Wendell Berry: Think Little and Start a Garden For Real Change

I continue to work my way through Wendell Berry's wonderful little collection of essays, "A Continuous Harmony." I just finished the chapter titled, "Think Little," and his comments are very helpful to the ongoing conversation here on the blog about how real change in food systems and the environment are actualized among real people in real places.

Go here and here for previous installments in this conversation. Go here for another post on Berry's recommendations for action.

Here's the gist of Berry's argument:

We are going to have to rebuild the substance and the integrity of private life in this country. We are going to have to gather up the fragments of knowledge and responsibility that we have parceled out to the bureaus and the corporations and the specialists, and put those fragments back together in our own minds and in our families and households and neighborhoods. We need better government, no doubt about it. But we also need better minds, better friendships, better marriages, better communities. We need persons and households that do not have to wait upon organizations, but can make necessary changes in themselves, on their own...

A man (or woman) who is willing to undertake the discipline and the difficulty of mending his (or her) own ways is worth more to the conservation movement than a hundred who are insisting merely that the government and the industries mend their ways.

If you are concerned about the proliferation of trash, then by all means start an organization in your community to do something about it. But before - and while - you organize, pick up some cans and bottles yourself...

If you talk a good line without being changed by what you say, then you are not just hypocritical and doomed; you have become an agent of the disease.

And then here's the punch line;

Odd as I am sure it will appear to some, I can think of no better form of personal involvement in the cure of the environment than that of gardening.

Maybe a good analogy for what Berry is talking about here is the current health care debate. We are all caught up in thinking big about health care but in the spirit of the above argument Berry would say to us; "It's all well and good to debate the public option, but what are you doing in your family to promote health and wholeness? Are you feeding your family healthy food while you speak passionately to friends about health care? Are you exercising and getting inexpensive annual physical exams with a doctor along with calling your senator?"

When it comes to the big conversations that I engage on this blog like food systems, school lunches, farming practices, land management, and caring for the environment Berry's words are a good reminder to me. Unless I'm nurturing just and responsible practices in the small space of my own life then any engagement with the big picture is foolhardy.

So according to Berry the key move on the journey to personal responsibility is starting a garden and growing some of your own food. I'll follow up with more details on his logic but I want to issue the challenge here on the blog to start planning a veggie garden for the 2010 growing season. If you have to turn your lawn into a veggie garden. Or if you don't have any land would you be up to joining me in developing a community garden in the West Valley of Spokane.