Wendell Berry in The Sun

The latest issue of The Sun, an excellent, ad-free magazine published in Chapel Hill, N.C., features a lengthy interview with writer, thinker and farmer Wendell Berry. Berry has written many fine books and essays about what it is to be human and to be connected to the Earth and to each other. His insights become only more vital as time passes.

Here is an excerpt in which he discusses food and farming:

Fearnside (the interviewer): In your recent talk to the Sierra Club, you mentioned “foodsheds.” Can you explain this concept in more detail?

Berry: Cities attract food products from the countryside the same way that a major stream attracts water from the smaller streams in a watershed. A foodshed would be the tributary landscape around a city from which the city’s food would come. It goes back to the ancient concept of the city as a gathering point for the products of its landscape. And since we haven’t had cheap petroleum for a while — and we’re probably not going to have it ever again — we need to think this way once more. Sooner or later, we’re not going to be able to afford to haul food in from everywhere in the world.

Another reason to think in terms of local food economies is that an extended food system concentrates food at collecting points and transportation arteries, so it’s extremely vulnerable to blockades or acts of terrorism. A third reason — and this may be the most important reason of all — is that if you’re going to have sustainable agriculture, it has to be adapted locally. Local adaptation means that you observe in the economic landscape the same processes that you find in healthy natural landscapes: You must have diversity. You must have both plants and animals. You must waste nothing. You must obey the law of return — that is, you must return to the ground all the nutrients that you take from it. You must protect the soil from erosion at all times. You must make maximum use of sunlight. In those circumstances, you may leave the crops and animals pretty much to fend for themselves against diseases. The farm will have some disease, but it won’t have epidemics. If you look at a healthy forest, for instance, you see some prematurely dead trees, but not massive numbers of them.

Read the interview here in its entirety. Bonus reading: Berry’s “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front.”