Prose to Policy: How Wendell Berry’s Distinct Strain of Agrarianism Can Influence Farm Policy

By Jack Sherrick

Industrial agricultural practices have greatly increased food yields but cause significant harm to the environment and rural communities. Over half of the topsoil of the United States has been washed away in the past seventy years and an even higher percentage of the country’s farmers have voluntarily left or been driven out of the profession. Wendell Berry, a celebrated author and farmer, is a staunch critic of industrial agriculture. His writings primarily concern healthy rural communities, sustainable agriculture, and the relationship between the two. Academics and policymakers alike have appreciated Berry’s writings for their nostalgia and aesthetics, yet few readers have conducted legal treatments of or crafted policy in accordance with his work. This Note explains why there has been so little analysis and fills that gap, using Berry’s writings as the basis of a framework for farm reform.

This Note analyzes the values present in Berry’s work and transmutes them into a cognizable policy framework. Part I examines the harms caused by industrial agriculture and shows how the current legal-regulatory framework preserves and promotes an unworkable status quo. Part II introduces Berry and addresses issues in his thought that impede robust legal and policy analysis. Part III uses Berry’s writings, supplemented by legal and political theories, to construct a policy framework designed to foster and utilize agrarian values. Part IV applies the framework to the Farm Bill and suggests several reforms for the bill’s 2023 reauthorization.

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