Wendell Berry

From Wendell Berry
Interview mashup

3/20/09 Ukiah, North California

People need to live from their local landscape and their local countryside as much as they possibly can, as much as they reasonably can… The idea that a city surrounded by fertile farmland that’s well-watered should be importing food 2,500 miles away is preposterous. It drives the cost up and it removes from the consumers all the powers of choice, of knowledge and of judgment. The consumers who import foods from long distances eat what they’re given to eat, what they’re sold. Many things would improve if they ate closer to home, including the local farm economy.

It would be wonderful because the quality of our food would go up. As the distance that it’s transported decreased, the quality would go up, and it would also go up as it came more and more under the influence of the consumers. Consumers don’t eat hard, tasteless, characterless tomatoes because they choose to. They eat those tomatoes because those are the only tomatoes they’re offered…

If you’re talking about a local food economy or any other kind of local economy, you’re talking about an economy that’s going to have to run a considerable extent on cooperation, not on competition between consumers and producers. You’re talking about an atmosphere of good feeling in which people try to find out what they can do well for one another. The local consumer is going to have to be concerned that the local producer have a livable income. The local consumers want the best products possible and the local producers are going to have to be interested in supplying the most desirable products possible to the local consumers. So if you’re going to succeed, it can’t be a situation in which everybody is in an economic war against everybody. That’s a description of the global economy.

The advantage of the local economy is you can secede from the global economy, which permits the exploitation of everybody and everything for the benefit of relatively few.

There’s  a lot of scorn now toward people who say, “Not in my backyard,” but the “not-in-my-backyard” sentiment is one of the most valuable that we have. If enough people said, “Not in my backyard,” these bad innovations [big box malls] wouldn’t be in anybody’s backyard. It’s your own backyard you’re required to protect because in doing so you’re defending everybody’s backyard. It is an altogether healthy and salutary.

However, a community has to understand that if it refuses the proposal, then it has to come up with something better. And if a corporation comes in and says, “We want you to have this obnoxious installation because it will employ your people; it will bring jobs,” then the community has to have an answer to the question: “Where are we going to find jobs?” Sometimes it won’t be an easy question. Sometimes it will be a devastating question, but the community nevertheless has to begin to look to itself for the answers, not to the government—and not to these corporations that come in posing as saviors of the local community, because they don’t come in to save the local community.

So the community has to begin to ask what they need that can be produced locally, by local people and from the local landscape, and how it can be produced in a way that doesn’t damage the local landscape or the local community. You have to realize that people are working very hard to remove the choice between an economy of grace, based on generosity, and in an economy of scarcity based on acquisition. They can remove that choice simply by making it impossible for small economic enterprises to survive.

A community, for one thing, is an economy. And if you have a community but no local economy your community is seriously impaired. It becomes a thing of feeling only. And you can’t exclude any members from the community. If a community becomes false, it becomes artificial, and is in danger the way all false things are. A community can’t exclude the nonhuman creatures, for instance, if it hopes to last. It can’t exclude its climate. It can’t exclude the air. All these, in a real community, are members. So if you are careful enough in defining a community, you see that it’s a pattern of practical relationships. It’s also, of course, a pattern of loyalties and it’s an emotional pattern.