Gene Logsdon and Friends

Archive for 2014|Yearly archive page

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…

Stay Home

In Gene's Weekly Posts on October 1, 2014 at 9:44 am



I am tempted to write a book titled “Stay Home and Save The World” or something to that effect, but I don’t know of any publisher crazy enough to take it on. Our whole culture is completely locked into travel mode and any idea of changing that would have no more success than trying to stop people from drinking beer. We think, live and breathe traveling. So much so, that some 40% of the CO2 we are churning into the environment comes from travel (so I read but I am wary of all numbers). Maybe we could reduce our CO2 emissions to safe levels just by staying home much of the time. But only we ramparts people are going to say that. Cutting travel to a significant degree might bring on another great depression. It’s as if we would give up our utilities before we’d give up extraneous travel.

I really don’t think it would be that difficult. I’d much rather stay home than go traveling and when I read the travel ads in newspapers and magazines, I am all the more convinced. Much of the jolly things the ads promise I have at home. The current Hilton Hotel ad says it all: “Feel At Home In Our Home.” Really? Why not just stay home and save the money.

My favorite travel come-on, from a recent Sunday New York Times, is in an article titled “A Shangri-La Deep In The Cascades,” about a place called Stehehin Valley. It has “great hiking, great lodging, and best of all, no roads in and no roads out.” More…

Auction Anguish

In Gene's Weekly Posts on September 24, 2014 at 8:11 am



I used to love to go to farm auctions. I always hoped to find a bargain that no one else recognized. There was nothing like spotting an old book that I knew was worth maybe $50, and then being able to buy it along with a box of ho-hum volumes, for a dollar. For awhile early in married life I even fantasized about making a living scouting out rare old books and selling them for a thousand percent profit. But lots of other people had the same idea, and rarely was I able to make any profit at all.  But it was fun trying.

Same thing with antiques at farm sales. I’d go to one hoping that no professional antique dealers would be there. It rarely happened. They always knew which of Grandmaw’s old dishes were worth twenty dollars and which were  worth twenty cents.

But it was still fun buying up old farm tools that the antique dealers did not yet have buyers for— I’m talking 1950s and 60s— like hand-cranked corn shellers, seed cleaners, broadcast seeders, barbed wire, jugs, chicken waterers, grain cradles, sickles, scythes, cow leg hold chains, milk stools, corn knives, husking pegs,  More…

Trivia That May Not Be So Trivial

In Gene's Weekly Posts on September 17, 2014 at 8:29 am



Almost every day I observe something on our homestead that is quite remarkable in a humble sort of way. I think maybe I should write about it but then  the big news of the day comes flooding in and I almost feel guilty that I find joy in these little things around me. I should be all hitched up in the nervous regions about how the world is falling apart.  But I am going to ignore the world’s apparent disintegration today for what could be more important events in the long run.

Trivia No. 1: We store potatoes over winter in a plastic bin sunk in the hillside of the backyard. Maybe three inches and the lid stick out above the ground. I went out to clean out the few old wrinkled spuds left over from last year to make way for the new crop. I was taken aback to find a potato plant, about six inches tall, growing out of the lid. Impossible. Carefully lifting the lid, I found a long potato vine had grown up from an old potato under the remnants of straw (we store the potatoes with alternate layers of straw) in the bottom of the bin. Somehow it spotted a hint of light above (can potato eyes see??), climbed up the side wall and squeezed through the edge of the lid and upwards into the sun. I was totally mystified, because the lip of the box is rounded and the lid fits down over that lip, watertight and, I thought, light tight. But then I remembered. More…

Wanted: A Farmer

In Gene's Weekly Posts on September 10, 2014 at 9:37 am



Reading “Help Wanted” sections  in local rural newspapers, I am moved to smiles or tears or both at one advertisement that appears more and more often these days. It goes like this: “Looking for a good, full time, all around farm assistant to drive modern farm equipment and trucks for all farm operations including planting, spraying and transporting crops. Must be self-motivated and willing to learn.  Must take responsibility for maintaining and repairing  equipment. Must be willing to work long hours and weekends during peak seasons. Wage based on experience.”

There is so much irony involved here. Let me count the ways.

Here is the big farm that needs a real farmer that the big farm drove out of business.

Here is the big farm that knows how to get more land or machinery to continue to grow but can’t hire a real farmer to do the work.

How I would love to know what the “assistant” who answers this ad, if anyone does, will be offered  as a starting wage. (As soon as the word, wage, is used instead of salary, you know it won’t be much.) The employer is asking for someone with more brains than banking requires, as much stamina as professional sports demands, almost as many people skills as it takes to run a university and the dedication of a sainted doctor. But here in my neck of the woods, More…