I never met Gene, but I feel like I know him pretty well. I've been reading his books and blog for almost 20 years. The qualities that drew me to his writings were his down-to-earth approach and his sense of humor. (Anyone who writes a book entitled "Holy Sh_t" definitely has a sense of humor.) He not only wrote about the beautiful/romantic side of farming but he also kept it real and talked about the hard work and hard times that are common to the work and life of those who spend their days wringing out a living on the land.
What I would like to do in this blog is to feature two of his books by giving a short synopsis of each. The first is:
LIVING at NATURE'S PACE (taken from the back cover)
For decades, Gene Logsdon and his family have managed a lively and productive farm. Along the way, he has become a widely influential journalist and social critic, documenting in hundreds of essays for national and regional magazines the crisis in conventional agri-business and the boundless potential for new forms of farming that reconcile tradition with ecology.
Logsdon reminds us that healthy, economical agriculture must work "at nature's pace" rather than trying to impose industrial order on the natural world. Foreseeing a future with "more farmers, not fewer farmers" he looks for workable models among the Amish, among his lifelong neighbors in Ohio, and among resourceful urban gardeners and a new generation of defiantly unorthodox organic growers creating an innovative farmers-market economy in every region of the country. As Wendell Berry writes in this book's Forward:
Gene loves farming because he knows that a real farm can never be a factory. . . He knows that real farming involves a fundamental capacity to be excited about the life of field and pasture and woodlot, and a fundamental affection for animals and for one's neighborhood."
Nature knows how to grow plants and raise animals; it is human beings who are in danger of losing this age-old expertise, substituting chemical additives and artificial technologies for the traditional virtues of fertility, artistry, and knowledge of natural processes. This new edition of Logsdon's important collection of essays and articles contains five new chapters taking stock of American farm life at our turn of the century.
One of my favorite things about this book is the title. Think about that title for a few minutes. What if many millions of Americans "lived at nature's pace" instead of living at the fever pitch pace of modern technology, culture and the global economy. I suspect we would have less money but more physical and emotional health, enjoyment and satisfaction in life.
In my opinion, the center-piece of Gene's writings is:
THE CONTRARY FARMER (he uses the word "contrary" not in the sense of belligerent, argumentative or hard to get along with but in the sense of going against conventional, modern agricultural wisdom, methodology and teaching.)
These words are taken from the book's Introduction titled: The Ramparts People
I remember clearly the day when I was twelve, hunting morel mushrooms with my father, when I informed him excitedly that I had decided to take my dog and my rifle and go deep into the wilderness to live. I would build a cabin on a mountainside by a clear running stream, and live out my days happily on broiled trout, fried mushrooms and hickory nut pie. I would achieve advanced degrees in the art of living, bestowed on me by Nature, and I would know many things not even Einstein or my schoolteachers dreamed of.
I thought that he would approve, since he was forever retreating to the solitude of the woods and river bank and farm field himself. But he almost frowned, suggesting gently in a voice that sounded as if he were saying what he thought he was supposed to say, not what he really felt, that I needed to be thinking about making my way in the world and contributing something to it.
Unfortunately I tried to follow his advise and it took me until I was forty two to realize that I knew what was better for me when I was twelve. And having hunted everywhere for the peculiar kind of freedom I had tried to articulate that day, I came back to my boyhood home - the place of my beginnings - and found it. What I learned in the process was to follow my own mind because worldly wisdom invariably springs from notions that are largely erroneous. The only really good advice that holds up in all situations is: "Always make friends with the cook".
For a while, I thought Americans had lost the desire for independence - the kind of independence that defines success in terms of how much food, clothing, shelter and contentment I could produce for myself rather than how much I could buy: the kind of freedom that examines the meaning of life, not the meaning of cholesterol; the kind of freedom that allows me to say what I think in public without fear that my words will be "bad for business," the fear that keeps my rich acquaintances in town in silent bondage, trading their freedom of speech for dollars.
Then I started hearing about other people who were even more independent than I dared to dream: people deliberately removing themselves from the protection of the great god, Grid, because only beyond the blessings of the holy public utility could they find affordable land of their own; and also people, excluded from even that kind of frontier, who were turning ghettos into edenic gardens. I became acquainted with a university music professor who farmed with horses and in retirement manufactured modern horse-drawn
machinery; a scientist who discovered that composted sewage sludge protects vegetable plants from disease; a man who homesteaded with his family in an isolated rural area to start a million-dollar business creating beautiful and useful items out of waste wood even while a rare disease slowly incapacitated his muscular coordination; a Vietnamese immigrant who figured out how to use duckweed (green pond scum) to purify wastewater and then made a nutritious protein supplement out of the scum; a rock star who bought a thousand acre farm and then turned it back into a wilderness that produces more food than the farm did; a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who quit his career to become an organic market gardener; a famous cartoonist who built a sewage system for his huge office complex that uses the human waste of his fifty workers to grow exotic plants, fish and mussels, and then discharges pure water back into the environment; a contractor who uses scrap tires, earth and beer cans to build houses that run entirely on the sun.
The voice of the turtle can be heard again, ringing through the land, as the old Wyandots and Mohegans who once roamed my farm would say - a new surge of creative energy that moves the earth in a direction of self-redemption and sustainability that not the richest PAC nor the oldest institutionalized claptrap can stop.
We are pioneers, seeking a new kind of religious and economic freedom. We flee the evils that centralized power always generates. Our God does not reside in the inner sanctums of cathedrals, but walks with us, hoeing in the fields. Sometimes I see Him checking the bluebird houses for murderous starlings and house sparrows and give Him heck for inventing the nest-robbing bandits. He smiles and reminds me that stupid scientists brought the starling and house sparrow to America , not Him.
We are circumspect about our economic intitutions. We do not bank on paper money within marble walls, but invest in sun and soil and sweat and the tools that make sweat more productive.
I think of us as the Ramparts People. In all ages we have camped on the edges of the earth, the buffer between our more conventional and timid brethren and those nether regions where, as the medieval maps instructed, "there be dragons and wild beestes". It is our destiny to draw the dragon's fire while the mainstream culture hides behind its disintegrating deficit and damns us for shattering its complacency. So be it. The hickory nut pie is excellent.
Ever since my grandfather passed away in 1992, Gene has been my agrarian mentor. I've learned much from him - he was knowledgeable about national and international agricultural issues, and he was knowledgeable about the different personalities of the chickens that roamed his own farm. I've learned about the symbiotic relationship of white clover and bluegrass when it comes to pasturing the farm animals, the role of dung beetles in keeping pastures fertile and productive, why it's not a good idea to "put all your eggs in one basket", the pleasures to be found in cutting firewood and oh so much more.
I'll leave you with a classic Logsdon paragraph from the "Contrary Farmer"
"There is deep satisfaction in scattering clean yellow straw knee deep for the animals to sleep on and then feeding them in the still of a wintry eve. Sheep give the most contented little sighs when they nose into their food. Horses snuffle in their hay, and the soft munching sound of cows chewing their cud rises serenely to the hay mow where I sit and listen. The mother ewe with coaxing grunts encourages the new lamb to nurse and finally the smacking sound of the lamb sucking vigorously reaches my ears. All is well in the barn tonight.
Goodbye my friend. Your words of agrarian wisdom, wit and humor will be sorely missed by many thousands of agrarian kindred spirits.
Thanks again for checking in. Until next time -