Poultry Police

We are, alas, soon to have chickens again. For our vast flock of six laying hens, will we defy the ill-conceived NAIS (USDA animal identification system) as Wendell Berry has done? The barnyard waste is about to hit the proverbial fan.

Wendell Berry, also wearing a nice suit, said that the problem N.A.I.S. was supposed to solve was a problem caused by agricultural industrialists themselves, who now intended to use that problem as a pretext to further marginalize and limit the possibilities of small-scale agriculture.

He said it was insulting to rural Kentuckians that USDA had hired policemen to be present at this listening session. He noted that USDA’s fear of the people they were supposed to be serving made it clear what N.A.I.S. was all about. And he said that if NAIS were implemented, USDA was going to need far more than a couple of policemen to deal with the resistance and civil disobedience that would result. Naming Henry David Thoreau, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. as honorable examples of the tradition of non-violent non-compliance, Berry said he would absolutely not comply with N.A.I.S.

As an older person, he said he had little to lose by going to jail for the sake of the younger generations whose lives and livelihoods would be threatened or eliminated by such oppression, and who still did have much to lose.

On a more gentle note, also related to the Kentucky Farmer-philospher, here Mr. Berry reads a favorite poem, Wild Things that I was reminded of this morning at 4, just me and the dog and a single “night-blind” star coming and going behind low clouds in the silence. This short poem was recorded at the SEJ conference in Roanoke last October; you can hear some distant conversation in the hallway. Everyone in the room, however, was silent and spell-bound.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. NAIS is really big issue to readers of Acres, U.S.A. Has been for at least three years, too. As Berry says, it is all about industrial agriculture, big government, and squelching the little people. If memory serves me correctly, the issue at hand is mad cow disease, which is, indeed, a product of industrial agriculture. Joel Salatin wrote a book entitled “Everything I Want to Do is Illegal”. I’ve not read it, but I’m sure I’d agree with just about everything in the book.