Wendell Next Wednesday: Berry Is Coming to Town

wendell berry

Me with the almighty writer at the James Beard Conference last year.

I swear by Alice Waters’s cookbooks and I quote Michael Pollan, chapter and verse. But the greatest, most inspirational texts of the good food movement are the many writings of Wendell Berry, who will be honored here in Manhattan next week.

Berry’s 1977 book The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture belongs on your bedside table. Mark Bittman has written that Berry’s “words have changed my life…. If he’s not a leader then he’s an inspiration to those who are.” And my publisher and I discovered that we each had the same Berry reading at our weddings.

For a taste of his text, read this powerful poem, “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front,” whose lines include:

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion – put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.

But while Berry’s a lifelong farmer and the unofficial poet of agriculture, his writing is powerfully relevant to urbanites like us. His essay the Pleasures of Eating could also have been called “What City People Can Do.” Print out its 7-part to do list. They are words to literally live by, the bedrock of why I do what I do, and if you’re reading this, surely your own beliefs, too.

So friends, I am very happy to tell you that Berry, who at 79 still farms in Kentucky, will be in Manhattan next week, to accept the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms award. The ceremony is free and open to the public. Please join me in honoring him and expressing our deep gratitude for his life’s work. I will see you there.