An Open letter to Wendell Berry, US Government

23 May

Dear Wendell,
I have a dream; and, at its center, you stand– tall, humble, simply magnificent. Despite all my reservations about writing to you, here I am, hours before dawn, doing something that I could not even have dared to imagine only last evening.

I awoke with a dream long before the sun is scheduled to shine. In this dream, I join millions reading your open letter to the White House, courteously requesting $5 billion– a tiny pittance compared to the going rate for government bailouts– to regenerate 50 million family farms; $5 billion, in other words, that could support young people who have the gumption and a sense of adventure necessary to grow food and sequester carbon in the soil; $5 billion that would allow American women, men, and their families a chance to eat and grow clean, uncontaminated, uncancerous food.

Your moral stature and vision are such that all you would have to do is write such an open letter to the president to more fully awaken millions; to start a groundswell.

My dream declared itself loud and clear as soon as I rolled out of bed– perhaps the time is right. It’s been a long time coming, Wendell. Your half-century-old patience, my dream declares, may finally be paying off. Your time, the Wendell Berry Era, has finally dawned. Hopefully.

People might now be ready to embrace your vision, holding it close to their hearts while abandoning the illusions foisted upon us by recent elections and by corporate admen and those in cahoots with them. My dream declares boldly that not only your grassroots fans in the millions are ready to savor your wisdom, but that others, who may not have heard of you nor studied your writings, are world-weary of hokey hope and industrial illusions, and are ready as well. We find ourselves genuinely scared of the triple crises of climate collapse, resource depletion, and inequality, which we have all colluded in creating, and, at long last, are able to hear your words with an openness to surprise.

Your long patience with all of us during the past half-century reminds me of the 50-year-old patience of Gandhi. Gandhi had a dream of walking unarmed towards Ahimsa freedom, symbolize by taking back from the Empire India’s salt– the original birthright of its people. Gandhi’s tiny coterie of conspirators marching to the ocean to harvest their salt was the most powerful 20th-century gesture of the powerless spurning brute force.

If Hindus in the heyday of the British global economy could exercise the audacity of harvesting salt by the side of their beloved Gandhi, then what stops us from shaking off the shackles with which Monsanto, ADM, Cargill, and their governmental gang bind us? What stops us from harvesting our own food, nourishing our communities, audaciously enjoying the pleasures of eating?

Wendell, it is clearly outrageous of me to ask anything of you over and above the many gifts you have brought into my life. Following in your footsteps, learning lessons given to us by many of your loving fans– including the likes of Ivan Illich, Michael Pollan, and Barbara Kingsolver– I find myself still very compelled to write to you from my small world.

The time has come to listen to you and your kindred spirits.

Your era is our era.
We are ready.

Copywright information:
Madhu Suri Prakash, contributing editor of Yes Magazine. Wendell Berry is farmer, activist, novelist, essayist, poet. This is transposed from the Summer issue of Yes! Magazine. Other stories and an overview of the issue of Yes! can be found on their website: or


7 Responses to “An Open letter to Wendell Berry, US Government”

  1. wannabe farmer May 23, 2011 at 8:52 pm #

    5 billion for 50 million farms? Is my math wrong, or is that $100 per farm? What exactly would the $100 be used for?

    I do think we need another Homestead Act, offering land to anyone willing to be a small farmer. I’ve thought about writing to Wendell Berry myself, concerning a point often made by him and others like him, which is that supposedly there are so many old farmers with nobody to take over their farms. And yet, there are so many young people like me who would like to farm but can’t afford to buy land–so I’m always wondering, if there are so many people needing someone to take over their farm, why aren’t there a bunch of free farms being offered? Rather than asking the government (which is completely out of touch with reality) for money for farms, I’d like to see some kind of organization put together to connect retiring farmers who supposedly have no one to pass their farm to, with young people who want to farm.

    • eddiemill May 25, 2011 at 3:18 am #

      Wannabe farmer, nice name!
      There are actually options, I’ve been in the same boat since being home. This season I’m taking on a one/third acre potato plot outside of town. Someone wants to do beans, I offered to help them in exchange for the land. I started with the market (so, went to Fresh Start, the diner in my town. They would buy them.), found the seeds, and then the search for land appears as if by magic. A friend is doing sheep out of town, whereas he sets it up and the landowner does most of the daily work and they split the profit on the culls. This, along with great internships at our local organic farm and also community gardens.. There are a bunch of free farms being offered?

      What I did was start with vegetables, here at home and a community garden. Manage compost for people. Small animals, market garden. @Wannabe farmer, worked for me so far.

  2. wannabe farmer May 25, 2011 at 5:38 pm #

    “Options” aside, my main point remains unaddressed, which is that I’m always hearing about how the average age of farmers keeps going up and there are all these retiring farmers with no one to pass their farms on to and not enough young people willing to farm. And my response to that is, I’m a young person willing to farm–show me a retiring farmer willing to pass their farm on to ME. Oh, wait, they want a million dollars for it? They don’t just want it to “go to a good home”? Then I guess the problem is there aren’t enough young people willing to farm who also happen to be millionaires.

    My point is simply that, as nice as it would be for the government to offer billions of dollars to help people farm, it seems to me that there are even less unlikely ways to encourage more people to become small farmers. Like, connecting people who want land with all these other people who supposedly have “no one to pass their land on to.”

    If I really want to do some farming, are their options for me to do farming labor in the short term? Sure. But are there options for a young person, willing to farm, who isn’t rich, to OWN a farm and commit to taking care of that piece of land on a permanent basis? Apparently not, despite all the hand-wringing about elderly farmers who can’t get anyone to take (read=buy?) their farms.

    • eddiemill May 26, 2011 at 6:41 am #

      Probably, give it another year my instinct says.

      In order to adequately cultivate more than a few acres, you will need a tractor of some sort, and at least a few implements for it like plow and a disk. Maybe a front loader and, letalone if you have animals on the premises for establishing fence. Real farmers have thousands of dollars invested into growing a single crop.

      And for what?

      So that now they are indebted in a monoculture system, considering beans or other vegetables, because their field’s “too wet”. In order to change crop, it would mean more thousands of dollars of debt. Many can’t plant and have cashed in farm insurance. Even, like, to compost. Small size gives us flexibility; in technique maintenance and in sales. Niche sales are key, more flexible and resilient.

    • eddiemill October 4, 2011 at 8:19 pm #

      Be sure to check out my latest post! as well as “Guides for a new world” the second one down. E

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