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The Gift of Good Land

by Wendell Berry

The essays in The Gift of Good Land describe Wendell Berry's journeys to the highlands of Peru, the deserts of southern Arizona, and Amish Ohio to study traditional agricultural practices. The essays expand on issues first raised in The Unsettling of America.

Praise for The Gift of Good Land

"These books [The Gift of Good Land and Recollected Essays] are the kind that you spend months with, hate to give up, and plan to return to soon and often. There is much pure pleasure in them, both in the spare and crafted eloquence of their prose, and in the breadth and depth of their content. They're reference works of the body and soul . . ." --The Washington Post Book World

"These pieces are angry, urgent, courageous, joyous and reaffirming." --Philadelphia Inquirer

Table of Contents

Quotes from The Gift of Good Land

"Concerned as he is that the usable be put to use, that there be no waste, still there is nothing utilitarian or mechanistic about Mr. Lapp's farm--or his mind. His aim it seems, is not that the place should be put to the fullest use, but that it should have the most abundant life. The best farmers, Sir Albert Howard said, imitate nature, not least in the love of variety. Elmer Lapp answers to that definition as fully as any farmer I have encountered. Like nature herself, he and his family seem preoccupied with the filling of niches. . . . The barn swallow nests in the milking barn are not there just by happenstance; little wooden steps have been nailed to the joists to encourage them to nest there. Elmer Lapp has defended them against . . the cats, which he pens up during the nesting season, 'if they get nasty.' Among the wild creatures, he seems especially partial to birds. Wild waterfowl make themselves peacefully at home along his pasture stream, . . One can justify the existence of birds by 'insect control,' but one can also like them. Elmer Lapp likes them. . . Above his row of beehives is a border of sudan grass that he has let go to seed for the birds. He likes too the buff Cochin bantams that live in the milking barn and the stable--they scatter the manure piles and so keep flies from hatching--and the goldfish who live in the drinking trough and keep the water clean."

"My walk across Wally's remade farm began at a plot reclaimed the previous year. There was a good deal of bare ground showing through a stand of grasses and legumes that were obviously struggling for a roothold. And so I began in doubt. How would this pale mixture of subsoil and gravel ever support a sod? Who, after so much work, could be encouraged by this result? By the time we reached the oldest of the reclaimed plots, my doubts were gone. The ground was covered everywhere by a dense, thriving stand of pasture plants comparable to the best you would see anywhere. And underneath the sod was a brown, duffy layer of humus, where topsoil was building again. I was impressed to see that this layer was already thicker under a six-year-old sod that it was under the thirty- or forty-year-old thicket growth on the spoil banks."

" 'Speed is everything now; just jump on the tractor and way across the field as if it's a dirt-track. You see it when a farmer takes over a new farm: he goes in and plants straight-way, right out of the book. But if one of the old farmers took a new farm, and you walked round the land with him and asked him: "What are you going to plant here and here?" he'd look at you some queer; because he wouldn't plant nothing much at first. He'd wait a bit and see what the land was like: he'd prove the land first. A good practical man would hold on for a few weeks, and get the feel of the land under his feet. He'd walk on it and feel it through his boots and see if it was in good heart, before he planted anything: he'd sow only when he knew what the land was fit for.' "

"Stephen Brush, an anthropologist at the College of William and Mary, . . . gave a description of the complex and sophisticated agriculture of the Andean peasants of Peru. These people still grow and preserve their crops, without modern chemicals or techniques, by an intricate system of adjustments among varieties, planting, climatic zones, etc. They fertilize their crops with guano and sheep manure (by penning sheep in the fields). They protect their land against erosion by keeping the fields small, by the use of hedgerows and horizontal plowing, and by field rotation. They protect their crops against pests and diseases, and against climatic extremities, by the greatest possible diversity of plant varieties and by diversified strategies of cultivation which include crop rotation and fallowing."

"In the Louisville Courier-Journal of April 5, 1981, the Mobil Oil Corporation ran an advertisement which was yet another celebration of 'scientific agriculture.' American farming, the Mobil people are of course happy to say, 'requires more petroleum products than almost any other industry. A gallon of gasoline to produce a single bushel of corn, for example. . . . ' This, they say, enables 'each American farmer to feed sixty-seven people.' And they say that this is 'a-maizing.' Well, it certainly is! And the chances are good that an agriculture totally dependent on the petroleum industry is not yet as amazing as it is going to be. But one thing that is already sufficiently amazing is that a bushel of corn produced by the burning of one gallon of gasoline has already cost more than six times as much as a bushel of corn grown by Bill Yoder."

"I want to deal directly at last with my own long held belief that Christianity, as usually presented by its organizations, in not earthly enough . . . I want to see if there is not at least implicit in the Judeo-Christian heritage a doctrine such as that the Buddhists call 'right livelihood' or 'right occupation.'

Table of Contents of The Gift of Good Land

  1. An Agricultural Journey in Peru
  2. Three Ways of Farming in the Southwest
  3. The Native Grasses and What They Mean
  4. The International Hill Land Symposium
  5. Sanitation and the Small Farm
  6. Horse-Drawn Tools and the Doctrine of Labor Saving
  7. Agricultural Solutions for Agricultural Problems
  8. Energy in Agriculture
  9. Solving for Pattern
  10. The Economics of Subsistence
  11. Family Work
  12. The Reactor and the Garden
  13. A Good Scythe
  14. Looking Ahead
  15. Home of the Free
  16. Going Back--or Ahead--to Horses
  17. A Few Words for Motherhood
  18. A Rescued Farm
  19. An Excellent Homestead
  20. Elmer Lapp's Place
  21. A Talent for Necessity
  22. New Roots for Agricultural Research
  23. Seven Amish Farms
  24. The Gift of Good Land

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