The Idealism Native To Farming

This past fall I came across a Wendell Berry passage that struck a chord. (For those of you who don’t know, Mr. Berry is a farmer-poet from Kentucky, now in his eighties, who has been writing on agrarian themes for going on sixty years now.) His words are good enough to quote at length:

“There is a kind of idealism that seems to be native to farming. Farmers begin every year with a vision of perfection. And every year, in the course of the seasons and the work, this vision is relentlessly whittled down to a real result–by human frailty and fallibility, by the mortality of creatures, by pests and diseases, by the weather. The crop year is a long struggle, ended invariably not by the desired perfection but by the need to accept something less than perfection as the best that could be done.” [From Tobacco Harvest: An Elegy, Wendell Berry (University Press of Kentucky: 2004)]

I was struck by these words because they so perfectly describe each season’s farming experience. I do start the year with such a “vision of perfection.” I have certainly felt that relentless whittling down. (What a perfect description that is!) And the challenges Mr. Berry lists crisply outline the things that can keep me up at night.

All of which is to say, I suppose, that farming is one long schooling in hope, expectation, and, above all, faith. In writing those words, I fear they sound exalted or pretentious, or worse, pious. But the reality they attempt to describe is far more homely. Tasks like drafting the budget, working out the seed order, plotting out the year’s work, and hiring the crew–all these jobs are done in hope of a good season and with faith that all will be well.