Years ago, Cherie handed me a copy of Wendell Berry’s poem “The Mad Farmer Liberation Front,” saying she thought I might like it. At the time I knew little about Wendell Berry and I had read none of his work.
I’m not sure exactly why, but that poem blew me away. I kept the copy she gave me on my desk at the office (where it still is). I’ve read it many times. I’ve pondered it much.
Later, Cherie discovered that Mr. Berry was going to be a speaker at the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group conference in Louisville that year. She suggested we go and I quickly agreed. At that time I had no intention of becoming a farmer. I didn’t want to go to the conference to learn about farming. I just wanted to see and hear Wendell Berry.
But that conference had a profound impact on me too. I found that an itch was being scratched–an itch I didn’t even know I had. The things Cherie had been saying to me for years about sustainability started making sense. Before long I was passionately on the road we now travel.
I’ve had the privilege of seeing Wendell Berry speak a couple of times now. As readers of this blog know, I’ve become a great admirer of his writing. His is the voice of a prophet.
Here is the poem that helped change my life. I’ve posted it on this blog a couple of times already, but it merits reposting yet again. Of course, it is from this poem that the name of this blog is taken.
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 millenium. 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 down 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.