Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Wendell Berry

A report from Stephen Bartlett of the Community Farm Alliance, posted on the site of The Organic Consumers Association, http://www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_18076.cfm, is one of the few places Wendell Berry's impassioned presentation to the USDA against the National Animal Identification System during one of the USDA's recent Listening Sessions was reported:

Wendell Berry, also wearing a nice suit, said that the problem N.A.I.S. was supposed to solve was a problem caused by agricultural industrialists themselves, who now intended to use that problem as a pretext to further marginalize and limit the possibilities of small-scale agriculture. He said it was insulting to rural Kentuckians that USDA had hired policemen to be present at this listening session. He noted that USDA's fear of the people they were supposed to be serving made it clear what N.A.I.S. was all about. And he said that if NAIS were implemented, USDA was going to need far more than a couple of policemen to deal with the resistance and civil disobedience that would result. Naming Henry David Thoreau, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. as honorable examples of the tradition of non-violent non-compliance, Berry said he would absolutely not comply with N.A.I.S. As an older person, he said he had little to lose by going to jail for the sake of the younger generations whose lives and livelihoods would be threatened or eliminated by such oppression, and who still did have much to lose.

Another blog, cakeaustin, includes some information about the meeting:

Wendell Berry gave a rousing speech declaring that this was the first meeting he’d been at with USDA, after decades of activism, where USDA brought armed police to protect itself.


Here's the text of his statement:

The need to trace animals was made by the confined animal industry – which are, essentially, disease breeding operations. The health issue was invented right there. The remedy is to put animals back on pasture, where they belong. The USDA is scapegoating the small producers to distract attention from the real cause of the trouble. Presumably these animal factories are, in a too familiar phrase, “too big to fail.”

This is the first agricultural meeting I’ve ever been to in my life that was attended by the police. I asked one of them why he was there and he said: “Rural Kentucky”. So thank you for your vote of confidence in the people you are supposed to be representing. (applause) I think the rural people of Kentucky are as civilized as anybody else.

But the police are here prematurely. If you impose this program on the small farmers, who are already overburdened, you’re going to have to send the police for me. I’m 75 years old. I’ve about completed my responsibilities to my family. I’ll lose very little in going to jail in opposition to your program – and I’ll have to do it. Because I will be, in every way that I can conceive of, a non-cooperator.

I understand the principles of civil disobedience, from Henry Thoreau to Martin Luther King. And I’m willing to go to jail to defend the young people who, I hope, will still have a possibility of becoming farmers on a small scale in this supposedly free country. Thank you very much.

It's posted at http://www.foodrenegade.com/wendell-berry-picks-jail-over-nais/.

I'm disappointed that the daily papers have ignored these meetings, even with such a prominent advocate as Mr. Berry appearing. His bio on poets.org is here, http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/675. This portrait is from http://www.americanswhotellthetruth.org/pgs/portraits/Wendell_Berry.html.

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