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on August 2, 2009
Bringing It to the Table is a treasure-house of Wendell Berry's work, an important collection of essays and excerpts gathered from his essays and fiction. A cantankerous, argumentative, eloquent writer who knows farming and food from field to table, Berry has been writing for more than forty years about the sadly declining state of American agriculture, the dangers of industrialized food farming, and the importance to the human community--and to the human body, mind, and soul--of good husbandry. If you've been reading Berry over the years (my husband and I chose an excerpt from The Unsettling of America for our wedding ceremony in 1986), you'll find some jewels here, all the richer for their association with other pieces in the collection. If you're new to Berry's work, you'll be astonished at his prescience: as Michael Pollan writes in his introduction, Berry is among the very first to point out the dangers of our American industrial agriculture and our disastrous separation of food production from food preparation and consumption.

Bringing It to the Table is divided into three sections. In "Farming," the essays (1971-2004) provide a compelling review of the central argument of all Berry's work: that we must "adopt nature as measure" and create farming practices that deeply connected to the "nature of the particular place." Industrial agriculture arming ignores and attempts to overcome the natural limits of place, seasons, soils, and resources. It is, Berry warns, "a failure on its way to being a catastrophe."

This place-focus continues in the second section, "Farmers." It includes seven elegiac essays that describe true farmers, not dependent on fossil fuels or large farm debt, in touch with their soils, their climates, their animals--people who understand and work within the limits of responsible husbandry. These farmers range from the traditional Amish to the Land Institute, where a radical new science adopts the natural ecosystem as "the first standard of agricultural performance."

The third section, "Food," brings farm husbandry and farm housewifery together, with excerpts from Berry's fiction: people sitting down to eat the food they have planted, raised, harvested, cooked, and served. It is beautifully illustrated by the cover image: Grant Wood's Dinner for Threshers. The painting frames Berry's argument that "eating is an agricultural act," that we must eat what is grown locally and prepared in our own kitchens, not prepackaged, precooked, premasticated. It also demonstrates what, in Berry's view, is the central stablizing force and foundation of the agricultural partnership: that women and men work together to unite household and farm, and that "traditional farm housewifery"--helping with the work of the farm, preserving the harvest, and preparing the family's food--is the essential contribution of women to the farm household economy. Within this context, it is an honored contribution, not to be "belittled" as "women's work."

As we face climate change, resource depletion, financial insecurity, and health issues created by poor food choices, the sustainable production and consumption of our food will undoubtedly be one of the most challenging issues of the twenty-first century. Wendell Berry has been trying to tell us this for many decades. It's high time we began to listen.
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on September 8, 2009
I rated the (first) one-star review helpful, but I'd also rate it unfair. As the list below will show, long-time fans probably have all the works in this volume on their bookshelves. The value in this collection lies in the way that it draws together works on the topic at hand. If you're new to Berry, this is a reasonable place to start. If the points made by the favorable reviews appeal to you, check it out. Not everybody is going to buy every book or CD by a writer/singer, so sometimes a compilation based on a theme is a good choice. With one exception for the list below, I have all of the non-fiction in this book, so I am going to pass

Essay title ---- Appears in
Nature as Measure ---- What Are People For?
Stupidity in Concentration ---- Citizenship Papers
Agricultural Solutions for Agricultural Problems ---- The Gift of Good Land
A Defense of the Family Farm ---- Home Economics
Let the Farm Judge ---- Citizenship Papers
Energy in Agriculture ---- The Gift of Good Land
Conservationist and Agrarian ---- Citizenship Papers
Sanitation and the Small Farm ---- The Gift of Good Land
Renewing Husbandry ---- The Way of Ignorance
Seven Amish Farms ---- The Gift of Good Land
A Good Farmer of the Old School ---- Home Economics
Charlie Fisher ---- The Way of Ignorance
A Talent for Necessity ---- The Gift of Good Land
Elmer Lapp's Place ---- The Gift of Good Land
On the Soil and Health ---- Intro to The University Press of Kentucky 2007 ed of Howard's On the Soil & Health
Agriculture from the Roots Up ---- The Way of Ignorance
The Pleasures of Eating ---- What Are People For?
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on August 28, 2009
This book is an excellent introduction to Wendell Berry's thought on farming and food. My main interest in reading Berry stemmed from reading Michael Pollan, who quotes Berry repeatedly in Omnivore's Dilemma. I had known about Berry and his poetry for many years, of course, but this collection seemed to be a good way in, rather than through his novels or poetry. I was initially concerned that the essays might seem dated or be too repetitive of the same points, and so I was delighted to discover that each essay, written between 1971 and 2006, seemed as fresh and relevant to me today as when they were written. Berry's essays on the Amish and a farmer by the name of Lancie Clippinger are absolute gems. All of the pages in this book are infused with a deep appreciation of the natural world and its astonishing interconnectedness. They approach the transcendent but never overreach.
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on August 5, 2009
The reason for the low rating is the personal disappointment over having purchased a book that is merely a compilation in newly repackaged form of material I already own.

Pros:
+It is Wendell Berry.
+The book contains a good selection of his non-fiction and even some fiction excerpts.
+The content covers important and timely subjects, some with obvious prescience.

Cons:
-The material has all appeared elsewhere, so if you already own a substantial number of Berry books you already own a substantial number of these essays.
-There aren't many if any citations, so it isn't possible from the book to track back to the previous publications (In other words, if you are introduced to new Berry material by reading this book, it may be hard to figure out where that non-fiction essay appeared previously so that that you can go get the rest of what you've been missing).
-The collection lacks samples of Berry's poetry on the same subjects.
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on July 9, 2015
A strong collection of essays on food production. It is less strong on food consumption - even though the material in the Food section (as opposed to Farming and Farmers) isn't as strong, it is deeply touching. The Food section comes from Berry's fiction. My only worry is that Berry may have, perhaps, romanticized Amish farming, leaving farmers and ranchers who've made multi-million dollar commitments to the kind of farming Berry seems as destructive, with no alternative. It is difficult to say to any worker "What you are doing is going to kill you and all of us. Stop it all now!" and have that worker agree to return farming of fifty or one hundred years ago.
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on April 30, 2016
Purchased as a gift, I've read most of the essays by Wendell. True wisdom exists in what is written. The introduction by Michael Pollan sets the appropriate tone. For someone who has spend a life in agriculture and natural resource care, Wendell was always out ahead with insights that empowered those who followed. For those of living in and from Appalachian, this is our poet and philosopher.
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on September 9, 2010
This is a very thought-provoking book with a number of messages for all. The subject matter is farming primarily in the United States and it is a worthwhile read for that alone. More, Mr. Berry sends us several life messages that strike me as very wise: seek and demand variety in all that you do, avoid excessive specialization; invest in what interests you and do not seek short-cuts, use the best and least harmful materials (and processes), and the slow way can be the best way.
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on September 18, 2015
My first Wendell Berry book, excellently put together and an interesting look into farming theories. The food section is actually a collection of stories from his novels, and now I'm hooked on a couple of those as well.
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on October 10, 2009
Another book to be treasured from Wendell Berry. The book is composed of essays Berry has written over many years and is in three sections. The first lays out what a real farm should look like and how it should be run thinking in terms of its viability over time. That involves studying and coming to know the actual land the farm is on, animals and crops and ways of farming need to be adapted to that particular piece of land. In other words, farming involves having eyes wide open and thinking. Berry states that those in government would benefit from this model.

"If the people in our state and national governments undertook to evaluate economic enterprises by the standards of long-term economics, they would have to employ their minds in actual thinking. For many of them, this would be a shattering experience, something altogether new, but it would also cause them to learn things and do things that would improve the lives of their constituents."

In the second section, Berry profiles farmers whom he admires - and that is high praise indeed. "A Good Farmer of the Old School" is a wonderful explanation of farming that makes sense.

Lancie Clippinger "is taking his own advice, and his advice comes from his experience and the experience of farmers like him, not from experts who are not farmers. For those reasons, Lancie Clippinger is doing all right. He is farming well and earning a living by it in a time when many farmers are farming poorly and making money for everybody but themselves.

'I don't know what they mean,'he says. 'You'd think some in the bunch would use their heads a LITTLE bit.'"

The third section of the book is titled "The Pleasures of Eating" and consists of excerpts from Berry's fiction centered on cooking and eating and the communal joys of eating real food around a table. Reading this section brings back fond memories of Wendell Berry's fiction I have loved through the years and adds to my motivation to keep on cooking up the vegetable dishes I create from my community supported agriculture share.
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on August 9, 2013
Wendell Berry considers the whole story about America's current system of food production. Measuring agricultural success only in terms of the size of the crops fails to tell the whole story. Berry emphasizes the consequences of excessive dependence on fossil fuels and damage to the environment. He challenges the agricultural education establishment, based primarily in land grant universities, to teach what he considers more responsible methods of farming.
Berry's expertise as a writer is demonstrated in his sometimes poignant vignettes of several exemplary farms that he visited.
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