The 3/20/15 issue of The Week features a book list chosen by Wendell Berry, who is one of the nation’s strongest advocates for wise land use to save our lives as well as being a poet. If you love the earth and haven’t read Wendell Berry, start today!
Berry recommends six books that inspired his thinking, including an account published in 1911 of the organic farming practices in China, Korea and Japan, Farmers of Forty Centuries, F. H. King. How did the people keep their land productive for 4,000 years? Not with pesticides and herbicides, but by returning all “wastes” to the soil, leaving the fertility cycle intact.
Of the books Berry cites, I can recommend the following:
An Agricultural Testament, Sir Albert Howard. Published in 1943. Howard argues that farming can last only if it obeys the laws of nature. “Mother Earth never attempts to farm without livestock,” he wrote. “There is no waste; the process of growth and the processes of decay balance one another.”
Home Place: Essays on Ecology, Stan Rowe, insists upon the importance of the ecosphere (not just the biosphere) as context of our lives. Rowe writes that we should “live on the annual interest and leave the land’s capital alone.”
Nature as Measure: The Selected Essays of Wes Jackson. Berry says this 2011 book addresses “The problem of agriculture” and the prospects for practical solutions.
A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold. This, of course, is one of the bibles of wise stewardship. Leopold’s ethic is simple and clear: "A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise."
On a large scale, the problem of how we treat our land is complex, because companies who “use” the land in some way want to make a profit. But at the very least, we who occupy a small portion of the earth can do a great deal toward improving the world by following Leopold’s ethic in our lives as much as possible.
Linda M. Hasselstrom
Hermosa, South Dakota
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A Little Light Reading: Suggestions by Wendell Berry