Wendell Berry on a healthy farm

"...One need not be a specialist to understand the difference between good and bad farming. There is nothing mysterious or abstruse about it. It only requires enough acquaintance with land and people to have some sense of what a prospering farm and a prospering farm community ought to look like and the same acquaintance with the signs of greed, hopelessness, neglect, and abandonment.
    The health of a farm is as apparent to the eye as the health of a person. To look at a farm in full health gives the same complex pleasure as looking at a fully healthy person  or animal. It will give the same impression of abounding life. What grows on it will be thriving. It will seem to belong where it is; the form of it will be a considerate response to the nature of its place; it will not have the look of an abstract idea of a farm imposed upon an area somewhere or other. It will look cared for - groomed, so to speak - like a healthy person or animal; it will look lived in by people who care where they live. It will show no gullies or galls or other signs of erosion. The waterways and field edges and areas around buildings will be grassed, something that becomes more necessary the steeper the ground is.
    The place will look well maintained. Buildings, fences, equipment, etc., will have been kept in good repair, carefully used, protected from the weather. ...
    A healthy farm will have trees on it - woodlands, where forest trees are native, but also fruit and nut trees, trees for shade and for windbreaks. Trees will be there for their usefulness: for food, lumber, fence posts, firewood, shade, and shelter. But they will also be there for comfort and pleasure, for the wildlife that they will harbor, and for their beauty. The woodlands bespeak the willingness to let live that keeps wildness flourishing in the settled place. A part of the health of a farm is the farmer;s wish to remain there. His long-term good intention toward the place is signified by the presence of trees. A family is married to a farm more by their planting and protecting of trees than by their memories or their knowledge, for the trees stand for their fidelity of kindness to what they do not know. The most revealing sign of ill health of industrial agriculture - its greed, its short-term ambitions - is its inclination to see trees as obstructions and to strip the land bare of them.
    Woodlands, orchards, and shade trees are part of the diversity of life that is another of the prime characteristics of a healthy farm. And this principle will extend to cropland and pasture. The aim of a healthy farm will be to produce as many kinds of plants and animals as it sensibly can. This will be an ordered diversity, the various species moving in rotation over the fields. The land will be fenced for livestock, and its aspect will change from field to field.
    Related to the principle of diversity is that of carrying capacity: the various crops and animals will be sensibly proportionate to one another; the farm will strive as far as possible toward the balance, the symmetry, of an ecological system; there will not be too much of anything. The fields will not be overcropped; the pastures will not be overgrazed. It will be understood that plants growing on a farm are not just its produce, but also its protection, and so a row crop will be followed by a cover crop, the cover crop by a sod of grass ad clover.
    And a healthy farm will not only have the right proportion of plants and animals; it will have the right proportion of people. There will not be so many as to impoverish themselves and the farm, but there will be enough to care for it fully ad properly without overwork. On a healthy farm there will be the right proportion between work and rest. ...
    Finally, a healthy farm will be so far as possible independent and self-sustaining. It is necessary to say "so far as possible," for we are by no means talking here about a "closed system." Simply by selling produce, a farm involves itself with other places both economically and biologically. And unless it encapsulates itself under a glass roof - which is really to become less independent - a farm cannot produce its own weather. Many farms cannot provide their own water. The wild plants, animals, birds, and insects upon which a farm's health depends will not respect its boundaries any more than the rain. And, of course, the people on a farm will belong complexly to a larger human community. Nevertheless, a certain kind and a certain measure of independence is a practicable ambition for a farm, and it is a necessity of agricultural health and longevity.
    For one thing, fertility, the major capital of any farm, can be largely renewed and maintained from sources on the farm itself - assuming that all else is in balance. By proper tillage, rotation, the use of legumes, and the return of manure and other organic wastes to the soil, the fields can be kept productive with minimal recourse to fertilizers from outside sources. If the organic or decayable wastes of the cities, which have their source on the farm, could be returned to the farm, that would greatly increase both the health of the land and the independence, if not of the individual farm, at least of agriculture.
    Equally important, by the use of good human power, animal power, solar, wind, and water power, methane gas, firewood from its own woodlands, etc., a farm can produce by far the major part of its own energy. This, of course, calls for a revitalization of local skills. But given the skills, these sources of power are possible. They come from the past and/or from new technology.
    As a farm measures up in these various ways to the standard of health, its troubles from pests and disease will radically diminish, and so consequently will its dependence on chemicals. A healthy farm will have no more need for these expensive remedies than a healthy person has for medicine.
    Health, then, does not "come from" independence or "lead to" it. Health is independence. The healthy farm sustains itself the same way a healthy tree does: by belonging where it is, by maintaining a proper relationship to the ground. It is by this standard of health or independence that one recognizes the absurdity of a farm absolutely dependent upon a complex of industrial corporations, which are in turn dependent upon the actions of foreign governments and politicians whom the farmer did not vote for or against and cannot influence.
    The ultimate good health of a farm is in its ability to produce independently of the ups and downs of the Dow Jones Industrial averages or the vagaries of politics... Those who pride themselves on the "science" that has made agriculture an industry have found this sort of independence beneath their notice. But I have watched, in Tuscany, a plowman driving a team of white cattle to a wooden plow, and realized that I was seeing the continuance of a motion and a way and a preoccupation begun before the rise of Rome. It is not nostalgia or sentimentality or wishful thinking to say that that man and his plow and team on the hand-built terrace under the olive trees represented a value, perhaps an immeasurable value, that modern agriculture has superceded but has by no means replaced."

Berry, Wendell. The Unsettling of America: Culture & Agriculture. 1977. Third printing, San Francisco, CA: Sierra Club Books, 1978. pp 181-184.