Wendell Berry and Beautiful Places

On humanity:

“The interesting thing is to solve the problem, not escape it.”

On measuring our worth:

“What we can do is judge our behavior, our history and our present situation by a better standard than efficiency or profit or those measures that are still being used to determine economic decisions.”

On scale:

“It seems to me it all depends on our ability to accept limits. The system doesn’t even acknowledge limits. If we acknowledge the existence of limits, then the necessity of honoring them is possible to imagine an economy that takes care of the good things that we have in our immediate neighborhood.”

On globalization:

“The global economy, almost by definition, is not subject to regulation. This gives us the idea that if we don’t have something here, we can get it somewhere else. It’s the stuff of fantasy.”

This makes all the world a colony.

We should fulfill our needs and export the surplus. We should never export the necessities of our own lives.

The ultimate test is whether or not we live in beautiful places. Wherever ugliness has crept in, we have the first symptom of exploitation and exhaustion.

(Still) In distrust of movements:

“Movements tend to be specialized. There is a movement about climate change and it has become extremely specialized. And the actual solution of a problem like that is to have an economy that takes care of everything; an inclusive economy.

“Localism would cease to be an ism as soon as local people went to work locally. One of the things wrong with these great movements is that they are not telling people to go home and go to work in good ways to prove things.

Resistance and renewal simultaneously?

You are asking in addition to my insistence on the importance of local context and local work, do I believe in policy changes? Of course I do. Wes Jackson and his people at The Land Institute produced a farm policy called The 50 Year Farm Bill and what that proposes essentially is converting agriculture from the current 80% annual crops and 20% perennials to the opposite. That change would cure a lot of problems, including global warming to a large extent. That is a policy change.  It would have to be applied however in different ways in different places and that relies on, to a high degree, on local knowledge and local intelligence.



  1. Here is what I wrote back:

    well said!
    Here is part of Berry’s lovely language in terms of limits from his latest book. His word is meant to provoke (of course!) thinking and debate. I would also say that Bery and I agree on another point: that the definition of limits (or local, or boundaries) is to be determined by the community there and not by anyone definition made by some others.

    “The Art of Loading Brush”:

    It is a formidable paradox that in order to achieve the sort of limitlessness we have begun to call sustainability, whether in human life or the other life of the ecosphere, strict limits must be observed. Enduring structures of household and family life, or the life of the community or the life of the country, cannot be formed except within limits. We must not outdistance local knowledge and affection, or the capacities of local persons to pay attention to details, to the “minute particulars” only by which, William Blake thought, we can do good to one another.

    Within limits, we can think of rightness of scale. When the scale is right, we can imagine completeness of form.


  2. Got this comment from a reader:

    Thanks, Dar for these ideas.
    As a Berry reader, I embrace the idea of ‘limits’, but that word can cloud acceptance and promotion of these concepts, esp the ‘free spirits’ among us. I prefer ‘boundaries’ or even ‘playspaces’.

    At our market, when explaining/defending our 50-mile limit, I draw a circle, then ask if we can celebrate what’s possible within this space. To value with our money and face time, the creativity of our vendors who with joy or contentment, grow and make within this space. Some whose people have long practiced what Berry terms “what works here”.

    Another source of joy is hearing my customers plan a meal aloud; items from my table and others at our market. We’re considering promoting the idea of ‘a complete meal from our market’. Of featuring some vendors who celebrate what’s in season such as pairing my rhubarb with strawberries across the way, my lettuce with another’s green onions and another’s fatback, for ‘kilt lettuce’. The boundary now becomes an ever-changing playground, in rhythm with the seasons, grounding us in the possibilities of our place.

    As for maintaining beautiful spaces both near and far, Berry also writes “how we eat determines, to a considerable extent, how our world is used.”


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