A conversation with environmental campaigner Wendell BerryBy: Emma Brockes Published: The Guardian, 11 October 2012
Wendell Berry doesn’t come to New York very often. The 78-year-old lives in Kentucky, where his family has farmed for five generations.
When he flies to the city next week, it’s to collect a Leadership Award from the James Beard Foundation for over half a century of campaigning for better methods of food production. During his career, Berry has demonstrated against everything from Vietnam to nuclear power, from mountain-top coal mining to the death penalty. Most famously, he has campaigned against what he sees as bad farming methods, particularly industrialized farming.
“I’m a writer more than I am a talker,” he says when I call him prior to his trip. In a life of extraordinary productivity, as well as his campaigning, Berry has authored more than 40 books of fiction, poetry and essays – he is most frequently compared to William Faulkner. And, in 2010, he received the National Humanities Medal.
Berry is still a committed activist, arguing these days for a 50-Year Farm Bill to address such deeply unfashionable issues as soil degradation and sustainable agriculture. Here are some of his thoughts on the state of the environment, and how the US, at any given moment, is nearer to a food crisis than most people imagine.