Famed environmentalist to students: To learn requires accepting our own ignorance

Wendell Berry chats with students during a visit to the Yale Farm. (Photo by Michael Marsland)Noted activist and author Wendell Berry recently traveled from his farm in Kentucky to New Haven, where he visited the campus as a guest of the Chubb Fellowship.

Sponsored by Timothy Dwight College (TD) and the Yale Sustainable Food Project (YSFP), Berry’s visit included a tour of the Yale Farm, a visit to the kitchen of TD to see a locally-sourced meal being prepared for him by chef Michel Nischan and Yale Farm interns, a locally-sourced Chubb Dinner in TD prepared by Yale Dining, and a Chubb Lecture featuring a conversation with two Yale faculty members.

Berry’s first stop was at the Yale Farm. In a discussion with students on how academic disciplines and farming inform one another, Berry advised them that “the questions that need answers cannot be answered by any one department. To learn requires accepting our own ignorance.” He also encouraged students to maintain hope and a sense of humor when trying to advance a cause.

Later that day, in front of an audience of 1,600 people at the Shubert Theatre, Berry was interviewed by Jeffrey Brenzel, master of Timothy Dwight College, and Mary Evelyn Tucker, senior lecturer in the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and the Divinity School.

Wendell Berry in conversation with Jeffrey Brenzel and Mary Evelyn Tucker (Photo by Michael Marsland)“This is a long-awaited visit,” said Mark Bomford, director of the YSFP, in his introductory remarks. “Wendell Berry’s writings have appeared prominently on course reading lists, and quotations from his writings have opened more essays and graced the final slides of more PowerPoint presentations than I think Mr. Berry would be comfortable knowing about.

“Students who study food and agricultural topics here at Yale soon learn that if you’re ever struggling to articulate some essential idea about the fundamental interconnectedness of it all, then you turn to Berry’s writings,” noted Bomford.

Berry covered a wide range of topics in his Chubb Lecture, including the dire need for preserving the small American farm for the health of our culture, the land, the food we eat, and the larger environment. He closed his talk with a reading of three of his poems from his book “This Day: New and Collected Sabbath Poems, 1979-2012.”

Watch Berry’s Chubb Lecture in its entirety here.