REMEMBERING - Wendell Berry (124)
©1988 In yet another novel from Berry’s fictional farming community of Port William, Kentucky, Andy Catlett is a grown man now, a husband and a father. He has been to college and tried city life, but has brought his family back to live among his neighbors around Port William. He’s having a hard time adjusting to life with only one hand when he loses his right one in a farm accident. He’s also depressed by the way modern mega-farming is destroying the way of life for small family farms across the nation. He’s a confused and unhappy man with his marriage on the rocks.
While he’s away in San Francisco attending an agriculture convention, he does a lot of remembering of the good old days and a lot of lonely soul-searching.
I thought the best part of the book was his reminiscence of when he was sent to interview a big-time farmer for the magazine, Scientific Farming, that he used to work for. The man farms 2,000 acres (which he has accumulated by buying out his neighbors as their small farms went under), all in corn, with not a fence, garden, woodlot, animal, or tree on the place. Instead he owns a herd of machines. He has a huge house decorated in the latest style, which he and his wife are rarely home to enjoy, as she has to work too. He also has ulcers from his stressful life of bossing employees, upkeep of all his machinery, bookkeeping, dealing with his creditors and his mountain of debt.
After he leaves the interview, Andy happens upon an Amish farmer plowing a field with a couple horses. He stops to chat and the farmer invites him to make a few rounds of the field with the horses and plow. When the farmer invites him to join the family at the noon meal, Andy finds out a lot about the Amish way of life. A man and wife with five children make a living for themselves on 80 acres, with no mechanization and without going and staying in debt. Twenty-five families of Amish could farm and thrive in community with their neighbors on the 2,000 acres that one man (and his ulcer) farms with huge, expensive machinery, bank loans that will never be paid off, and dependence on the mega-rich oil, fertilizer and chemical companies, while robbing the land of its natural fertility and destroying the habitats of both the wildlife and the small farmers who either have to “get big or get out.”
This book was deeper and more philosophical than the other two I read about the folks of Port William. I can certainly relate to all the author is trying to say because my husband, in his retirement, is working for a widow who is struggling to keep her 2,000-acre farm from going under. I applaud Berry’s efforts to educate the public on the importance of smaller, sustainable agriculture and organic farming techniques. But is anyone listening?