Movie Un-Review | Wendell Berry, the Not-Quite Rock Star Seer

Three years ago I had the pleasure to attend a talk between Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson at Cooper Union in New York City (my first time in New York City as an adult, which was a story in itself), moderated by New York Times columnist Mark Bittman. Wanting to quote a particular exchange between Berry and Jackson for a recent post here on From Filmers to Farmers I listened to the audio recording of the event to transcribe what I was after. While I was able to locate the sought after passage, I was aghast to find out that my favourite portion of the entire event was absent from the publicly available recording, something that was relevant to this post you're currently reading. So not only do I unfortunately not remember the lead-up to the particular exchange between Berry and Bittman, but I'm also forced to quote from memory. As I recall:

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

I have always liked Wendell Berry and you did a good job of reviewing a film you haven’t seen (is that a first for film review?), but to me the most interesting bit of your review was this:

the costs of entry and maintenance of good, small farming are now so high due to a system rigged towards the high-finance practice of getting bigger and bigger (with external inputs) that the opportunities for such ways of farming are presently extremely hard to come by.

I accept Berry as a real farmer, but I believe that Berry inherited his farm and supplemented his income by writing more than 30 books. Perhaps he had more going for him than just love of the land and a willingness to get his hands dirty.

Berry’s life as a farmer, admirable though it may be, is hard to replicate, especially for a young person with no farm to inherit, not a lot of money and with no family history of farming.

But young people can learn quickly, can also work very hard for long hours and should have every prospect of being able to live off the land if they so desire. It seems to me the problem is lack of reasonably cheap land with which to get a start.

It used to be that US federal land could be had for free under various homestead acts, but that is no longer possible. It’s a sad prospect, but perhaps potential young farmers will have to wait until so many older landowners die that they can then pick up ‘surplus’ land on the cheap.

They may have to wait a while though. In my small farm neighborhood there are three houses on small parcels (5-6 acres) that are standing empty after their elderly owners died. The heirs to the parcels are not doing anything with these properties at all, not selling them or even renting them.

So all I can say to any younger person who wants to be a farmer is “hang in there”, learn some farming skills as best you can, save up as much money as you can and wait. Sooner or later, your day will come.

Yeah, a first for film (un) reviews, and probably the last?

I’m not so sure if Berry inherited the land, but you could be right. About getting money from books I have however definitely read him saying that he’s a marginal writer with a little cottage industry that doesn’t pull in much money. He does (did?) raise sheep though, although I’m guessing that while he stuck with it that his professorship teaching English at the University of Kentucky probably pulled in a better income than the others.

no farm to inherit, not a lot of money and with no family history of farming.

Yup, yup and yup. From my personal standpoint, although I don’t think I’ll ever end up doing farming full-time, I did nonetheless notice after my year of WWOOFing and CSA internship that the barriers to entry were kinda high, that’s it’s not much help when those around you are discouraging at best, and that this writing thing (first the on-hiatus manuscript and now this blog) eats up so much of my time. So I, personally, continue to “hang in there”.