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Renowned author Wendell Berry tours Bolinas farm, applauds agrarian efforts


Progress: Agrarian author and poet Wendell Berry was a guest at a luncheon sponsored Friday by Marin Organic, a nonprofit that promotes local organic farming, at Star Route Farms in Bolinas. (IJ photo/Jeff Vendsel)


Mark Prado
Marin Independent Journal - 9/9/06


Renowned agrarian author and poet Wendell Berry strode along a road on an organic farm in Bolinas on Friday, and a smile came across his face.

"I'm delighted with what I'm seeing here," said the tall Kentuckian, who lived in Mill Valley in the late 1950s while attending Stanford University. "This is wonderful. This is a really well-run local food economy."

Berry, 72, is a backer of sustainable agriculture and has addressed the subject in more than 30 essays, poems and novels. Born in Kentucky, he also has taught English and creative writing and has been an editor. His most recent written work is "Hannah Coulter," published in 2004.

He was invited here from his Kentucky home by Marin Organic, a nonprofit that promotes local

organic farming, to check out local farm operations and to speak out against the removal of mountain tops for coal in his native state.

In addition to a scheduled talk Friday night at Toby's Feed Barn on Point Reyes Station, he spent time earlier in the day at Warren Weber's farm in Bolinas, where he discussed the future of farming.

"This is being done across the country: the farmers market movement, the community-supported agriculture, that sort of thing, it is important," he said, before sitting down for an organic lunch at Weber's farm. "I think traditional farmers are coming around. We are using up the land, the erosion rates are too high, there is too much toxicity. The cheap fuel era has probably come to an end, and much of conventional industrial farming is dependent on cheap fossil fuel. These issues of sustainability will have to be dealt with. Places like Marin will be models."

Berry said farmers will have to change to survive.

"If a species survives, it has to do so by adapting itself to local conditions. Otherwise, there is a terrible penalty to pay. But we have exempted our own species, and we are running out of time," he said. "Diversified, local, small-scale farming will have its day again."

Helge Hellberg, head of Marin Organic who brought Berry to the county, said his organization has helped make Berry's vision a reality locally.

"I think we have helped accomplish his goals, what he sees for the county," Hellberg said. "What he writes about is so related to us."

Berry also spoke of what was going on in his home state.

"We are trying to get this outrage of mountain-top removal for coal mining exposed to the public. People need to know about it because they are literally destroying our country back there," he said. "People are thinking about land use out here. The issue of what would happen to Marin County was met a number of years ago when development was stopped out here.

"I think people understood that if they wanted to save the open space, they would have to preserve livelihoods as well. That can happen in Kentucky, too."


Read more West Marin stories at the IJ's West Marin page.

Contact Mark Prado via e-mail at mprado@marinij.com