unsung hero because he is so humble and unassertive––his words wield the power if you care to read them.
And it is odd that I was reading his work today. When I went to find an image on the Internet to put in this blog post, I discovered it was just announced that he will receive the overall Freedom Award from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Awards for community and personal responsibility on October 16th in New York City.
Here is an extended passage from his essay "Farming and the Global Economy" which appeared in his collection Another Turn of the Crank [Washington, DC: Counterpoint, 1995]:
"If a safe, sustainable local food economy appeals to some of us as a goal that we would like to work for, then we must be careful to recognize not only the great power of the interests arrayed against us but also our own weakness. The hope for such a food economy as we desire is represented by no politcial party and is spoken for by no national public officials of any consequence. Our national political leaders do not know what we are talking about, and they are without the local affections and allegiances that would permit them to learn what we are talking about.
But we should also understand that our predicament is not without precedent; it is approximately the same as that of the proponents of the Stamp Act––and with one difference in our favor: in order to do the work that we must do, we do not need a national organization. What we must do is simple: we must shorten the distance that our food is transported so that we are eating more and more from local supplies, more and more to the benefit of local farmers, and more and more to the satisfaction of local consumers. This can be done by cooperation among small organizations: conservation groups, churches, neighborhood associations, consumer co-oops, local merchants, local independent banks, and organizations of small farmers. It can also be done by cooperation between individuals and consumers. We should not be discouraged to find that local food economies can grow only gradually; it is better that they should grow gradually. But as they grow they will bring about a significant return of power, wealth, and health to the people.
One thing at least should be obvious to us all: the whole human population of the world cannot live on imported food. Some people somewhere are going to have to grow the food. And wherever food is grown the growing of it will raise the same two questions: How do you preserve the land in use? And how do you preserve the people who use the land?
The farther the food is transported, the harder it will be to answer those questions correctly. The correct answers will not come as the inevitable by-products of the aims, policies, and procedures of international trade, free or unfree. They cannot be legislated or imposed by international or national or state agencies. They can only be supplied locally, by skilled and highly motivated local farmers meeting as directly as possible the needs of informed local consumers."