In Gene Logsdon Blog on December 4, 2013 at 8:29 am
From GENE LOGSDON
Forgive me if this turns into a maudlin memory of barnyard days gone by. I do it not out of sentimentality but hopefully to shed a little light on the pros and cons of pasteurizing milk.
I loved it when, two weeks ago, a number of readers recalled some of the same fond memories I have of milking cows by hand. Yes, Chris N, squirting milk into the mouths of a row of cats waiting nearby in the alleyway. Yes, moving swiftly to pull the bucket out of the way of kicking cows and splattering urine. Yes, the quiet calm of the barn at dawn or dusk or especially when the moon was peering through the stable door. Yes, the irritation involved in milking cows with small teats. Yes, the flitting barn swallows and cooing pigeons and hooting owls. Yes, that particularly unique smell of milk, hay and aged manure bedding combined. Yes, a glass of milk warm and foamy directly from the cow. Yes, the separator and cream so thick you had to spoon it out of the jar.
There are only two things in life I know a lot about: stealing bases in baseball and milking cows. Stealing bases is a whole lot more fun. Dairy farming is hard and trying work and the best you can say about it is that it teaches patience and fortitude that come in handy in other trying moments in life—like dealing with rejection slips as a beginning writer. If you can endure kicking cows, rejection slips are a snap. I never worried about the milk; it’s the cow that can kill you. More…
In Gene Logsdon Blog on November 27, 2013 at 9:24 am
From GENE LOGSDON
Some readers found it hard to believe when I wrote in my last book, A Sanctuary of Trees, that at least in the eastern half of the United States there is more woodland now than there was a hundred years ago. Just recently, a report out of Penn State’s Department of Agricultural Sciences corroborates that claim at least for the state of Pennsylvania. The details of the study, from James Finley, a professor in Forest Resources Management, are most interesting and reflect why the good news about trees is sometimes hard to believe. While woodland is losing ground in southern Pennsylvania where there is more “development”, it is gaining in the northern part of the state, where land previously in farms is going back to forest. Your view can be influenced by where you live. I think the news is even better for tree lovers than the study reveals because it doesn’t seem to take into account the trees on developed land, like in subdivisions. Such trees are not considered part of the potentially commercial woodland, which, as I harp in the book, is a mistake. In fact some surprisingly nice “old growth forest” can actually be found in older suburbs and city villages. A good place to see that is in Cleveland, Ohio which I happen to be familiar with. In fact, if you fly low over most of our cities and villages you will get the impression that parts of them from the air look like forest cover. If they were managed properly, those trees could become part of our supply of wood.
Pennsylvania, according to the study, is 59% forested, about what it has been for the last several decades. This is the case for other states east of the Mississippi, and some in the west too. More…
In Gene Logsdon Blog on November 20, 2013 at 9:30 am
From GENE LOGSDON
You know we are in some kind of new era when the most intriguing information about farming comes from big city newspapers rather than farm magazines. Last week (Nov. 10), the Sunday Review section of the New York Times carried an article about how we are suffering from an “epidemic” of allergies and that relief just might be as close as your nearest barn reeking with manure and murky with hay dust, especially if you are drinking lots of raw milk at the same time.
You think I’m joking, don’t you?
The latest study backing up the healing effects of cow stables (there have been other studies in Europe) was inspired by a curious observation: Amish farmers in northern Indiana, spending much of their lives tending livestock in their barns, were remarkably free of allergies compared to urban populations. Mark Holbreich, an allergist in Indianapolis, investigated. About half of Americans have “evidence of allergic sensitization” but he found through testing that only 7% of Amish children on working farms were so sensitized. Amazing grace.
Having spent more of my lifetime in barns than in bathrooms I provide evidence of this theory. The only thing I know for sure that I’m allergic to is the TV reality show. By spending so much time stomping around in manury cow barns and dusty hay mows, and drinking lots of raw milk (easily a gallon a day in my twenties), I gained a life free of allergic distress. More…
In Gene Logsdon Blog on November 13, 2013 at 6:49 am
From GENE LOGSDON
After years of hearing how great grains are for health and how awful red meat is, I see that the diet mythologists are busy discovering and deciphering a new Dead Sea Scrolls of holy food. Grain is a culprit now, sending us to early graves. Two popular recent books proclaim the gluten-free road to immortality: Wheat Belly and Grain Brain. Both suggest that we are eating too many carbohydrates— too much bread, pasta, and potatoes. What flabbergasted me was the advice in Grain Brain: eat more high fat foods like meat and less grain. The brain needs more cholesterol and fewer carbohydrates.
If so, why am I not a genius? I have been eating a diet high in fats for 80 years now. Evidently the only reason my brilliance doesn’t rise to the surface for all to appreciate is because I cancelled out the good effects of butter and meat with tons of high-carbohydrate potatoes, pasta and bread. The only thing that saved me from sinking into total insanity was that I drenched the carbohydrates in gallons of greasy fat meat gravy.
But I should not make fun of these anti-grain books. I know of a guy who overdosed on bread and it wasn’t funny. In our boarding school cafeteria, we could always get second, third, and fourth helpings of white bread after we gulped down the main meal. We always thought we were close to starvation and so we filled up on Wonder bread. If a teacher pointed out the possible dangers of hogging down all that dough, our answer was “better bread than dead.” One of the guys began stowing away half a loaf or more for dessert after every meal, smearing the slices with jelly or when that ran out, with mustard or ketchup which were also always available for some reason known only to the gods of boarding schools. Finally the dough balled up in his stomach so badly that he ended up in the hospital. Wonders of Wonder, he lived to be 80. More…
In Gene Logsdon Blog on November 6, 2013 at 7:29 am
From GENE LOGSDON
I husked out my little patch of open-pollinated corn last week. It was something of a disappointment because the deer ate about half of it. But perhaps I should be grateful. I planted it so late (June 6) it is a wonder I got any. Frost did not come until Oct. 24 and many of the trees in the woods were still beautifully gold and green going into November.
But I noticed something mysterious while husking that made it all worthwhile. In the little field next to the corn plot, barnyard millet, or barnyard grass, or Japanese millet or whatever the dratted stuff is called (livestock won’t graze it except when it is very young) is growing in strips in the grass and clover pasture. It is easy to see the strips because the millet is brown and the other grass and clover still very green. I surely never planted it. It finally dawned on me that the strips of millet were growing where I had planted corn in strips in that field seven years ago.
How could cultivation that long ago still be influencing what is growing there now? Beats me. That field has almost always been pasture or hay, except for those strips of corn so long ago. Earlier I had grown corn and oats there once or twice— about 20 years ago. In other adjacent fields, the barnyard grass grows all over. So what is going on here?
One deduction seems obvious. The effects of disturbing the soil are more profound and long-lasting than I had imagined. Perhaps Andre Voisin, the eminent pasture scientist, was right when he wrote that once land is plowed, it takes a hundred years for it to gain back its original natural equilibrium of soil life.
Another possibility, which I have a hard time believing, is that the field has had these strips of barnyard grass growing where the corn was planted every year since then and I just didn’t notice. This year, because we made hay twice from the plot, the barnyard grass shows up better. But even if that is true, why hasn’t the grass advanced more out into the ground between the strips? More…
In Gene Logsdon Blog on October 30, 2013 at 9:39 am
From GENE LOGSDON
Is that what’s happening? I kind of think so, in food production anyway. Yes, the vast bulk of our industrial food comes out of large scale factory farming, but electronics surely seems to be leading the way toward something else. The backyard, local food revolution is actually only part of a larger evolution in the way society is reshaping itself. (I just read, in the NYTimes of all places, that there are now businesses that will take care of your backyard chickens while you go on vacation!!!) I see it both in the farming world and in the art world because those are the two areas I know a little about. In the very same way that a small business can start up way out in the boonies growing special heirloom grains and selling them online worldwide is a reflection of what has been happening in the art world. There must be a zillion musicians now who are writing their own songs, putting their music on disks at home with their own sophisticated electronic recorders and sound mixers and then selling their surprisingly professional and sophisticated work on the Internet. One of them lives and works in the woods right here in my neighborhood. He probably won’t make any money, but he does have an audience. The miracle of the Internet is that I can write his name here, Nick Barnes, and I bet you can find him online. Multiply him by several million and what you are looking at is musical production that does not depend on the big centralized Nashville music center for its existence and which in aggregate, whether profitable or not, competes with Nashville. I think (maybe just wishful thinking) that this can eventually be an economic force as well as a cultural force to be reckoned with.
I have several close friends who are professional artists, Karl Kuerner in Pennsylvania and Pat Gamby just down the road. Although both of these artists have their studios on their farms, their work can be looked at online from anywhere in the world. It is just bound to mean a renaissance in local art on the way. More…
In Gene Logsdon Blog on October 23, 2013 at 1:09 pm
From GENE LOGSDON
Those words come not from anti-Monsanto sources looking for excuses to discredit chemical weed killers, but from Big Farming itself. More and more weeds are becoming immune to glyphosate (Roundup) and the chemical companies are moving forward as fast as they can to find new genes they can stack in corn and soybeans to make them immune to other weed killers, especially 2, 4-D to which weeds have not built up much resistance in over 60 years.
At the risk of underestimating readers, I really doubt that the public at large understands how absolutely essential herbicides are to large acreage agriculture. Very large farms just could not exist without them. At least at present, there is no mechanical way to control weeds on that scale. It was hard enough controlling them with cultivation when farms were small. Even then weed cultivation was only effective if hay and pasture crops were rotated with the grains. To control weeds with machines on large farms would mean leaving a third or so of the land out of grain production every year. It would mean hiring people with hoes to walk the corn and bean rows like I did as a boy to get rid of the weeds that neither cultivation nor crop rotation kept at bay.
Are you thinking the same thing I’m thinking? “Going back” to cultivation, legume rotations, and millions more smaller farms with family members and hired help to control weeds sounds like a good idea to me. Walking bean rows with a hoe is not brutalizing unless done in excess. (It is almost fun if there is a chance of finding Indian arrowheads as you walk along.) Is there any way to dispute the conclusion that the benefits to the labor force, the environment and democracy would be enormous? If the change came gradually, as it would certainly come, even the wealthy landowners would not suffer as they sold off chunks of their estates at prices higher than they paid for them. More…
In Gene Logsdon Blog on October 16, 2013 at 11:37 am
From GENE LOGSDON
I sort of saw this coming and I sort of did not see it coming and now that it is here I’m not quite sure it really is. (I originally wrote that sentence to make fun of the crop reporters who get paid big money for supplying the gamblers on the Chicago Board of Trade with price forecasting gobbledegook.) When backyard chickens again became a cultural fact in America, anyone with a farm background could have predicted that chicken manure would become a cultural fact too. But not too many people in the digitalized present realize that having one’s own eggs for breakfast means dealing with the other stuff that comes out of the chicken very near to where the eggs come out. Straw bedding, the classic solution to that reality, is as foreign to the modern mind as thatched roofs. And so I sent my book, Holy Shit, galloping to the rescue.
But then…well, the most foreseeable fact about the future is that something unforeseeable is about to happen. Suddenly straw became almost as pricey as thatch. Farmers, at least in this part of the cornbelt, decided that growing oats and wheat, with straw as a byproduct, was no longer profitable. I will not try to bore you with the numbers they use to reach that conclusion because the truth is that they mostly quit growing these grains because a neighbor did. He or she must know something, the others figure, and so one by one they all quit. I have a close farmer acquaintance who is very successful and the other farmers watch him like a hawk. If he would decide to plant sugarcane here in northern Ohio, the next year the county will be full of sugarcane.
Now the wheat price is starting to strengthen because so many farmers quit growing it, so I imagine next year everyone will plant the stuff again. But I will save that for another column. Right now, the price of wheat straw is going through the un-thatched roof and about the only people who plant oats are the Amish who use the straw for their own cow and horse bedding. More…
In Gene Logsdon Blog on October 9, 2013 at 10:10 am
From GENE LOGSDON
Because I am too lazy to keep a daybook, I’m not exactly sure where our mystery pear came from. I used to be in the habit of carrying all kinds of unusual tree seeds around in my pockets or stash little jars of them in the refrigerator (which gained me no points with the missus) or toss loose handfuls in the glove compartment of the car. I had joined the North American Fruit Explorers (NAFEX) in my wild oats sowing days (sowing wild trees in my case) whose members taught me the fun of keeping an eye out for odd or unusual trees and other plants and starting them from seeds or grafts on my own place. Seeds were a whole lot easier. It was one way to get an orchard without spending any money, but of course the drawback was waiting several years for the tree to bear and then finding the fruit wasn’t as good as from a tree bought at a nursery. Seedling trees don’t always bear fruit true to the parent. But the very chanciness of the situation is what increases the fun of it. Sometimes seedlings bear better than the parent.
Anyway I was in the habit of planting odd tree seeds in the corners of my cold frame just to see if they would germinate. I especially was intent on getting some cherry seedlings started since I had noticed down the road that “wild” cherry seedlings were growing up in a fence row near an old tame cherry tree and were making fairly good fruit. But I planted other seeds in the cold frame too, very carelessly, always believing I would remember and almost always forgetting. More…
In Gene Logsdon Blog on October 2, 2013 at 4:35 am
From GENE LOGSDON
I have started bringing in the stove wood for the coming winter, ranking it around the garage walls where I can get to it handily when the snowdrifts come. It is early for thinking winter but I know from experience that if I don’t start in October when time and weather permit, I won’t get finished before the snow flies. As I unload the truck, I amuse myself by singing the old hymn, “Bringing In The Sheaves,” substituting “wood” for “sheaves.” “Bringing in the wood/ bringing in the wood/ we shall come rejoicing/ bringing in the wood.” There is some joy in both jobs since both achieve security from the winter cold. (Carol, as a child, thought the words of that hymn were “bringing in the sheeps.” “Sheeps” she understood; sheaves was not a word heard on American farms in our day.)
But while there is comfort in knowing that even if the electricity goes off, or especially if the electricity goes off, the ricked wood in the garage will keep us warm and snug, a troubling thought always haunts my brain as I “come rejoicing.” We humans are the only animals here in the wintery north that need artificial heat to survive. Do we really belong here? It is hard to deny that we are presently burning up the earth to stay warm. Perhaps the ultimate force of destruction that will strike down the earth is the intelligence that enables us to use fire to stay alive in winter.
What if we are supposed to stay in warmer climes? Maybe global warming will be the way we will survive. If the whole earth never got below freezing, we would not have to burn it up to stay alive.
The coming of winter fills us all with uneasy foreboding, although we don’t always realize it. In the news recently were new statistics that indicate stock market plunges occur more frequently in October More…