The state issued a release earlier this week reminding farmers and other folks who work in the agriculture industry to be mindful of the early winter.
“A tough job gets even tougher this time of year,” Secretary Anson Tebbetts noted. “If getting up at 4 a.m. every day wasn’t tough enough, Mother Nature has now added heavy, wet snow to the roof of the barn!”
Tebbetts’ office provided a series of tips designed to keep Vermont’s farmers safe. “We want our farming community to know we recognize the challenges you face year-round, but certainly this time of year. We’re here to help if needed.”
Farming is a staple of Vermont’s economy, and it very much defines our state. But the industry as a whole is truly challenged.
The renowned writer and poet Wendell Berry, a Kentucky native, has spent a lifetime looking at the factors shaping agrarianism. His essays — and even his works of fiction and poems — highlight the challenges that have led to evolution in consumption, distribution, technology and more.
Sterling College in Craftsbury recently announced a partnership with The Berry Center through which it offers undergraduate and continuing education programs in Kentucky in rural, place-based ecology and farming. The partnership started with this fall semester.
In his latest book, “The Art of Loading Brush,” Berry circles back from a lot of his earlier writings to provide a more modern-day view on some of the principles he has observed over decades. The lessons that Berry pulls from a lifetime of work and observation boil down to a concern that Americans are taking the farm for granted.
In the first pages of the book, Berry offers a definition of agrarianism and what he believes it should mean. Consider:
— “An elated, loving interest in the use and care of the land, and in all the details of the good husbandry of plants and animals.”
— “An informed and conscientious submission to nature, or to Nature, and her laws of conservation, frugality, fullness or completeness, and diversity.”
— “The wish, the felt need, to have and to belong to a place of one’s own as the only secure source of sustenance and independence.”
— “From that to a persuasion in favor of economic democracy, a preference for enough over too much.”
— “Fear and contempt of waste of every kind and its ultimate consequence on land exhaustion. Waste is understood as human folly, an insult to nature, a sin against the given world and its life.”
— “From that to a preference for saving rather than spending as the basis of the economy of a household or a government.”
— “An assumption of the need for a subsistence or household economy, so as to live so far as possible from one’s place.”
— “An acknowledged need for neighbors and a willingness to be a neighbor.”
— “A living sense of the need for continuity of family and community life in place, which is to say the need for the survival of local culture and thus of the safekeeping of local memory and local nature.”
— “Respect for work and (as self-respect) for good work.”
— And “a lively suspicion of anything new. This contradicts the ethos of consumerism and the cult of celebrity. It is not inherently cranky or unreasonable.”
Doesn’t sound so bad. In many ways, it sounds like Vermont. These principles — which literally are rooted in a rural economy — highlight ideals that Vermonters point to and say, “Yes, this is why I live here.”
And yet, Berry is talking about farmers, and those people who live, work and depend on the land. As consumers, we can feel good about his writings. But to offer the support in the proper context, we need to live it by supporting our farmers, acknowledging in very meaningful ways, that we value the work that is being done for us, and on our behalf.
Hats off to Sterling and the Berry Center for arming young farmers with tools to work toward sustainability and away from agribusiness.
As the most consumer-driven time of the year floods our lives, the heavy snows weigh down the barn roofs across our state and remind us of the ongoing challenges our agrarians struggle with.
Berry reminds us of our roots. That pride should make us better members of the Vermont community, the best neighbors that we can be.