Renewing Husbandry

Saving the farm with the ways of the past

| September 15, 2005

Writer Wendell Berry lives and farms in his home state of Kentucky. He grew up helping his father and grandfather work their fields using mule teams and eventually tractors. He's witnessed firsthand the mechanization of agriculture -- the shift toward maximized production and away from responsible stewardship. In an Orion essay, excerpted from his upcoming book, The Way of Ignorance, Berry envisions a return to the ways of pre-industrial farming.

To Berry, it's blatantly apparent that mechanized farming strains rural life and overtaxes ecosystems, while largely benefiting agribusiness corporations that have built their empires on blind faith in a limitless supply of cheap fossil fuels. He believes the time has come for the structure to change fundamentally: 'We can no longer pretend that agriculture is a sort of economic machine with interchangeable parts, the same everywhere, determined by 'market forces' and independent of everything else.' As a means to tempering the rigid, industrial thinking that governs many of today's farms, he prescribes a healthy dose of husbandry.

'To husband is to use with care, to keep, to save, to make last, to conserve,' Berry writes. He wants farmers to resume practicing their art, to manage resources frugally and sensibly, to develop a strong bond to the land, the crops, the soil, and the livestock, to consider a farm in its natural context and cultivate accordingly. He lobbies for the reinstatement of the farmer as 'an independent and loyal agent of his place, his family, and his community.'
-- Archie Ingersoll

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