The Mad Farmer: Wendell Berry’s Agrarian Poetic (Part 5)

We are the Mad Farmer

We are the Mad Farmer (your face here)

(Editor’s Note: This is part 5 of 5 in our series of posts by our friend Thomas Turner (of EverydayLiturgy.com) as he explores the prophetic voice of Wendell Berry through his poetic character ‘The Mad Farmer’. In this final post we are again reminded that while the Mad Farmer is a guide of sorts to rewriting our troubled future- he is in no way merely a fictitious character- there are many “mad farmers/new agrarians” cultivating the land for the sake of a future re-rooted in local community, self-reliance, sustainability and a wisdom that bends towards wholeness and reconciliation – a reconciliation with GOD, GOD’s creation and one another. The Mad Farmer is not only a prophetic voice to those who work the land – but to us all. He sounds a warning that the fork in the road is now- one path leads to darkness and the other to dawn. -JF)
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The mad farmers of today are doing exciting things with technology while at the same time going against the “best advice” of companies that only give advice so that they can control more land and earn more profits. There are farmers and citizens in Oregon who have one of the largest Wi-Fi hotspots in the country so that they can help each other monitor irrigation levels and other data vital to their community. Amongst the long list of innovators in her article “New Agrarians: Local Innovators” Susan Witt describes how:

“There are currently twenty-one communities in the United States and Canada experimenting with local issue of currency, and the movement is growing as so-called developing countries learn that they do not need to borrow from the International Monetary Fund to generate local businesses. They are freeing themselves from the global economy to focus on their local economies.”

If communities are to form along the economies of nature, energy, and human spirit instead of the economy of money our country must learn and re-learn economic principles so that the earth, animals and humanity take more precedent in calculations than profits. The Mad Farmer encourages us to stop thinking about money and goods and to return to thinking about our communities and land. He advises how to do this in proverbs: “Don’t own so much clutter that you will be relieved to see your house catch fire,” “say that your main crop is the forest/that you did not plant,/that you will not live to harvest,” “friends, every day do something that won’t compute” and “it is ignorant money I declare myself free from, money fat and dreaming in its sums, driving us into the streets of absence, stranding the pasture trees in the deserted language of banks.”

The Mad Farmer is a romantic but pragmatic rewriter of the future. Berry uses this character to ironically voice common sense, community, and conscience in the face of government, a fragmented culture, and corporations. Since the military-industrial complex saw an outlet for chemical and industrial waste in the remaking of munitions into fertilizer and the use of petroleum in agriculture the powers that be have crafted a revisionist history that has eroded all connections between citizen and land. Industrial agriculture has sullied our land and waters, and the mad farmer says of the farmer who has given in to industrialization “If he raises a good crop at the cost of belittling himself and diminishing the ground, he has gained nothing. He will have to begin all over again the next spring, worse off than before.” Instead, the Mad Farmer desires that all of us “make the human race a better head. Make the world a better piece of ground” and “practice resurrection.”