Wendell Berry— The Farmer Poet

Wendell Berry— The Farmer Poet August 13, 2011

Sometimes serendipity just happens.  And it happens at unexpected times and in unexpected ways.   Well I guess that’s why they call it serendipity.   Tonight my wife was going to a dinner as part of a meeting about sustainable agriculture and community sponsored agriculture.   Asbury University is going to start a student farm,  to help students who are going to do overseas missions so they will be able to help the people they will serve with something as basic as subsistence farming.  (praying give us today our daily bread).   She promised good food, so, I went along.   It was held at Emmert Farms, which is owned by the University of Kentucky and used as a training and test farm.  Its only ten minutes from our house, and is right on the back side of Waveland, the historic home that belonged to Daniel Boone Bryan.

Well the food was all local grown and raised stuff, and was wonderful, including Valentine’s homemade bourbon ball ice cream  (double yum).  We toured the farm before supper, sat down to dinner, and were in due course to be entertained by a Bluegrass band from Winchester (what else would you expect when you live in the Bluegrass section of the Bluegrass State?).

Quite unexpectedly, and without warning (no one told us who the after dinner speaker would be), Wendell Berry stood up and read us a story called “Sold” about the selling of a widow’s farm because no one could take care of it any more.  It was a moving, and sometimes humorous, and often poignant recitation in a good ole Southern voice.  Afterwards, Wendell took questions.  I asked what was the connection between his art and his farming, his writing and his life on the land.   He and I have one thing in common— both been named Kentucky poet of the month.   He said that farming like poetry, is an art.  And he does the best he can to connect the two, all the time.   So he tells stories about farms and farming, writes poems about God’s good creation,  and about how the meek shall inherit it—- in the Kingdom.

I was thrilled to finally meet the man who is one of my inspirations— a good and godly farmer who believes in creation care (time to sing a chorus ‘This is my Father’s world’).   One of his wise sayings on this night was that if we don’t practice temperance when it comes to the earth, we will never again reap its abundance.  We have to care for the earth, if we care about it’s sustaining us.

The fact that the man is a farmer shouldn’t fool you into think he is uneducated.  In one of his answers to one question, he recited how nature is a major theme in Chaucer, Spencer, Milton, Pope, giving examples in each case, and reciting passages.  It was impressive.  Wendell’s mind is a sharp as the blades on his plow, but he’s no spring chicken (born 1934).   I decided we need more Christian poet farmers.  We need less assumptions about farmer’s being uneducated bucolic folks.  As Wendell said on this wonderful  night, farm work is not ‘mind numbing work’ though it is certainly hard work, and he never met a farmer that didn’t also have a good mind.

What was it Jesus said when he wanted to talk about spreading Good News—- “a sower went out to sow his field….’.   There is a connection between farming and the good news if you believe the parables.   It’s a great pity that less than 2% of Americans these days either grew up on, or have ever really experienced life on a farm.   For in some ways, the further removed we are from the Creation, the further removed we are from our Creator.    Think about these things.

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