(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Berry’s fourth essay collection, The Gift of Good Land, continues to address many of the same issues that he has touched upon in earlier volumes. Many of these essays first appeared in The New Farm or Organic Gardening during Berry’s period of association with Rodale Press. These essays nicely balance theory and practice, both reflecting Berry’s criticism of prevailing assumptions of modern American agriculture and offering cultural alternatives to large-scale, mechanized, single-crop farming. A more sensible economy of scale, according to Berry, would favor small, diversified farms such as those of the Amish and of others who practice traditional or alternative farming methods.

One must defend the small farm, Berry argues in his foreword, on more than economic terms. One must judge economic health according to the overall health and vitality of human and natural households:Like a household, [the small farm] is a human organism, and it has its origin in both nature and culture. Its justification is not only agricultural, but is a part of an ancient pattern of values, ideas, aspirations, attitudes, faiths, knowledge, and skills that propose and support the sound establishment of a people on the land. To defend the small farm is to defend a large part, and the best part, of our cultural inheritance.

Throughout the volume, Berry stresses the indivisibility of culture and agriculture: A culture’s farming methods will invariably reflect the values and assumptions of that culture. The United States has tended to stress bigness, impersonality, mechanization, and exploitation of the land. For Berry, however, small is better. Emphasizing the interconnectedness of humans, land, climate, animals, and local culture, Berry values small-scale, labor-intensive agricultural techniques that allow the land to be used continuously while still...

(The entire section is 770 words.)