Another Turn of the Crank

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

According to Wendell Berry, Americans lack a cultural tradition of land stewardship that would encourage sustainable economic uses. Instead, Americans have favored short-term exploitation of land, forest, and water resources as if they would never be depleted. The trend toward a global economy will only hasten the destruction of local communities and natural resources, Berry warns. There is a fundamental opposition between the demands of the global economy and the well-being of local communities. Berry asks, “Can we adapt our work and our pleasure to our places so as to live in them without destroying them?” The six new essays in Berry’s ANOTHER TURN OF THE CRANK explore ways of conserving farm and forest communities to maintain the health of humans and nature.

The American demand for cheap food and fiber cannot be sustained without using industrial farming and forestry practices. Less than 2 percent of Americans now live on farms, Berry notes, and the social pressures to leave farms have destroyed the farming culture. The whole population of the world cannot live on imported food. Ideally, food and timber should be raised locally to support American regional agricultural and forest communities instead of depending on cheap imports. In “Conserving Forest Communities,” Berry contrasts the wastefulness of clear-cutting with the benefits of sustainable logging along with a local wood products industry that would provide jobs and add value to timber. A diversified forest ecosystem needs to be matched by a diversified local forest economy.

To promote human health, thriving communities, and a stable environment, Berry argues, we must find economic alternatives to environmentally destructive extractive industries and absentee ownership that colonize the land. Berry cites the example of the Menominee Indians of northern Wisconsin, who have practiced sustainable logging on their tribal lands since 1854. Berry argues in favor of using more inclusive metaphors for human and biotic health rather than reductive, mechanistic metaphors. In ANOTHER TURN OF THE CRANK, Berry argues for the restoration of local life through local economies.