[Prev][Next][Index][Thread]

More from Wendell Berry



        This is something else I pulled from Practicval Farmers of Iowa.
Every time I try to express how I see things, I find that Mr. Berry has been
there before and has done a much better job than I ever could.

CONSERVING COMMUNITIES

                                                       Wendell Berry
(Editors  note: The following is from a talk entitled
    Conserving Communities, given by Wendell Berry at the 1994
    campout at Seed Savers Exchange, in Decorah.  We reprint it
    here with their kind permission.  The entire address appears
    in the Seed Savers 1994 Harvest Edition.)

. . .  the old opposition of country and city, which was
never useful, is now more useless than ever.  It is, in
fact, damaging to everybody involved, as is the opposition
of producers and consumers.  These are not differences but
divisions   divisions that ought not to exist because they
are to a considerable extent artificial, trumped up for the
sake of illegitimate advantages.  The so-called urban
economy has been just as hard on urban communities as it has
been on rural ones.

These conventional affiliations are now meaningless, useful
only to those in a position to profit from public
bewilderment.  A new political scheme of opposed parties,
however, is beginning to take form.  This is essentially a
two-party system, and it divides over the fundamental issue
of community.  One of these parties holds that community has
no value, the other holds that it does.  One is the party of
the global economy; the other I would call simply the party
of local community.  The global party is large, though not
populous, immensely powerful and wealthy, self-aware,
purposeful and tightly organized.  The community party is
only now becoming aware of itself, it is widely scattered,
highly diverse, small though potentially numerous, weak
though latently powerful, and poor though by no means
without resources.

We know pretty well the makeup of the party of the global
economy, but who are the members of the party of local
community?  They are people who take a generous and
neighborly view of self-preservation; they do not believe
that they can survive and flourish by the rule of
dog-eat-dog; they do not believe that they can succeed by
defeating or destroying or using up everything but
themselves.  They want to preserve the precious things of
nature and of human culture, and pass them on to their
children.  They want the world s fields and forests to be
productive; they do not want them to be destroyed for the
sake of production.  They know you cannot be a democrat
(small d) or a conservationist and at the same time a
proponent of the supranational corporate economy.  They
believe   they know from their experience   that the
neighborhood, the local community, is the proper place and
reference of responsible life and work.  They see that no
commonwealth or community of interest can be defined by
greed.  They know that things connect   that farming, for
example, is connected to nature, and food to farming, and
heath to food   and they want to preserve the connections.
They know that a healthy local community cannot be replaced
by a market or an entertainment industry or an information
highway.  They know that, contrary to all the unmeaning and
unmeant political talk about  job creation,  work ought not
to be merely a bone thrown to the otherwise unemployed.
They know that work ought to be necessary   it ought to be
good, it ought to be satisfying and dignifying to the people
who do it, and genuinely useful and pleasing to the people
for whom it is done.

The party of local community, then, is a real party with a
real platform and an agenda of real and doable work.  And it
has, we might add, a respectable history in the hundreds of
efforts, over several decades, to preserve local nature or
local health or to sell local products to local consumers.
Now such efforts appear to be coming into their own,
attracting interest and energy in a way they have not done
before.  People are seeing more clearly all the time the
connections between conservation and economics.  They are
seeing that a community s health is largely determined by
the way it makes its living.  The natural membership of the
community party consists of small farmers, ranchers and
market gardeners, worried consumers, owners and employees of
small shops, stores and other small businesses, community
banks, self-employed people, religious people and
conservationists.  The aims of this party really are only
two: the preservation of ecological diversity and integrity,
and the renewal, on sound cultural and ecological
principles, of local economies and local communities.

And now we must ask how a sustainable local community (which
is to say a sustainable local economy) might function.  I am
going to suggest a set of rules that I think such a
community would have to follow.  And I hasten to say that I
do not understand these rules as predictions; I am not
interested in foretelling the future.  If these rules have
any validity, that is because they apply now.

Supposing that the members of a local community wanted their
community to cohere, to flourish, and to last, they would:

(1) Always ask of any proposed change or innovation: What,
    will this do to our community?  How will this affect
    our common wealth?
(2) Always include local nature   the land, the water, the
    air, the native creatures   within the membership of
    the community.
(3) Always ask how local needs might be supplied from local
    sources, including the mutual help of neighbors.
(4) Always supply local needs FIRST, and only then think of
    exporting products.
(5) The community must understand the ultimate unsoundness
    of the industrial doctrine of  labor saving  if that
    implies poor work, unemployment, or any kind of
    pollution or contamination.
(6) If it is not to be merely a colony of the national or
    the global economy, the community must develop properly
    scaled value-adding industries for local products.
(7) It must also develop small-scale industries and
    businesses to support the local farm and/or forest
    economy.
(8) It must strive to produce as much of its own energy as
    possible.
(9) It must strive to increase earnings (in whatever form)
    within the community, and decrease expenditures outside
    the community.
(10) Money paid into the local economy should circulate
    within the community for as long as possible before it
    is paid out.
(11) If it is to last, a community must be able to afford
    to invest in itself   it must maintain its properties,
    keep itself clean (without dirtying some other place),
    care for its old people, teach its children.
(12) The old and the young must take care of one another.
    The young must learn from the old, not necessarily and
    not always in school.  There must be no
    institutionalized  child care  and  homes for the aged.
    The community knows and remembers itself by the
    assciation of old and young.
(13) Costs now conventionally hidden or  externalized  must
    be accounted for.  Whenever possible they must be
    debited against monetary income.
(14) Community members must look into the possible uses of
    local currency, community-funded loan programs, systems
    of barter, and the like.
(15) They should always be aware of the economic value of
    neighborliness   as help, insurance, and so on.  They
    must realize that in our time the costs of living are
    greatly increased by the loss of neighborhood, leaving
    people to face their calamities alone.
(16) A rural community should always be acquainted with,
    and complexly connected with, community-minded people
    in nearby towns and cities.
(17) A sustainable rural economy will be dependent on urban
    consumers loyal to local products.  Therefore, we are
    talking about an economy that will always be more coop-

    erative than competitive.

These rules are derived from western political and religious
traditions, from the promptings of ecologists and certain
agriculturists, and from common sense.  They may seem
radical, but only because the modern, national and global
economies have been formed in almost perfect disregard of
community and ecological interests.  A community economy is
not an economy in which well-placed persons can make a
 killing.   It is not a killer economy.  It is an economy
whose aim is generosity and a well distributed and
safeguarded abundance.  If it seems unusual for modern
people to hope and work for such an economy, then we must
remind ourselves that a willingness to put the good of the
community ahead of profit is hardly unprecedented among
community business people and local banks.    |


  Donald E. Bowen           donb@cts.com
  Valley Center CA.         c_dbowen@qualcomm.com

  Software Engineer, woodworker, historian, beekeeper, farmboy
  model railroader, 1936 Farmall 12, 1966 Corvair CORSA 140 convertible
  1 wife, 3 kids, 2 acres, 2 cats, 2 dogs, ? projects,  no TV, 24 hours