Last week, I had the privilege of viewing a screening of "Look and See: A Portrait of Wendell Berry" at Lindsey Wilson College. If you don't know anything about Wendell Berry, you can find more here, but I can tell you that he is one of the most well-known agriculture poets and writers. He is a former professor who eventually returned home to his farm in Henry County, Kentucky, to work the land and raise his family. He's written numerous novels, poems, articles and more, most based around the defense of the family farm, traditional ways of life, and agriculture. The National Endowment for the Humanities states, "(Wendell Berry) is the sum of his beliefs. And those beliefs arise from a longstanding tradition most fully expressed in the American family farm, a self-sustaining economic enterprise that reinforced familial bonds and human obligations to the natural environment."
Berry has always been an advocate for the family farm and I was certainly moved by the film. (You can find the very moving intro on Facebook here...watch it...it's worth your time, I promise!)
As I watched it, I became emotional. It was interesting to hear others comment on the cinematography of the film, or the sequence and editing, because I could not have cared less about the technical aspects of the documentary. What resonated with me was the essence of the film - the loss of respect for small farms, the cycle and struggle with farming, and even the loss of identity in our small towns and communities. I'm anxious for my parents to watch the film, having both grown up with agriculture playing a vital role in their lives and then spending their own adult lives dedicated to the farm.
Overall, three themes from the film stuck out to me.
First, the "objective." If you watch the opening few minutes of the film (here), you get it. While the city is great, and I certainly enjoy some of the conveniences of it, the poem challenges the typical things we work and strive toward. There's one particular quote that states something to the effect of putting ourselves in the "highest paying prisons." Wow. That made me stop to think. For so many, it's about the career ladder - better job, more money, more things. It's a cycle that is hard to stop. I fall victim of that thinking as well, but is there another way?
The second theme that stood out is the notion of how we have disrespected the vocation of farming and the rural way of life. It's something we've done to ourselves. We've stated that we live in the "middle of nowhere" and we've asked young people why they would want to stay in rural communities when the cities have so much more to offer. We've encouraged generations to do better than their parents, to educate themselves more, to buy bigger homes and have smaller families, and to take on jobs that don't take a physical toil on their bodies. Let me preface this by saying that I am a huge proponent in education, having spent much of my off-the-farm career in the field, and I will always value it. I'm not saying we should encourage people to drop out of school or not pursue higher degrees, but I am saying that there is real value in the vocation of agriculture and in working with your hands. I'm also saying that our rural communities are rare gems that should be cherished, grown, celebrated and held to tightly.
Last, and probably most saddening, was the theme of helplessness. I left the film falling more in love with my agricultural roots, but also feeling like I couldn't do anything to turn around this loss of land and loss of value in the family farm. While I'd love to turn my entire life on its head and become more of a true small farmer, I really don't know how to do that. It's easy to dream about and think about, but it's hard to do. How do you invest in a traditional lifestyle on the farm, but still be mom, wife, and everything in between, as well as feed your family. Sure, I do a bit of it now, but it doesn't support my family and our daily financial needs.
Perhaps just sharing my raw thoughts, as I'm doing in this blog (and am pretty nervous to do, in fact), and exposing readers to the primal messages of the film, will do a tiny bit of educating. In turn, if those reading this will do the same, maybe we can make a difference. Can we can work toward a movement of appreciation - for the farmers around us, for local food and goods, for the land, and for those working to better our world?
I'm going to try. Will you join me?
Woodstock Lavender Co.
Just a mother & daughter working with our families to bring a different, unique lavender experience to South Central Kentucky. We love the land, we love our farming heritage and we love lavender!