Roots to Renewal

Season Two, Episode Two: Mary Berry on the Culture of Agriculture

September 15, 2022 Hawthorne Valley Season 2 Episode 2
Roots to Renewal
Season Two, Episode Two: Mary Berry on the Culture of Agriculture
Show Notes Transcript

Sponsored by Tierra Farm; Music by Aaron Dessner

This is the second episode of our second season, and what an honor and pleasure it is to welcome Mary Berry, Director of The Berry Center in Kentucky, a nonprofit organization “dedicated to bringing focus, knowledge and cohesion to the work of changing our industrial agricultural system into a system and culture that uses nature as the standard, accepts no permanent damage to the ecosphere, and takes into consideration human health in local communities.” Mary and her brother, Den, were raised by their parents, Wendell and Tanya Berry, at Lanes Landing Farm in Henry County, Kentucky from the time she was six years old. She attended Henry County public schools and graduated from the University of Kentucky in 1981. She farmed for a living in Henry County starting out in dairy farming, growing Burley tobacco, and later diversifying to organic vegetables, pastured poultry and grass-fed beef. 

Mary speaks all over the country as a proponent of agriculture of the middle, in defense of small farmers, and in the hope of restoring a culture and an economy that has been lost in rural America. In this episode Mary shares her thoughts on the importance of place in our work and lives, the culture of agriculture and its vital role in supporting healthy local communities, the essential work of educating young farmers, and her father’s legacy and influence on her life and work.

If you’d like to learn more about Mary’s work and The Berry Center, visit
Donate to Hawthorne Valley.

More About Mary Berry
Mary is married to Trimble County, Kentucky farmer, Steve Smith, who started the first Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farming endeavor in the state of Kentucky. If daughters Katie Johnson, Virginia Aguilar and Tanya Smith choose to stay in Henry County, they will be the ninth generation of their family to live and farm there.

Mary currently serves on the Boards of Directors of United Citizens Bank in New Castle, Kentucky, the Schumacher Center for a New Economics in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, and Sterling College in Vermont. She speaks all over the country as a proponent of agriculture of the middle, in defense of small farmers, and in the hope of restoring a culture and an economy that has been lost in rural America. Her writings have appeared in various publications and collections, including “Letters to a Young Farmer: On Food, Farming, and Our Future” (Princeton Agricultural Press, 2016) and the introduction for a new edition of essays, “Our Sustainable Table”, Robert Clark, ed. (Counterpoint, 2017).

Thanks for listening to Hawthorne Valley’s Roots to Renewal podcast. We are an association comprised of a variety of interconnected initiatives that work collectively to meet our mission. You can learn more about our work by visiting our website at

Hawthorne Valley is a registered 501c3 nonprofit organization, and we rely on the generosity of people like you to make our work a reality. Please consider making a donation to support us today. If you’d like to help us in other ways, please help us spread the word about this podcast by sharing it with your friends, and leaving us a rating and review.

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Heather Gibbons (00:10):

Thank you for joining us for Hawthorne Valley's podcast, Roots to Renewal. I'm the Producer and Hawthorne Valley's Marketing Director, Heather Gibbons. If you're familiar with our podcast, by now you know that we started this adventure more than a year ago as a way to celebrate Hawthorne Valley's 50th anniversary. We were looking for an opportunity to share our story through conversations with friends, both near and far, who dedicate their lives to meeting the ecological, social and spiritual needs of our time. We hope that you're enjoying the ride along with us. This is the second episode of our second season and what an honor and pleasure it is to welcome Mary Berry, Director of The Berry Center in Kentucky. The Berry Center is a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing focus, knowledge and cohesion to the work of changing our industrial agricultural system into a system and culture that uses nature as the standard, accepts no permanent damage to the ecosphere, and takes into consideration human health in local communities.

Heather Gibbons (01:08):

Mary and her brother Den were raised by their parents Wendell and Tanya Berry at Lane's Landing Farm in Henry County, Kentucky from the time she was six years old. Mary attended Henry County public schools and graduated from the University of Kentucky in 1981. She farmed for a living in Henry County, starting out in dairy farming, growing burly tobacco, and later diversifying to organic vegetables, pastured poultry and grass-fed beef. Mary speaks all over the country as a proponent of agriculture of the middle, in defense of small farmers, and in the hope of restoring a culture and an economy that has been lost in rural America. In this episode, Mary shares her thoughts on the importance of place in our work and lives, the culture of agriculture at its vital role in supporting healthy local communities, the essential work of educating young farmers and her father's legacy and influence on her life and work. Before we get started, we'd like to express our heartfelt thanks to Tierra Farm, a family owned manufacturer and distributor of organic dried fruits and nuts that puts the people they serve and the planet we share before all else, for their continued generous support of this podcast. Learn more at

Martin Ping (02:25):

Hi, Mary Berry. We're doing this podcast as part of our 50th anniversary, and I think The Berry Center is you're, you're celebrating your 10th anniversary. Is that correct?

Mary Berry (02:34):

We celebrated our 10th anniversary last year.

Martin Ping (02:36):


Mary Berry (02:36):

With a lot of planned events that we canceled.

Martin Ping (02:40):

Similar. That's how the podcast came about.

Mary Berry (02:44):

It became, uh, just sort of a joke around here that we would just do a lot of work to plan something and then we would cancel it and we'd all be relieved. So that's how that went. We are in our 11th year. So we are just babies next to what? To your history.

Martin Ping (03:04):

Yes. And there's a whole body of work that stands behind the formation of The Berry Center, that is, uh, generations of cultural wisdom that's coming to expression. Did The Berry Center begin...? Am I remembering correctly that we were all at St. Catherine's in the, in this conference, "The Resettling of America"? And...

Mary Berry (03:25):

I think that was 2012.

Martin Ping (03:26):


Mary Berry (03:26):

And that was in our second year. And we were celebrating, I believe the 35th anniversary of the publication of "The Unsettling of America." Yes. That was a great meeting. We were of course, characteristically, a year late because I think it was actually the 36th anniversary of "The Unsettling of America," but I've gotten so that, well, I've, I've followed my father's teachings in almost every way, including that if you get a full year behind, you're caught up. So, um, so I'm, um, kind of a master of, of being, getting close to a full year behind.

Martin Ping (04:06):

Well, people know that I always wanted Hawthorne Valley's tagline to be "we're so far behind we're ahead."

Mary Berry (04:14):

That's right.

Martin Ping (04:15):

Nobody's gone for it. Maybe you could say a little bit about the mission of The Berry Center.

Mary Berry (04:20):

The mission of The Berry Center is to put my father's work, to work, um, for the, for the people and for the land of Kentucky and in so doing to provide examples of what might work other places. It was my realization after a lifetime of full-time farming, when I began to look at numbers and saw that after something like 30 years, 40 years of a local food movement, the numbers of farmers was just going down. That trajectory had not been stayed at all, all the work that we all have done and will continue to do to work on local production for local markets. So I went to my father sometime around 2009 and said, "in spite of all our work, your work, so many people, good people at work for rural places and rural people... we're losing farmland and farming people at a terrifying rate. And we need to work on the miseducation of young farmers. We need to study a co-op that had a long history in Kentucky that was started by my grandfather. My father's father. Not forget it. We need to study it. We need to put those principles of parody, of protecting farmers from over production in so as to keep a parody price." I had a long list of things that I wanted to talk to my father about that day. And he said, "well, it sounds like you're starting a center."

Martin Ping (05:28):


Mary Berry (05:28):

Well, it had not occurred to me that I was talking about starting a center. I'm not sure what I thought I was talking about. I was just talking about my sort of awakening to the, to the fact that the culture of agriculture was not changing in spite of our efforts. A couple of years later, uh, the doors of The Berry Center were open. I've been at work at The Berry Center ever since. My husband is still a full-time farmer. He gets almost no help from me. Another important thing about our work, besides putting what we've learned from the past to work, we also have, have needed to hang on to the history of agriculture and to try to change the way that history's been judged. We started with an archive of my grandfather's work. My uncle's, my uncle John Berry's Junior's work, my father's brother. We started with that foundation. This is what's happened here. This is the work that has been done here. I started with an inventory of what I had to work with. We had something left of a pretty good farm culture. We had some good farmers left. We have, uh, well-watered landscape that grows good grass. Um, we had, as I said, the history of a co-op that worked well. So I took that inventory and we went to work.

Martin Ping (07:23):

We're talking about "The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture," which was published in 1977. At that time, I think population of the planet was 4.2 billion. Now 45 years later, we're nearly double that. Somewhere along that, along that trajectory, 2007, according to UN, for the first time in history, more than half the world population was in urban centers. So there's this question of, uh, how are we getting this message through to the more than 50% of the people who are living in urban centers and having no, no connection to this kind of culture or, um, history that you're speaking of?

Mary Berry (08:08):

Mm-hmm many questions keep me up at night. That's one of them. I think the numbers are even worse. If you just consider the United States of America, the last I heard from our mutual friend, Wes Jackson, was the three quarters of, 1% of this country is now farming. Um...

Martin Ping (08:28):

Can you say the percentage again, Mary, I'm sorry.

Mary Berry (08:30):

Three quarters of 1%.

Martin Ping (08:32):

Three quarters of 1%.

Martin Ping (08:33):


Mary Berry (08:33):

And 15% of us live in rural places. We have a big problem on our hands. I try to keep on my mind what I believe the local food movement, as well intentioned as it's been, has not considered. Which is: how can farmers afford to farm the way we think they should farm? We being some of us. And, uh, how can we become a culture that will support that? We don't just have an agricultural problem, we have a cultural problem, which is, I think maybe the most important thing that "The Unsettling of America" did, which is to remind us of that very thing. "The Unsettling" also reminds us as all of Daddy's work does, that we've got a crisis of character also. That we've got to go to work where we are, and we've got to start with our own lives. Um, we've got to see ourselves as implicit in the problem and go to work right where we are. We're just a sucker for a big solution. Um, uh, our whole culture is. Um, we think if we've got a big problem, then we better get a big solution to fix it. Well, big solutions cause big problems.

Martin Ping (09:46):


Mary Berry (09:46):

And it gets us out of the work we've got to do. In some ways I think to think, "somebody else is gonna do it, somebody else is gonna come up with something that we need." I think the most important thing is to figure out what's right in front of you to do. It's not gonna get so bad that a person of good intention can't do that in their own lives. But the biggest surprise is that a sort of joy has come to me, doing this work. Things aren't markedly better. There's no question about that. But I have learned that if you there's just no sense in being scared to death, there's no sense in being hopeless. Just get started. Um, we're not responsible for the result of the work, we're responsible to do the good work. If I've learned anything that's of, of worth to pass on um, in terms of, of personal wellbeing, it's that. Um, I'm a happier person now than I was 10 years ago, in spite of the news.

Martin Ping (10:55):

I remember being in the room when Bill Moyers was interviewing your father at St. Catherine's and he put the question to your dad, like something like looking at all of the challenges, the big problems, that we have. He said something like, "do you think we have a chance? Can, can we win this thing?" And your dad, rather quickly, shot back at him, "we shouldn't ask that question. We just have to do the work."

Mary Berry (11:23):


Martin Ping (11:23):

And it's really become a mantra for me. It's was so it was so simple, but so profoundly beautiful. And I should say, "yep, just do the work" and take joy it that we get to do the work.

Mary Berry (11:33):

Well, my father has said to me many times, you know, "we, we don't win, but we don't lose either. We just keep on."

Martin Ping (11:40):


Mary Berry (11:40):

Dad's asked the question in book form, "What are people for? What's education for? What's it all for?" Well, I think the work connects us to the world and to the earth, if we're lucky.

Mary Berry (11:55):

You're touching on a, I think for me, a really core component in this. And earth is, of course, foundational, but it also it's place and what's in front of us and our place and, and the role of education, of course, which we'll come to. But another mutual friend, David Orr, wrote in "Place and Pedagogy" that, quoting David, "place is nebulous to educators because to a great extent, we are de-placed people for whom our immediate places are no longer sources of food, water, livelihood, energy, materials, friends, recreation, or sacred inspiration." And I think this, you are coming from Henry County, if I'm correct, your granddaughter is the 10th generation?

Mary Berry (12:48):

Uh, my children are the ninth and my grandchildren are the tenth. That's right.

Mary Berry (12:53):

Yeah. So that's a few people. I, I know very few people who can say that nowadays. I'm I feel deeply connected to my place here at Hawthorne Valley and I've been here for 38 years. I didn't, I wasn't born here. I was born under, grew up on a Jersey shore. So, very few people have that deep root-ness to, to place. And I'm wondering, you know, what are the insights that have come, come up for you that you could share with, with others that, that just come out of your deep roots?

Mary Berry (13:25):

Well, first of all, I deserve no credit for my deep roots. Um, I was born to live here. I never had the slightest doubt that Henry County, Kentucky was where I wanted to live. Never. My parents, when I was growing up, my parents traveled a good deal. We lived in Europe for a year. My father had a Guggenheim Fellowship. We lived in New York for a year. New York was where you were supposed to go if you were a young writer and especially a promising young writer, which he was. We lived in California for a couple of years. My mother is from California, from the Bay Area. My first memories involve listening to Flatten Scrubs records and crying to get, try to get back to Henry County. I never did understand what we were doing or why we were doing it. I can tell you by the time I went away to college, I think my parents breathed a big sigh of relief. I was probably no fun from the time I was about three on, but anyway, I have always wanted to be here. It is the only place that I feel at home. I wanna be careful, however, never to sound as if I think everybody should stay where they're born. I know it's impossible for many people, um, for many reasons. Um, but I do think it's possible to make a home somewhere. Part of the sad state of education is that, is that it encourages mobility to such a degree. And I think that my family and I have been lucky, we've had some kind of passion for farming has been passed down. My family who were land-owning people, but they were not wealthy people. And my grandfather, my father's father, was the first Berry to go to college, got his undergraduate degree in Georgetown in Kentucky. And then, because he was promising and because he, somebody heard him speak, that and offered him a job in DC. He went to DC, but only he said, if he could go to law school. So he went to the, to Georgetown, to law school and he was offered a big job then. I mean, he was born in 1900. So by the time, you know, we were in the mid-twenties, um, he was offered something that would've made him a wealthy man I expect, eventually. But he went in to tell his boss that he was going home. He said, I don't wanna look at tarpaper roofs out my window. I wanna look at grass. And so he brought that education home to Henry County and what he did with it, made it possible for thousands of small farmers to make a good living on, uh, a small holding. That's the American Dream that I still dream of. As I said, I deserve no credit for my rootedness. I just... love it here. I love it here. I, I also don't deserve credit for much. I think imagination is absolutely important, but I also think nobody's coming up with much new. Um, I have simply inherited a vision of what might be, what could be. I have believed that my family's idea that what's happened to rural communities has not been inevitable, it's been destruction by design. So I believe that the designs must change. I was reading a novel of my father's not so long ago called "Jabber Crow."

Martin Ping (17:09):


Mary Berry (17:09):

And if I ever thought that I was going to come up with an original thought, I am always disabused of that when I read much of anything, but in particular Daddy's writing. But Jabber Crow is coming home in the 1937 flood and the landscape that he's walking in is quite different than what he grew up in, but he understands at some point he will recognize his home place by the look of the sky. And I have thought many times in my life about my connection here and how much I belong here. And I've thought, "if Henry County is paved over, I will stay here because I'll recognize the sky over it." That's just a wonderful gift I've been given. And so I'm hoping to be worthy of it, really.

Martin Ping (18:01):

That is really beautiful. Thanks for sharing that. And I'm, I'm...

Mary Berry (18:06):

Well, again, I didn't come up with it. So, anyway...

Martin Ping (18:12):

You're talking about design and kind of even the patterning of, of recognizing that the sky and knowing where you are. I know it's in your vision that in order to farm well, and we'll get to the how to afford to farm well next, but in order to farm well, that we're in a way using nature as standard. And I know our mutual friend, Wes Jackson, I, I remember hearing him speak about the 10,000 year old problem of agriculture and that somehow we haven't yet gotten it right. And there's that pattern out there in nature that is giving us some clues about, you know, how are we bringing this all forward? And how do you see that at The Berry Center?

Mary Berry (18:57):

Well, first of all, our friend Wes Jackson also says we've never settled America---we've colonized it. That's something to keep in mind. Um, we don't know how to live here. We've never figured it out. We've had some fits and starts of it that should have been encouraged. And the fact that those fits and starts were discouraged and destroyed, starved out over and over, is something that we should be ashamed of. Starting way back before there was the United States of America, certainly. I mean, this kind of destruction goes way back. We, we all recognize the horror of all of that. Pattern is something that is on my mind right now. I was just thinking about this actually yesterday, thinking that the work of The Berry Center has to do with pattern. It has to do with what's gone, what's happened before. I know that my father has been accused many times of a nostalgia for a past that just never existed. I have now been accused of that occasionally, but that's not true. First of all, I hate nostalgia. Secondly, we speak for what we saw, not what we imagine we saw: what we saw. I mean, we, I'm not much of a numbers person, but you know, we can back up what we saw. We could see the health of the place that we live as compared to the health of the place now. And we could see the numbers of people. We don't have, we have one full time farming family left in the agricultural County of Henry, one. Now we have many farmers, but we have one farm family that are living from farming. That's just an amazing thing to me. The American Dream, as it exists now, you can work for somebody. Our, our greatest hope at least of the leadership of Kentucky right now is that we all work for corporations. That would be our, our great hope. But the idea that one would have a small enterprise, a small land holding from which they live, a small business, a small anything. This is virtually impossible.

Martin Ping (21:08):


Mary Berry (21:08):

I have looked to the past to see how it might be better. And I have followed the principles that my, particularly in our meat program, the principles that my grandfather used when he wrote the Burley Tobacco Program, which was, a Federal Program. He wrote the legislation, it was a Depression Era program. I'll tell you the story that started, I think, my father's public life. I expect, Martin, you've heard it or read it or both, but my grandfather was born, as I said, in 1900. In 1908, he remembered sitting around the light of a coal oil lamp discussing what might be done with the money from the sale of that year's tobacco crop. After their debts were paid, and they were in debt, they'd been through a depression in the 1890s. Times were not great; the Duke Tobacco Trust was in full swing. During the night, they all went to bed. Uh, in the middle of that night, my great grandfather heard the sounds of the hooves of the horse his father was riding out to catch the train to Louisville to watch the crop be sold. When he came home that night, he came home with nothing for a year's work. He had paid the warehouse fees and had nothing left over. And my grandfather said to himself, and he said to us when he would tell us this story, I thought to myself then, "if I could do something about this, I will." He also told stories of men leaving the tobacco warehouses with tears running down their faces. He held all that. He held the faces of those people, always in his mind, in his heart. And so he took his education and he brought it home. And the sophistication he had learned in Washington, DC: he was on the floor of Congress; he knew about parody; he knew about The Farm Bill. He understood the workings of all of this. So he came home and he took the remnants of a program that had been started and had not worked. And he put his education to use for his people. For once and for a while, for about 65 years, we had a pretty stable, diversified, small farm economy. We knew people, Daddy saw it, I knew people who moved from farm tendency to farm ownership with this program. Because the tobacco base belonged to the farm, it could not be withheld because of race, because of gender. It belonged to the farm, and it promoted a kind of farming that worked with our marginal farmland. So, moving forward to my time, the crop of tobacco became indefensible. The tobacco crop is not what I defend now and what I talk about--it's the program that I talk about. So we have revived that program and it is our meat program called Our Home Place Meat, which is by the way, the Home Place is what we call the farm that my great-grandfather lived on and my family still has, not my immediate family but my cousins. So that's a pattern that my grandfather saw, that the pattern wasn't gonna work: if you had a lot of producers and a few buyers and no reign on production. That farmers would overproduce because they were desperate or they would overproduce because the market was good. There was no way for farmers, then or now, to see how much they should produce in order to protect themselves. There's no way for them to do it. The problem of overproduction is the singular cruelty of our industrial agriculture, is a singular cruelty. We have my grandfather's papers. And I knew from my work in agriculture, in the state, that because the program flies in the face of the principles of the free market. Mitch McConnell is no fan of, of, uh, supply management in order to maintain a parody price. I don't have friends in high places. My father has very kindly said to me, "your work is harder than it was for Daddy because we don't have friends in high places. We don't have a population of really good farmers who know how to live on very little." But we do have some good farmers, livestock farmers. And so we have taken those principles, that pattern that I learned that I, I raised props for. We've taken that pattern and we've applied it to our work with farmers. And I want to tell you that besides the fact that the program is working, run by a wonderful woman, who's in the next office, it's comforted me in my belief, in the goodness of human beings. If they get a little help, just like the land will recover, uh, will be healthy again. Our farmers, with just a little help, the farmers we're working, with have become a strong group. They're helping each other. I listened to a meeting some years back at The Berry Center of a couple of farmers who had volunteered to help us figure out how to bring in new farmers. I mean, this building of a co-op culture is, is a piece of work all by itself. And I was listening to these farmers, both of whom have been through very hard times, both young. I was struck by the fact that not one of them said, "you know, we could just raise more for the program because we're paying a dollar-eighty live weight for a 700 pound calf. This is very good, very good prices. And it's stable. And we've lived up to our word." But not one of these farmers said, "we could raise more." They know they need each other. They know more farmers need to be a part of this program. I mean, this is the most hopeful thing I know. And this is what happens. If you pay farmers a fair price to keep their ground covered, to take care of their places. All of that is the pattern that I've been taught.

Martin Ping (27:40):

It seems to be, um, speaking to another question or challenge of our times, which is the question of sociability: how are we remembering to be social and to look out after each other and to have an economy that's based more on care and, and love rather than just self-interested behavior? And it's, uh, it's encouraging to hear you say this, that the farmers are having this approach with each other.

Mary Berry (28:07):

I really don't have words for, for how encouraging it is. When we started the program, we invited farmers to come and to hear what we had on our minds and what we were planning to do. And I don't know about farmers in your area, but farmers here can be the quietest, most silent listeners. I mean, it's, it's something to speak to them because they're just waiting to see. Now you can't quiet 'em down. Now they're talking to each other about genetics and forage health and soil. I mean, it's just remarkable. But I've been asked quite a few times when I speak places, I was asked very movingly in Fort Worth, by a rancher with a cowboy hat, how we've gotten farmers to work together.

Martin Ping (28:58):


Mary Berry (28:58):

He was, he actually was crying.

Martin Ping (29:01):


Mary Berry (29:01):

Because he has tried and it has not worked. And I told him what I could tell him. I told him that I thought ours has worked so far because we offered something farmers need, they know they don't wanna gamble. They know they want a fair price at the marketplace and they're used to being price takers. So this is offering something that they know they need. Part of what we've done here is get something started with a nonprofit to support the work. We have every intention for Our Home Place Meat to become a self-sustaining co-op.

Martin Ping (29:37):


Mary Berry (29:37):

But until we get to that, that place, the nonprofit, The Berry Center is, is committed to backing the program. So the importance of that, it seems to me, is that it just gives us time and programs like Our Home Place Meat, everything we're doing here, actually, need time. I'm much more comfortable with the 501(c)(3) nonprofit business now than I was when I started. I didn't know how else to go to work, except by forming a nonprofit. I now see that we've got to have time. So many co-ops have started and failed in our area. And I think it's because you wanna pay people a living wage to do the work, you want time to work out problems. The wonderful thing about going to work is that real problems then present themselves.

Martin Ping (30:31):


Mary Berry (30:31):

And you can solve them. But if you just think about it for a long time, and you can come up with a lot of problems but they're not particular problems. So we're very grateful to the support we've had, uh, to keep this thing going to keep farm families on farms. And, uh, part of our charge here is to keep the history of the program so other people can do it.

Martin Ping (30:54):

Hawthorne Valley is, is a 501(c)(3). We began that way. And it's, it's an educational and cultural organization first and foremost. And we've chosen to add into that more enterprise side of things as a way of helping to pay our way and make, make the work possible. So the, the idea of having, uh, enterprise that can hopefully, uh, generate small amounts of, of profit is to then pour that back into the cultural life and to, to, uh, create that support. But the 501(c)(3) piece is essential, both from the educational point, but also in order to buy that time. One of the large problems that I think we're up against is that we're, we're competing if you will, against an agribusiness system that doesn't have much culture in it and that is highly subsidized and making it very, very difficult to allow people to be able to afford to farm well, as you're, as you're trying to do. And you're like an epicenter, you're like a, a hub radiating out these spokes to make this possible in more areas than your own. So...

Mary Berry (32:03):

Well, those of us who, uh, live in Henry County, Kentucky, think that Henry County's the center of the universe. So, okay. We're in a minority, I can tell you that. But our problem, it seems to me, Martin, is industrialism---period. We have a bad economy, plain and simple. We've just got to say it: it's a bad economy. It's a land-destroying, people-destroying economy. And the problem of the economy, I believe, is industrialism. It leaves everything out that matters.

Martin Ping (32:40):


Mary Berry (32:40):

And it keeps itself going. It is inhuman. It has no limits. So that's our fight, I think. And we might as well just say so. The evidence of this industrialism is war and waste.

Martin Ping (32:58):

It reminds me to make the distinction between having an economy and a financial system. I think your father, somewhere in his writings, made that distinction, that when you think about what an economy is, it's managing our household or provisioning our community, working well. That's not what we're doing and it, nor is it what we're talking about. The, this abstraction that we have, that is the financial system that seems to exist for its own, uh, education is not an economy. It has nothing to do with managing our household well, and that's one thing I try to impart to my 12th graders when I do an economics class with them here at Hawthorne Valley: learn the distinction and have a clear goal. What are we going for, when we talk about the economy...?

Mary Berry (33:44):

Well, I think Hawthorne Valley is, it's certainly been an encouraging example to me of working on not just the symptoms of the problem, but the problem itself. While I echo my father in my worry of movements. Of course, we all, we all want social justice. Of course we do. But if we don't deal with an economy or a financial system that is destroying the land and the people, we will not have a just society on top of that, ever. One of the things we are trying to teach our students besides use your head before you use money, there's one thing, but also wake up your mind and your heart and figure out where your joys and your satisfactions are gonna come from--not from a store. It doesn't need to be sold to you. You don't have to be completely dependent on experts to tell you how to love, grieve, enjoy yourself, be in any kind of partnership... wake up your own mind and live.

Martin Ping (35:04):

Yeah, I think that what is probably, again, nature as standard is the, the, not only the complexity, but the interconnectedness and interdependence, that you can't look at any of these things in isolation. And, and again, part of our challenge, which has led to the violent financial system that we have that's so, uh, extractive and destructive and dehumanizing is that it's based on a highly reductive mechanistic view of life, and that's produced interesting results. And it's probably, for some reason, the Western world had to go through this, but it's, it's also produced in consequences that we literally can't live with. And to come back to, even when we think about our movements, that they are not in isolation and that you can't have ecological wellbeing without social justice. You can't have social justice without ecological wellbeing. And the financial system needs to be in service to an economy that's in service to life. And we've got the whole thing 180 degrees wrong, where we're all living our lives in service to this so-called economy, which is just feeding this beast of a financial system that's, you know, sucking the earth dry and sucking life and humanity dry.

Mary Berry (36:30):

Well, I wonder if some of the problem, if a problem is that in conservation movements, the environmental movement and so on people have, it seems to me, been pretty good at naming what they're against, but we haven't been very good at naming what we're for. So we can't just be for, uh, the wonderful, exquisite, amazing places that we set aside as parks. Those places should be set aside. I'm not saying that they shouldn't, but we've, we've got to be for the land and the people. We've got to be for good land use and for people who know how to use the land well. There's some kind of prejudice in this country against hand work, using your body to work.

Martin Ping (37:26):


Mary Berry (37:26):

Um, I think that's why I call our education program, an education in homecoming, um, not an education in upward mobility. That, of course, can come straight from a speech that Wes Jackson gave in the nineties when he said, "the predominant major in colleges and universities for 50 years has been upward mobility and now it needs to be homecoming." Education has been used, not for good citizenship and not for good live right livelihood, but it's been used for upward mobility so that other people do your work. Other people do the work nobody really wants to do, so we have no pride in good work.

Martin Ping (38:09):

Yeah. And the joy of and satisfaction of good work is something that should not be denied to anyone. They just need, they, they need to have opportunity. Our friend, Matt Stinchcomb, you know well, has started the Good Work Institute here in the Hudson Valley. He and I, uh, with another friend, Dawn Breeze, founded something called Place Corps, which is an educational program in of this stripe that is really trying to reconnect to these deeper purpose and meaning of what it means to be human. And our, we say to know, love and serve our places. And this is, it's simple and it's also satisfying and can help us to remember our connections and our relationships to place, to each other, to our own sense of self, which is, I think lies at the heart of 50 years of work at Hawthorne Valley.

Mary Berry (39:16):

I think so, too. It's so sad that, um, people, people have lost the understanding of this. That, that all pleasures must be bought. That work is about getting it done. And then you're thank God it's Friday. That, you know, lives are spent this way. It's heartbreaking. It's heartbreaking.

Martin Ping (39:42):

I agree. I consider myself one of the really lucky people to not have what I call the bifurcated life of, you know, thank God it's Friday. It's, it's---what a privilege. And that's, I don't take it for granted that I have work, that I feel is meaningful. It's, it is something I would wish for everyone.

Mary Berry (40:02):

It ought to be the hope that people can live out callings.

Martin Ping (40:08):

Their calling. Yeah, a vocation.

Mary Berry (40:11):

Work, a vocation. Thank you.

Martin Ping (40:12):

Not, not a job, but a vocation.

Mary Berry (40:14):

That's right. That's right. The, the Democrats and the Republicans both can offer us nothing more than jobs, jobs, jobs. I mean, that's just, that's it.

Martin Ping (40:24):

What's next for the, for The Berry Center?

Mary Berry (40:28):

Oh gosh. Well, every day we work on Our Home Place Meat. I have wonderful young woman who runs the program. Every day we work on making the farming program better and better. That's been a significant piece of work. Dr. Leah Bayens is the Dean of that program, without whom the program would not exist. And she's amazing. And she's in the next office, as well. I work a lot on that program. My husband is now working with a young man on The Berry Center's farm to get it started the way we want it to go. And so that's a significant piece of work. We just kicked off our, I believe sixth year of our Community Reading Program, which is amazing, I'm so proud of this program. And I can be because my daughter, Virginia Aguilar started it. She runs our culture center, our bookstore, she runs the Reading Program. That program is just amazing. The first year she picked "The Memory of Old Jack" as our first community read. So this is the thing about generations; it's important to have them. I would never have picked one of my father's books to start that program, never in a million years, because we don't put ourselves forward that way. We just don't.

Martin Ping (41:45):


Mary Berry (41:45):

She picked that book. She didn't ask me. We gave 400 copies of that book, free books, out to, uh, community members. 20 book groups were formed around that book. Those groups are still going. Little towns in our county, little history groups were started to talk about uh, memories of places. It's, again, back to what I said earlier, if you just give people a little help, just a little, it's amazing what can happen. A woman who I've known all my life and is smart as heck and a wonderful community person, but she said, "I've never been a reader. And your father has told our story, and now I'm a reader." And she said, "he told our story with respect, and we're not used to respect." My father meets with the book group leaders every year to talk about the book. Some of the books have been by him, but they've also been by Ernie Gaines, "A Lesson Before Dying"---black agrarian book, great book. I'll recommend that to all your listeners. A young woman named Crystal Wilkinson, who is a writer from Kentucky. He's met with the book group leaders to talk about all of these books. They have a wonderful time. It's just amazing. And when people ask me about these, for instance, the reading group, well, "how do you do that?" I said, "well, you just start. What do you have that your community could come together around? It doesn't have to be books. In our case it's books. We love books, but it could be music. It could be cooking. It could be anything, but just start. Once you start, you never know. And sometimes things don't work. That's all right--you just start something else." So that's going on. I have started traveling again, some, so I'm speaking and traveling. Our Berry Center Journal is coming out soon. The subject of this year's journal is "working landscapes, working people" and, I'm very pleased with it. If people are members of The Berry Center, they'll get that. There's also an online edition. There's not enough time in the day to get done what needs to be done around here. But I can't say that I'm thrilled to death and happy as a lark every single day, but most days, most days.

Martin Ping (42:23):


Mary Berry (44:11):

And of course, you know, you have to keep it all going.

Martin Ping (44:14):

Yes. And the just starting is a beautiful message for anyone. Cause we can all start and we can, I don't call them failures, we can just figure out ways not to do things and then start again. I think that's great. And for those days when we're not feeling so great and maybe even tempted to despair, I don't know if you can see what's behind me here, but it's a frame.

Mary Berry (44:37):

You see the broad side.

Martin Ping (44:38):

It's a, it's a framed. This is I'm in my office. It's a framed print of, uh, "The Peace of Wild Things" signed by your dad. That is my, uh, one of my all time favorites and go to versus for, oh, when things might feel a little overwhelming, which can be often enough---anytime I look at the news.

Mary Berry (44:59):

Let me just say for me, I, I can pick up any book of my father's and open anywhere and if I'm stuck, I will get unstuck. But I'll tell you what I read at night: British mysteries. So you can't just read about agriculture all the time.

Martin Ping (45:21):

Mm-hmm, mm-hmm. So Mary for today, thank you. But more importantly, for all of the work of, of The Berry Center for all of your staff, who I, some of whom I do know are in those other rooms, please give them my greetings and my gratitude. To your mom and dad, especially, my greetings and gratitude. And, uh, and to you, I can't wait to be together and look forward to when you come up to, uh, Hawthorne Valley next, which will hopefully be later this summer.

Heather Gibbons (46:03):

If you'd like to learn more about Mary's work and The Berry Center, visit their website at Thanks for listening to Hawthorne Valley's Roots to Renewal Podcast. We are an association comprised of a variety of interconnected initiatives that work collectively to meet our mission. You can learn more about our work by visiting our website at Hawthorne Valley is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and we rely on the generosity of people like you to make our work a reality. Please consider making a donation to support us today. If you'd like to help us in other ways, please spread the word about this podcast by sharing it with your friends and leaving us a rating and review. Special thanks to our sponsor Tierra Farm, who makes this podcast possible. And thank you to Grammy award-winning artist, Aaron Dessner, for providing our sound check and Aaron Ping for his editing expertise.