Gene Logsdon and Friends

Archive for 2014|Yearly archive page

How Much Does Soil Influence Taste?

In Gene's Weekly Posts on November 19, 2014 at 10:05 am


I had no more finished the post two weeks ago about improving vegetable taste, when I read an interesting interview with Eliot Coleman, a name you all recognize, in the November issue of Acres U.S.A. Eliot has been a leader in perfecting year-round, organic farming— in Maine of all places. One of his most popular crops is “candy carrots” and how he grows them is pertinent to our discussion.  He plants carrots, around the first of August, and when winter cold arrives, he slides a movable greenhouse over the carrots so that the ground doesn’t freeze. He has learned that with a double cover, or a cold frame under a fabric greenhouse cover, the ground, though plenty cold, doesn’t freeze.  In the interview, he says: “When you leave carrots in the ground like this, they protect themselves against the cold by changing some of their starch to sugar, sort of like antifreeze. These are known locally as candy carrots.  We’ve been told by parents that our carrots are the trading item of choice in local grade school lunch boxes.”

That’s the kind of detail about growing food for better taste that is so intriguing to contemplate. Do we know very much about soil in terms of health and food taste even with all the scientific effort that has been put to it? Does better taste mean better nutrition in the first place? I recently read about Lakeview Organic Grain Farm More…

Keeping Prejudice Alive

In Gene's Weekly Posts on November 12, 2014 at 9:48 am



Some of the latest thinking on Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (just getting those letters all out in correct order is enough to give me ADHD) argues that the condition is not really a bodily or mental affliction but a natural state for some people, especially children. Being fidgety, having a short attention span, not being able to concentrate for long on anything in particular— these traits are more or less brought on by the over-regulated, prescriptive world we live in. That sounds plausible to me. But then the learned scientists who are arguing this way go into examples (“A Natural Fix For A.D.H.D.” by Richard A. Friedman in the New York Times, Nov. 2, 2014). They suggest that  ADHD people would be right at home in a hunting and gathering society, like in Paleolithic times, when daily life shifted rapidly from one exciting, dangerous situation to another. It was not until humans settled into the boring routine of sedentary agriculture that such people became estranged and out of touch with the rest of society and started suffering from what would later be diagnosed as ADHD.

Once more farming is depicted as boring. After a lifetime of being subjected to this kind of stereotypical thinking,  I know I should just ignore it.  Anybody who has had the least bit of experience in agriculture knows it is one of the most  exciting ways in the world to lose your money or your life. But when the stereotypical thinking comes from places like the Weill Cornell Medical College, I must protest. More…

Another Kind of Baby Food

In Gene's Weekly Posts on November 5, 2014 at 9:01 am



As a society, we strive valiantly to get people to eat more vegetables. That always brings up a question in my mind: why don’t we have to strive valiantly to get people to eat more filet mignon, chocolate, and whipped cream? Answer: Obviously, these foods taste good while vegetables still often taste like seaweed floating in the backwaters off New Orleans. I know, I know. Vegetables can taste good too, but the fact is that more often than not, even today, they don’t live up to the good taste that they are capable of. The skill and especially the knowledge involved in coming up with a really good plate of vegetables is still rather rare and there’s no excuse for it. Small scale garden farmers can take advantage of the situation and squeeze a lot more market opportunity out of it. Most short order restaurants don’t know diddily about good-tasting vegetables because their customers don’t either, so why bother. Mass production won’t work because in many cases the vegetable, to taste really delicious, has to be harvested before it can be handled by field machines. Even pricey restaurants have a hard time getting the good stuff which is why some have started their own gardens next to their restaurants. But in most cases the demand isn’t there yet because the consumers don’t know what they are missing. Too many of us merely tolerate vegetables going back to childhood when, if we didn’t eat the stuff, we wouldn’t get dessert. We’ll pay $30 a pound for a restaurant steak quicker than they will pay half that amount for a succulently fresh salad. Just as happened with breads and beers More…

Practical Skills: Wooden Combs

In Practical Skills Series on November 3, 2014 at 11:09 am

comb photo

Excerpt from Practical Skills 1985

My son has been making wooden combs in his workshop. They are strikingly beautiful, and they do comb hair. They also make excellent letter or note holders on a desk. Much of the beauty comes from the wood itself. Since only scraps are needed to make the combs, one can use black walnut, rosewood, zebra wood, and other exotic woods without denting the pocketbook. Or one can use unusual woods generally available only in small widths or pieces, like pear, peach and sassafras. The block of wood needed for a comb rarely exceeds 4 to 6 inches wide, 5 or 6 inches long, and 3/8 inch thick (never more than 1/2-inch thick).

The teeth must run in the same direction as the grain or they will quickly break off, but other than that, the design is up to you. Cut the teeth in the block first, then taper the block and teeth to the proper shape. You can cut the teeth with a table saw, handsaw, or bandsaw. The table saw makes it easier to cut straight and uniform teeth, since you can use the saw fence as a guide. But the saw kerf should be no wider than 1/8-inch and preferably smaller. Most table saw blades leave a kerf a bit large for a comb. My son uses a band saw because the blade makes a smaller kerf. But some skill is involved in making a band saw cut a perfectly straight line. A wavy cut shows up clearly in a comb. More…

Marking Time On The Farm

In Gene's Weekly Posts on October 29, 2014 at 8:32 am



Like most of you, I’m sure, I’ve developed ways to tell time by eyeing up the sun with various fixed features on the farm. When I’m hoeing in the garden in the summer,  I know it’s about time for lunch when the farthest reach of tree shade from the woods brushes the garden boundary. This changes a bit every day so it’s a little tricky but Swiss watch precision is not necessary. As a boy, cultivating corn in rows running north and south in early June, I knew that when the shade of the muffler top sticking up above the tractor hood reached the third corn row over to the east, it was about five o’clock and time to go home for chores. Who needs watches?

When I left the city office environment, I stripped off my watch and put it in a dresser drawer where it still resides. I think of a wristwatch as a manacle chaining me to a way of life that reckons time as money. Not for me. I want to live where work is so interesting that I don’t care what time the clock says it is. At the office I was constantly glancing at my watch wondering if it was time to go home yet. On the farm in somewhat younger years I could hardly believe how fast the time went by before Carol was calling me in for supper. Or I might get a notion between the corn rows to go sit under a shade tree beside the creek and watch the water flow by. No boss was going to hound me to get back to work. The worst thing to happen to farmers was headlights on tractors which made time seem more like money. Then we felt compelled to work all night and owe the bank more than ever. More…

Food Fads Affect Farming

In Gene's Weekly Posts on October 22, 2014 at 9:14 am



Perhaps no human activity, other than killing other humans, has a longer history than diet regulations that prohibit some foods and glorify others.  Even in the biblical garden of paradise there was forbidden fruit. And the reasoning behind forbidden fruit is always the same. Eating the right foods and avoiding the wrong ones means living longer, perhaps forever. Humans are always suckers for that pitch.

Just as the prohibition against meat on Fridays in the Catholic Church helped the fishing industry in medieval Italy, so the latest fad, the Paleo diet, should prove to be a boon to grass-fed chicken and livestock producers because Paleos are supposed to eat only meat raised on grazed pastures without, heaven forbid, grains. The Paleo philosophy believes that modern meats no longer have the nutritional value of the wild meat that prehistoric humans enjoyed. Modern meat has turned real, red blooded cavemen and cavewomen into pansies. Today the only easily obtainable meat that comes close to the wild meat of Paleolithic times is the grass-fed kind.

Paleo is not good news for grain farmers of course. Paleo shuns modern grains, especially wheat, because gluten is, well, close to being poison. They say. Paleos don’t think much of beans either. Modern corn, especially as syrup, was already getting the upraised middle finger before Paleos came along. More…

Faith and fears in Wendell Berry’s Kentucky

In Around The Web on October 21, 2014 at 12:23 pm


From Grist

Wendell Berry’s mind is preoccupied with four dead sheep. I join the 80-year-old food movement sage for a drink and a visit in the kitchen of his neat white house on the top of the hill in Henry County. The talk meanders, picks up steam, and tapers off until the hum of the refrigerator fills the air, but the conversation always circles back to those missing animals.

Berry has four fewer sheep, but there were only two carcasses. The others disappeared without a trace. It’s coyotes, according to a trapper who knows the beasts and how to get rid of them. Berry has never heard of coyotes doing such a thing — not the stealing of sheep, for which they have an established reputation, but for doing such a clean job of it. No telltale chunks of hide or dried blood. I can tell that the mystery rattles around in his thoughts even as we trade stories of hunters being hunted, my home state of Montana, and women who tell dirty jokes.

Berry’s mind is one of the most famous and respected in environmentalism. The farming poet has been writing since the ’60s, and has more than 50 books to his name. His timeless tomes show a deep love of nature and rich understanding of the power of community. Described as the “modern-day Thoreau,” Berry holds up the simple, good things in the world while decrying the forces of greed and globalization that sully them. The man knows how to pack a punch in just a few words: “There are no unsacred places; there are only sacred places and desecrated places.’’ More…

The  Absence of Noise

In Gene's Weekly Posts on October 15, 2014 at 9:30 am



Ask me what I like best about our homestead and my first answer will be the absence of noise. Of course it’s not always quiet but there are blessedly silent hours, like now as I sit on the deck on a  warm October evening, gazing at the changing leaves, sipping bourbon and not wishing to be anywhere else or doing anything else in all the world. A neighbor has just finished combining the cornfield next to us and the harvester’s mighty engine is silent. There are no grain trucks thundering down the road. No airplanes cross the skies above, no trains rumble on the tracks just east of us, no one is mowing lawn in the neighborhood, no chainsaws at work in the woods. Peace.

An absence of noise does not mean there are no sounds in the air. Quite the opposite. Without the cacophony of technology numbing my ears, I can hear a bit of wind rustle in the trees, catch the peevish peep of a nuthatch questioning ownership of an acorn with another nuthatch, discern the whisper of hummingbird wings fluttering above my head, note a chicken up at the barn bragging about a just-laid egg, spot the squirrel that is scolding me from the nearby oak, listen to a gang of crows on the other side of the woods giving a hawk or an owl a hard time, wonder what two tree frogs croaking back and forth to each other from the trees are saying about possible rain tomorrow.

But between these sounds, the silence seems palpable. More…

Commenting On Your Comments

In Gene's Weekly Posts on October 8, 2014 at 9:25 am



I just must take time out from my regular postings to thank all of you for your extraordinary kindness, intelligence and good humor in responding to what I write. What you say makes better reading than what I say and I am so very grateful. When, for example, Tim, whom I have never met, recently mentioned specific stories that I wrote many, many moons ago, I was just flabbergasted— and touched. And then Beth Greenwood, after many very down to earth and practical observations about farming, starts quoting classic Latin sayings!  And I would almost bet that the wonderful poem Russ quotes and says is anonymous is something he wrote.  I do know him and he is quite capable of writing good poetry.

It never seemed to me that anyone was paying much attention to my scribblings over the years. I did get some really precious letters occasionally, mostly handwritten on lined paper— even Wendell Berry writes to me that way— but that very fact suggests that my readers are not part of anybody’s majority. I have chosen to write  mostly about how important farming is to everyone, both as science and art. That means I have the attention of only a small portion of the public. I would have had a much better chance of success if I had decided to write about sex culture or sports culture, not agriculture. More…

A Home Cistern

In Practical Skills Series on October 6, 2014 at 8:58 am


Excerpt from Practical Skills 1985

Where well water is not conveniently available in the country or is so hard that it rusts the plumbing out in only a few years, a cistern is not the old-fashioned impracticality most of us moderns believe. A neighbor, Gerald Frey, who is in the construction business, just finished building himself a new house. He equipped it with a large cistern — not difficult for him to do since he is one of the few builders I know who still builds cisterns commercially. “We don’t get too many calls anymore, except from members of our own family. We’ve all been brought up on cisterns and much prefer the taste of rainwater.

Although a good cistern costs as much as a well, Frey points out that from then on the savings are all on the side of the cistern: no water softener needed, no monthly charging with salt. The cistern pump is far cheaper to run than a well pump. Rainwater requires less soap to get a clean wash and glistening hair. Clothes are not stained yellowish as from hard water. And corrosion from rainwater is far less than from hard.

A cistern can be built of any material that can be sealed against leaks, and in any shape. Frey builds round cisterns out of brick. His is large — 14 feet deep and 19 feet in diameter. The wall needs to be only one brick thick because the earth has the same effect on a round form as a roof has on an arch — the harder the earth pushes in, the tighter the wall. More…