The Art of Loading Brush (A Book Review)

Every time I finish reading something from Wendell Berry, his words and ideas tumble inside my head for weeks afterward. What a gift he is to us and how much the world needs to listen to what he says.

This is a man who has lived longer than most of us and has seen the devastating changes that have taken place in his community and in rural America over the decades since industrial farming became the norm. He has seen land abused and soil eroded and degraded. He has witnessed generations of farmers go from being able to make ends meet with help from their strong, caring communities to farmland and farming equipment becoming so expensive that hardly any young people can afford to purchase a farm.

Wendell Berry is a farmer so he understands farming and has many farming friends and family members. In The Art of Loading Brush, he advocates returning to a slower pace of living, smaller family-run, biodiverse farms, and farming with an attitude of just enough instead of the “Get Big or Get Out” way of doing things that became popular since the 1970s. He looks at the Amish communities as examples for rural communities that have broken down. He says one question the Amish ask whenever they consider a change is, “What will this do to my community?” Rural America’s failure to ask this simple question has been to the whole country’s detriment.

Another important theme in Berry’s essays, letters, and fiction is having a strong local, food secure economy. What sense does it actually make for agricultural communities to grow crops or raise livestock and then sell them to some far off place so that the people in their own communities have to truck in food from far off places? He says that puts us in a very dangerous place should the supply chain break down. And we’ve seen this happen around the country during the start of the Covid-19 pandemic! The more I read his words, the more I wonder where our common sense has gone to.

Thankfully, I know there are family farms in the Finger Lakes region that read Wendell Berry, align with his philosophy, and are providing food to people in their own communities.

As person living in an agricultural district, (our home is surrounded on all four sides with mostly corn and soybean fields) I cringe at the way the land is treated. Just last night, there was a huge tractor spraying the fields with what I assume is some sort of weed killer, like Round Up. It made me so upset that they aren’t required by law to inform neighbors that they’re spraying! And I think of the harm these chemicals do to the bees, butterflies, birds, land, water, and, of course, to us.

But my true nature isn’t the yelling, sign holding activist–although I’ve done this too! Instead of taking to the streets, Wendell encourages us to actually make the changes that we want to protest about in our own lives and homes and with our own families.

Take care of the earth. Cut out waste–be thrifty and frugal. Love and connect with our neighbors. Slow down and think before we act! (And I recommend reading The Art of Loading Brush and all of Wendell Berry’s other books!!!)

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