Food and Agriculture's_Seaside_Galley_prepares_a_special_meal.jpg

If there is one common language across the food system in America, from the fields to the dishwashing rooms, it is Spanish.

Illustration by Kali Ciesemier

Every day in America the food system that supplies our sustenance is engaged in its own form of consumption. It feasts on human toil, commodified animals, natural resources, and our own bodies. Food, one of the foundations of life, has become a hub of suffering and struggle.

In early 1988, American farming was reaching a turning point. A small group of southwestern Wisconsin farmers—an improbable mix of back-to-the-land homesteaders (hippies!) and salt-of-the-earth family farmers—banded together to form a co-op to sell organic vegetables. Desperation does that.

This is a sidebar to Marc Eisen's "Organic Valley at the Crossroads," which ran in our latest issue. Click here to read Marc's full story. 

Because Organic Valley began as an insurgency against corporate farming, you might think that CEO George Siemon would criticize Walmart. You would be wrong. Instead, he says that selling coop-branded milk through the retail giant has helped Organic Valley. 

I respect my friend Sylvia Earle’s refusal to eat seafood, as well as the famed ocean scientist’s argument that no market hunting has ever been sustainable. Still, there’s nothing as delicious to me as a wild salmon I’ve caught myself, or raw oysters from cold waters with their fresh briny sea flavor, or fried calamari with beer and the Giants winning another World Series. But I’ll only eat fish, bivalves, and cephalopods that still have a fighting chance—and my menu options are rapidly shrinking.

A little girl pays for groceries using EBT tokens

Legislators across the country are launching a mean-spirited campaign to block poor people from purchasing certain kinds of foods, products or services.

Artwork of human profile with hand holding windmill powering homes; sunlight in background

That a grassroots conservative activist would become one of the most effective advocates of renewable energy in her region is just one example of the swirling, surprising politics of clean energy today.

The founder of Earth Day, Wisconsin Senator Gaylord A. Nelson, wrote this scathing essay on the scourge of pollution in 1967.


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Earl Holloway

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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