City or Country?

Today a visitor to the Berry Center asked an intriguing question: “Is there a book of Wendell Berry’s that would help one decide whether it would be better to live in the country or in a city?”

Well, there is, no doubt, a book Mr. Berry has written that would help clarify one’s thinking about this topic, but this essay of Mr. Berry’s in the February, 1991 Atlantic Monthly made interesting assertions about cities and sustainability: “Out of Your Car, Off Your Horse: Twenty-seven Propositions about Global Thinking and the Sustainability of Cities.”

Mr. Berry believes that the countryside can best be restored to vitality in conjunction with a revival of nearby communities, which it supports and which in turn support the countryside. In an April, 2004 article published in the Lexington Herald-Leader he said that if conservationists hope even to preserve “wild lands and wild creatures, they will have to address issues of economy, which is to say, issues of the health of the landscapes and the towns and cities where we do our work and the quality of that work and the well-being of the people who do that work.”

I think, therefore, that it is not only possible to live responsibly in a large town such as Louisville but a reason to be hopeful, that Louisville, surrounded by rich rural areas, is moving intentionally and making great strides toward becoming a sustainable city, as described by Mr. Berry in his essay.

For instance, the mayor of Louisville, Greg Fischer, who has described his term in office as “growing seasons”, leads a city government which has supported and promoted, among other useful initiatives, a survey which established Louisvillians’ desire and need for good food, locally grown, organically produced. Louisville sponsors the Farm-to-Table program whose food broker, Sarah Fritschner, connects urban consumers with rural producers. Louisville has numerous farmers markets, which have proliferated and prospered in the past several years.

The smaller towns in Louisville’s supporting region are working hard as well, through Main Street programs to instill pride in and to celebrate their history and local culture; farmers markets, which are open several days a week in the growing season; successful Community Supported Agriculture (C.S.A.) operations which provide fresh locally grown vegetables and other items to subscribers; harvest showcases and festivals that spotlight and celebrate the agricultural resources of the local communities.

In fact, the Berry Farming and Ecological Agrarianism Program, a program established at St. Catharine College in Springfield, Kentucky has a strand of studies called Tending Communities which teaches students about fostering and maintaining robust communities through a variety of disciplines: community leadership, business and marketing, health and human sciences, sociology and education.

So, yes, it is possible to live a life in which a person acknowledges, understands, values and honors agrarian principles in an urban setting as well as in the smaller towns and communities of the rural areas.

Read Mr. Berry’s visionary essay here.