An Evening with Wendell Berry

Hello Folks,

On Monday night, we had a chance to go see author/poet/farmer Wendell Berry speak at Stetson University. I don’t know if most people are familiar with his works and ideas, but he has had a significant impact on our life and mission and it was an honor to hear him speak. Mr. Berry (who at 75 years old stands as straight and tall as a telephone pole) spoke plainly and brilliantly about how we have allowed the “simple solutions” of our industrial age to prevent us from understanding how complex our environment and cultural systems are. By “simple solutions” he meant that the technological magic that has allowed us to grow more than 200 bushels of corn per acre or mine huge amounts of coal by blasting off mountain tops has reduced or simplified nature for the sake of resource extraction. Of course, soil is anything but simple, and billions of tons of life-rich and life-giving topsoil that is created over thousands of years has been washed away (along with all those toxic pesticides and fertilizers) in a mere two generations. But almost everyone is aware that humanity has been committing countless crimes against the earth, this is not a news flash.

Mr. Berry also went on to share a glimpse of a vision to progress past our shortsighted “simple solutions’. Among his discussion was the need for a farm bill with a long view — 50 years as opposed to the five years that bills are presently written. (Here is a NYtimes op/ed where he discusses the idea and here is the actual proposal). More importantly, on the local level he discussed the idea of building a local economy that takes full, thoughtful advantage of local natural and human resources. Wisely, he did not offer a blue print for exactly how this is to be done because every community is different. So what would a complex sustainable local economy look like for our beloved Jacksonville? I don’t know really, but I do know that we have some encouraging models that I see every Saturday at the Riverside Arts Market and the Beaches Green Market. Creative and talented artisans and farmers have turned hobbies and careers into endeavors that enhance our community by inserting quality and congeniality into the public sphere. The more of us that are sustainably “living off the land” or off our beautiful river or local forests or off of our local human capital, and the less that is exported to some far off corporate headquarters, the more we will each take responsibility and pride in our city. A lot of wonderful things are happening in Jacksonville and its an honor to be an itty bitty part of this effort.

Please forgive the rant!


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