On Saturday October 22nd at 7:00 pm, award winning author Wendell Berry and The Land Institute’s co-founder Wes Jackson will share the stage at the historic Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in the heart of Great Barrington, Massachusetts. They will hold a conversation about the 50-Year Farm Bill, their work, and their long friendship and collaboration in support of rural communities.
The occasion is the 36th Annual E. F. Schumacher Lectures, a tradition that Mr. Berry and Mr. Jackson launched when they spoke to a full house in October of 1981 on the theme of People, Land, and Community. Over the years the Annual Schumacher Lectures have provided a platform for some of the most powerful voices for an economics that supports both people and planet – voices that include Jane Jacobs, Bill McKibben, Winona LaDuke, Van Jones, Judy Wicks, and Otto Scharmer.
Much has changed since the first Annual Lectures. The promise of the global economy has faded in the face of ever-greater wealth inequality and environmental degradation. There is a groundswell of interest in building a new economy that is just and recognizes planetary limits. All of us at the Schumacher Center for a New Economics are delighted that Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson have accepted our invitation to come back and share their perspectives on how far we have come, where we are, and where we believe we should go next.
Expect a warmth, an eloquence, and an intimacy in the conversation between these two friends on October 22nd. Above all, expect to be deeply moved.
A 50-Year Farm Bill?
In their editorial for The New York Times in 2009, Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson proposed a 50-Year Farm Bill that addresses soil loss and degradation, toxic pollution of soil and water, loss of biodiversity, and fossil-fuel dependency. They called for a national agriculture policy based on ecological principles, one that restores the health of our farmlands as well as restores “economic and cultural stability to our rural communities”.
The 50-Year Farm Bill would entail a 50-year schedule by which the present ratio of annual to perennial plants would be reversed, creating an agricultural system in which only 20 percent of crops are annual and the other 80 percent are perennial. Or, as Wendell Berry described in an article for The Atlantic, “Keep the ground covered, and keep it covered whenever possible with perennial plants.”
About the Speakers
Wendell Berry is an environmental activist, farmer, author, and former professor of English. His publications include numerous novels, short stories, essays, volumes of poetry, and perhaps his most well-known nonfiction work, The Unsettling of America. He lives and farms with his wife, Tanya, in Port Royal, Kentucky.
Wes Jackson is a world-renowned plant geneticist, farmer, author, former professor of biology, and co-founder of The Land Institute in Salina, Kansas. The Land Institute is developing perennial grains that can be grown in mixtures that share the complexity, fertility and resilience of prairies, a change that will make a just and healthy food future possible.
The First Annual E. F. Schumacher Lectures
In his 1981 lecture Wendell Berry commented that people, land, and community were linked in local culture – a culture that could not be imported.
“It would begin in work and love. People at work in communities three generations old would know that their bodies renewed, time and again, the movement of other bodies — living and dead, known and loved, remembered and loved — in the same shops, houses, and fields. That, of course, is the description of a kind of a community dance. And such a dance is perhaps the best way to describe harmony.”
We are grateful to The Berry Center for maintaining and continuing the legacy work of Wendell Berry, of his brother John M. Berry, Jr., and of their father, John M. Berry, Sr.
Wes Jackson does not apologize for thinking long-term. He knows such visioning is a practical necessity for achieving “a revolution in agriculture.” And a revolution is what he called for in his 1981 E. F. Schumacher Lecture, one that restores and conserves the health of the soil while mitigating the effects of climate change.
“In my view agriculture will remain a tragedy so long as it is kept separate from the problem of the human condition. And the human condition will remain a tragic problem so long as it is kept separate from the problem of agriculture.”
To learn more, read their full lectures on the Schumacher Center’s website and check out the 1982 New Roots article “Small Is Possible” for a firsthand account of the First Annual E. F. Schumacher Lectures.