The fact that people of gentle humor and wisdom comment on my blog posts has been the most pleasant and illuminating experience of my life. Bless all of you. ~Gene
“Walk with me over our little farm where biological diversity is our first order of business,” writes contrary farmer Gene Logsdon. “On this farm lives a human family along with several families of corn, oats, wheat, orchard trees, grasses, legumes, berries, and garden vegetables, the whole domestic tribe living in a sort of hostile harmony with the wild food chain: animals, insects, and plants in such diversity that I have not been able to name them all. On our little farm, I have identified 130 species of birds, 40 species of wild animals (not counting coonhunters), over 50 species of wildflowers, at least 45 tree species, a myriad of gorgeous butterflies, moths, spiders, beetles, etc., and about 593,455,780 weeds.”
“Contrary farmers are those who have another job or career and look to their home pursuits as a form of enjoyment that at the same time provides good food and meaningful work. On many days a contrary farm requires nothing more than sitting at the breakfast table or reclining in a hammock while watching animals graze. And what the contrary farmer is learning, from the hammock, he or she may someday turn into a commercial farming venture.”
Gene and Carol Logsdon have a small-scale experimental farm in Wyandot County, Ohio. Gene is the author of numerous books and magazine articles on farm-related issues, and believes sustainable pastoral farming is the solution for our stressed agricultural system.
“Cutting down a large tree should be an act charged with ritual.” Why? Farming columnist Logsdon points to the tree’s “wonderful accomplishment” and to its “feat of survival” as models for ourselves. Then he goes on to discuss ways of felling trees that have come to the end of their lives and can therefore spare their wood for fuel.
This collection of essays recommends cottage farming–the small-scale, part-time growing that aims to reduce food expenses and increase pleasure in living–in a tone that combines even-handed pragmatism, idealism (“Measure the value of products in human terms,” he urges) and impatient realism (“Let those who put their faith in fancy threads laugh at your jeans”).
The author rejects “institutionalized claptrap” for the greater benefits of rural independence and freedom, and outlines ways we can pursue these. “Flee the evils that centralized power always generates,” he advises, calling himself an investor in “the tools that make sweat more productive.” Logsdon raises a sanely unruly voice in a society where life too often only seems civilized. His correctives are not easily applied, but their promise and appeal (like his own) are powerful.
Common sense and just the right amount of folksy humor make this treatise on feces a pleasure to read whether or not you’ve ever knowingly come within 50 miles of a compost heap. Logsdon writes for a wide scope: how to recognize a manure spreader for those who don’t know; the finer points of old-fashioned pitchfork tines, for readers who actually use them.
In addition to lots of clear DIY instructions for utilizing waste, Logsdon, a blogging farmer in Ohio, draws from his boyhood experience during the days of the privy, his Amish neighbors, and his understanding of how ancient China saw agricultural productivity rates the likes of which we’ve never had in the U.S.
Ultimately, the real coup here is that this book overcomes the yuck factor and illustrates how, as with many things American, we’ve taken a natural, healthy, efficient system and replaced it with something expensive, toxic, and marketable – in this case, chemical fertilizers. As food locavores gain visibility and popularity, so too should the rear end of sustainable farming practices.
Logsdon lays out clearly just how easy it can be to grow grains for your family and your livestock, from his beloved “pancake patch” up to acre-sized plots. Interspersed with good-humored vintage anecdotes and his usual Contrary Farmer commentary, this primer elevates the status of grain-growing on farms of all sizes (from the backyard on up) to a happy essential.
As he states repeatedly, there’s nothing so delicious — or so economical — as home-baked goods made with fresh grains you grew and milled yourself. And when those same home-grown grains can also feed your animals and build soil fertility… well, what’s stopping you?
Logsdon’s book covers all of the well-known grains and several of the lesser ones: barley, buckwheat, corn, millet, oats, rice, spelt, sorghum, triticale, wheat, and others. He also devotes a chapter to soybeans and dried beans, despite their classification as legumes, because they partner so well with grains both in growing and in eating. For at least the major grains he discusses varieties, yields, nutritional value, and uses (both for human and animal consumption as well as other farm uses).
He describes how to prepare the soil, how to plant the grain seeds (including optimal space requirements), what diseases and pests to watch for and how to deal with them, how to harvest and dry the grains, how to store them, and, finally, how to turn those seeds into food for your family.
Drawing on his personal experience growing almost all of the major grains, Logsdon describes “how we do it” even when it contrasts with conventional wisdom. He touts the value of open-pollinated seed, despite advances in hybrids, because of their superior taste and the satisfaction of not being beholden to agribusiness. He also demonstrates that old hand tools and techniques can sometimes be the most efficient when growing on a small scale. For example, though corn may be harvested by machine, he outlines how to bundle corn stalks into shocks for easy, inexpensive drying and storage (and aesthetic value).
He claims to keep a basket full of old socks to slip over ripening ears of corn to prevent wild animals from dining on his crops. (I’d like to see that!) And for his money, the best weed control — the one to which pests never develop resistance — is the hoe.
As author Gene Logsdon puts it, “We are all tree huggers.” But not just for sentimental or even environmental reasons. Humans have always depended on trees for our food, shelter, livelihood, and safety. In many ways, despite the Grimm’s fairy-tale version of the dark, menacing forest, most people still hold a deep cultural love of woodland settings, and feel right at home in the woods.
In this latest book, A Sanctuary of Trees, Logsdon offers a loving tribute to the woods, tracing the roots of his own home groves in Ohio back to the Native Americans and revealing his own history and experiences living in many locations, each of which was different, yet inextricably linked with trees and the natural world. Whether as an adolescent studying at a seminary or as a journalist living just outside Philadelphia’s city limits, Gene has always lived and worked close to the woods, and his curiosity and keen sense of observation have taught him valuable lessons about a wide variety of trees: their distinct characteristics and the multiple benefits and uses they have.
In addition to imparting many fascinating practical details of woods wisdom, A Sanctuary of Trees is infused with a philosophy and descriptive lyricism that is born from the author’s passionate and lifelong relationship with nature: There is a point at which the tree shudders before it begins its descent. Then slowly it tips, picks up speed, often with a kind of wailing death cry from rending wood fibers, and hits the ground with a whump that literally shakes the earth underfoot. The air, in the aftermath, seems to shimmy and shiver, as if saturated with static electricity. Then follows an eerie silence, the absolute end to a very long life.
Fitting squarely into the long and proud tradition of American nature writing, A Sanctuary of Trees also reflects Gene Logsdon’s unique personality and perspective, which have marked him over the course of his two dozen previous books as the authentic voice of rural life and traditions.
Logsdon brings his gentle iconoclasm to the case against the grain feeding of livestock in favor of pasture farming. His arguments against grain feeding: the too-heavy investment in machinery for sowing and harvesting of grain, the need for pesticides to protect monocultural grain crops, the environmental costs required to haul grain to livestock farmers, storage costs, the need to dispose of manure from livestock feedlots, and the steep labor costs to manage all of this.
His arguments for pasturing: “The animals do the harvesting, apply their manure for fertilizer, and eat most of the weeds.” As it has for years, Logsdon’s conversational style makes his material immediately appealing, but there is also solid advice on how to pasture various kinds of livestock (cattle, sheep, goats, hogs, horses, mules, donkeys, chickens, ducks, geese, and turkeys), how to rotate grass crops, which grasses work best, how to water livestock, how to incorporate some grains into the animals’ diets, and which fences make for the best neighbors. A deceptively important book for the working, the would-be, and the armchair farmer alike. ~ This book is a must read/own for anyone considering grass farming (pasture based livestock). In the book he discusses:
How to set up a rotation of pastures Which plants he prefers and ones that will do well in other climates How to graze the pastures What problems specific pastures (plant type) might pose to livestock How to cut pastures for hay and silage How to seed pastures with the minimum of equipment How to divide permanent pastures and temporary pastures (used for gardens, hay making, growing grains, etc.) How to build and maintain fences Stocking rates for animals (though this varies by region and quality of the soil) What plants to avoid in your pastures Which trees are good on pastures Good and Bad weeds for grazing How to make a haystack How to build a reserve of plant material for winter grazing How to approach year round grazing with minimal hay or grain feed And most importantly how to let the animals do most of the work
This book is aimed more at a garden farmer who is trying to maximize self sufficiency than the production minded market/commercial farmer. For commercial farmers who are willing to sacrifice some of the quantity for quality, then this book will work for you too. Most of the discussion is framed around farms in the 5-50 acre range. It is still helpful for those who will have less land for a few animals and is also scalable for farms in the 50-500 acre range. Gene is not anti grain, he just believes in planting it with other crops like clover and letting the animals harvest and feed it to them selves. Instead of 90% grain and 10% pasture he advocates for 80% pasture and 20% grain. Though on his farm he only dedicates about 10% to corn in one of his temporary pastures. This corn he recommends sheep graze first, then hogs, and finally dry cows and draft animals.
What is not covered, and for good reason, is how many animals to stock on how much land for how long in a rotational grazing system. The reason is it will be different for every farm. Depending on what mix of animals you have, the quality of the soil, how much rain, what plant types and which species of those plants is how you need to base those decisions. That can only be done by the eye of the farmer and knowledge gained from years of experience. For this reason he suggests that someone who wants to get into commercial pastured meat products first start with a small farm and learn the technique, before investing lots of money and learning the hard way.
This book is good for a laugh and knowledge for beginners, as well as a reference to other books and publications on pasture based farming.
Vinal County, Ohio is a place where corn is king and soybeans are a distant cousin. The spires of regal Catholic churches rise out of the farm landscape and are living testimony to the faith of God-fearing farm families who lived here without change for generations. Then, one day the higher-ups in Rome decide to shut down these churches and make way for some good old-fashioned 21st century style efficiency. A mini-revolution occurs within the churchyard and the locks on the venerable church door is shattered, leaving it swinging in the wind, and the sanctuary open to all.
A cast of zany characters emerge: from Mary Barnette who dubs herself Pope, to the horse-riding, sheep-tending priest Fr. Ray, to a greedy parish priest who tries to cash in on the ethanol boom, to a group of Catholic royalists calling themselves the Defenders of the Door.
The original contrary farmer himself ruminates on the nature of religion and belief in this barnstormer of a book. Razor sharp satire, flawless characterization, telling dialogue, and formidable comic situations make this third novel by veteran farm and nature writer Logsdon a must-read.
See also Gene’s blog post: Trying to Make Sense Out of the Last Supper
Gene Logsdon looks to his own roots in Ohio farming life to depict the personal triumphs and tragedies, clashes and compromises, and abiding human character of American farming families and communities.
From the Great Depression, when farmers tilled the fields with plow horses, to the corporate farms and government subsidy programs of the present, this novel presents the complex transformation of a livelihood and of a way of life.
Two friends, one rich by local standards, and the other of more modest means, grow to manhood in a lifelong contest of will and character. In response to many of the same circumstances—war, love, moonshining, the Klan, weather, the economy—their different approaches and solutions to dealing with their situations put them at odds with each other, but we are left with a deeper understanding of the world that they have inherited and have chosen.
Part morality play and part personal recollection, The Last of the Husbandmen is both a lighthearted look at the past and a profound statement about the present state of farming life. It is also a novel that captures the spirit of those who have chosen to work the land they love.
When Gene Logsdon realized that he experienced the same creative joy from farming as he did from writing, he suspected that agriculture itself was a form of art. Thus began his search for the origins of the artistic impulse in the agrarian lifestyle. The Mother of All Arts is the culmination of Logsdon’s journey, his account of friendships with farmers and artists driven by the urge to create.
He chronicles his long relationship with Wendell Berry and discovers the playful humor of several new agrarian writers. He reveals insights gleaned from conversations with Andrew Wyeth and his family of artists. Through his association with musicians such as Willie Nelson and his involvement with Farm Aid, Logsdon learns how music — blues, jazz, country, and even rock ‘n’ roll — is also rooted in agriculture.
Logsdon sheds new light on the work of rural painters, writers, and musicians and suggests that their art could be created only by those who work intimately with the land. Unlike the gritty realism or abstract expressionism often favored by contemporary critics, agrarian art evokes familiar feelings of community and comfort. Most important, Logsdon convincingly demonstrates that diminishing the connection between art and nature lessens the social and aesthetic value of both. The Mother of All Arts explores these cultural connections and traces the development of a new agrarian culture that Logsdon believes will eventually replace the model brought about by the industrial revolution.
Humorous and introspective, the book is neither conventional cultural criticism nor traditional art criticism. It is a unique, lively meditation on the nature and purpose of art — and on the life well-lived — by one of the truly original voices of rural America.
This is a brilliantly comic novel set in mid-20th century America. Logsdon tells the story of a time and place long gone, of eccentric characters and old-time religion. The setting is rural Minnesota in the early 1950s, where a group of seminarians make their way to Ascension Seminary in Shakopee to complete their education as Oblates of St Joseph. The young men question everything about the lives they lead studying for the priesthood.
The protagonist, Blaise, changes the spelling of his name to Blaze, and he and his friends, Gabe and Fen, lead a band of brothers who come to be known as “the most troublesome class in seminary history.” They pillage the storage area of the seminary, spend the summer doing grueling farm work instead of studying their breviaries, assist a local bootlegger in brewing moonshine whiskey, and take possession of rifles and shotguns that were previously confiscated from Josephian priests who had passed away. “They rarely shot at anything and when they did they missed,” writes Logsdon. One exasperated friar dubs them “the Sonuvabitchin’ Davy Crockett Boys.” Of course, they love it and the name sticks. But underneath the mayhem and merriment that the SBDC boys cultivate, lies a darker world of doubt and bewilderment about sex and sanity. What should they really be doing with their lives, they ask each other nervously. It is the resolution of that question–that is, who the hell is sane in this crazy world?–that brings their adventures to a surprising and triumphant conclusion.
This novel was inspired by Logsdon’s ten years as a seminarian. As we follow the lively adventures of the SBDC Boys, we encounter a rogue’s gallery of colorful characters and religious situations. Logsdon has cobbled together a rollicking narrative that is reminiscent of such American originals as Kurt Vonnegut and Joseph Heller.
Customer review: Gene Logsdon makes his first appearance as a book-length novelist in The Lords of Folly. A longtime writer of how-to-do-it books and essays on the pratfalls of modern agriculture, Logsdon is an experienced writer. I wondered, though, how successfully he would make the leap to the very different kind of writing practiced by the novelist.
The plot is well summarized above. There is more than a little autobiography in the novel, as any reader of Logsdon’s 1998 memoir, You Can Go Home Again, can attest. He borrows themes and arguments from that book, but this novel is not merely reheated leftovers. If one way of judging the success of a novel, even a comic novel, is that you care about the characters by the end, Logsdon has certainly accomplished this.
Some Catholics will wince at several of the characters’ thoughts and activities. But only the most hidebound dogmatists will miss the fact that criticism, even of churches, is often worth scrutiny, even if it is finally rejected. That is how change for the better is accomplished.
But one must judge a novel as to whether it is a good story. If humorous situations, plot twists, suspense, and the occasional bellylaugh, make a good story, The Lords of Folly satisfies on all accounts.
“In this charming collection, Logsdon explores the beauty and depths of the farm pond, how it can become the center of the universe for the social fabric of a family, providing recreation and a spot for reflection, and how it can become the center of the universe for sustainable agriculture, providing food, solar energy, and waste treatment.”–Mary Swander, author of Out of This World
“Although a studious naturalist, Logsdon writes with a breezy simplicity that complements his book’s humor, spicy characters, and unceasing wonder over the innumerable ways in which ponds and the lives bound up with them can inspire us to question ourselves, consider our ethics, and care more deeply for our world. His light but expert touch is frankly refreshing in overturning theories of pond management that don’t work in practice. The Pond Lovers is a disarming book.”–Amy Blackmarr, author of Going to Ground: Simple Life on a Georgia Pond
“With a naturalist’s eye for ecological balance and an old farmer’s practical instinct for how to maintain it, he leads readers on a word-built tour of these ‘biological magnets’ . . . Some passages build images that match the best in nature writing . . . This is an enjoyable book both for those who actually live in pond country, and for anyone who has ever dreamed of going back to the land.”–ForeWord Magazine
“Thinking about putting in a pond? Read this book and you’ll be digging in your yard tomorrow. Too hot or cold or rainy to be outside by your pond? Spend some time with Logsdon, and you’ll feel like you’re right next to your pond. Discouraged about pond keeping? Open the pages of Pond Lovers, and you’ll remember when (and why) you first fell in love with your pond.”–Karyn Venhuizen, Water Gardening
“Logsdon has a knack for simple, direct storytelling. His prose is clear, more conversational than didactic, and his knowledge of and love for his subject are readily apparent. Consequently, The Pond Lovers will appeal to a wide range of people, from experienced pond managers to novice DIYers about to embark on their first water installations. More than that, this is a book that will appeal to people who want to spend some time with a Renaissance man and his friends, because they know they will come away enriched by the experience. –Tom Howard, Ohioana Quarterly
Wyeth People is the story of one writer’s search for the meaning of artistic creativity, approached from personal contact with the work of one of the world’s great artists, Andrew Wyeth. In the 1960s, just beginning his career as a writer, Gene Logsdon read a magazine article about Andrew Wyeth in which the artist commented at length on his own creative impulse. What he said seemed so true and right and so directly applicable to writing as well as to painting that the young writer was transfixed. He was resolved to talk to Andrew Wyeth, even though warned that the artist could be as elusive as a wild rabbit. Not quite by accident, the writer and the painter met in a roadside diner, and what happened from then on is what Wyeth People is about—an effort to explain a famous artist, his work, and the people who love it, by an intrigued outsider.
Wyeth People is the result of Gene Logsdon’s search to find the colorful people Wyeth painted and to interview them. Originally published in 1969, Wyeth People describes how the author solved the mystery of the creative impulse, at least to his own satisfaction. It is reprinted here in paperback for the first time. As Logsdon writes: “The story of my search for why I (and millions of other people) find Wyeth’s art among the greatest that human culture has produced, is ongoing. I may never fully end my quest. But this I know. I was lucky enough to have participated in some small way in the cultural process by which an artist and his work became a classic part of American tradition.”
Customer Review: While this book is not full of critical analysis of his paintings, nor a biography and does not include page after page of color prints we’ve all seen before, it certainly makes Wyeth’s work more real and personal. This book is rather groundbreaking in that it examines Wyeth through his subjects. Logsdon spent quite a bit of time in both Pennsylvania and Maine interviewing friends, relatives, acquaintances, and anyone with a connection to Wyeth. One gets an inside look at the characters Wyeth portrayed in The Patriot, The Drifter, and many other portraits. This is a treasure-trove of information saved for posterity, as many of Wyeth’s subjects have passed. Truly, one cannot begin to speculate on the master’s work before reading this book and understanding who he paints. This well-written, quick book is for any who could brand themselves a member of “Wyeth People.”
Customer Review: This is such a small little book to have inspired me so much. Logsdon writes even better than is usual for him. You can almost feel his own sickness as he surveys the disemboweled hills and sallow culture of a strip-mining community – smell the richness of earth and pasture as he turns down a gravel drive – and feel hope sprout where death had come.
The photos are perfect. The parable is immensely moving. Is it all true? I don’t know, but it ought to be. It moved me to make it true in my little corner of paradise lost.
The Man Who Created Paradise is available directly from the publisher Ohio University Press
…and from Amazon: The Man Who Created Paradise: A Fable (2001)
Logsdon is a farm writer and keen observer of the trends in American agriculture. In this collection of essays, written over a 12-year period (1980-92), he identifies the factors responsible for the decline of American agriculture and the demise of rural communities. Using his native Ohio as an example, he holds farmers, land grant colleges, farm organizations, and government officials accountable for sacrificing the long-term good in favor of short-term gains by operating farms that are labor- and chemical-intensive and economically and environmentally unsound.
He predicts a rebirth of small-scale, profitable farms around the country using sustainable practices that will change the nation’s attitudes concerning agriculture. Logsdon spent time observing an Amish community and was impressed by their formula for survival–a mixture of self-sufficiency, sustainable farming business acumen, and family life. Recommended for all readers who long for a return to traditional farming practices.
Customer Review: Gene Logsdon, The Contrary Farmer, is that rare prolific writer who continues to delight me with the breadth of his subject knowledge. He knows modern American farm life as it really is, not only its hard-wrought joy but its deep, dark underbelly. Here he exposes the sad facts of crop subsidies and their effect on people who before political propaganda and intervention had the common sense to farm on a family scale and enjoyed the satisfaction that derived therefrom. Tractors that cost more than a farm should cost. Soil death by toxic chemicals and erosion. The criminal collusion (my words, not Logsdon’s) of land grant agriculture colleges, equipment companies, chemical companies and politicians. The stupidity of laws that put Amish minister Henry Hershberger in jail for building a superior house but without a permit because of his religious beliefs.
Logsdon also shows what works. The Kemp farm of Jerusalem, Ohio, with only 140 acres but a carefully built herd of cows whose pedigree commands value nationwide. A Berkeley, California, “farm” of one-third acre that grosses more than $300,000. The Amish farmers, whose success embarrasses agribusiness practitioners. Logsdon cares about people and nature. He is mad as hell and speaks plainly. He also has vision. “If we want to remake an agriculture that is technically correct for sustainability, we must make sure it is also culturally correct, or the effort will not succeed.”
Here we go. Gene The Contrary Farmer Logsdon has taken on some controversial subjects in his time, but this time he has bitten off (“sipped on” doesn’t sound right) a topic bound to raise strong feelings on both sides of society’s moral boundary lines. His subject is alcohol and its traditional role on the family homestead. Not surprisingly, Gene speaks the bare-naked truth, and finds a lot more good than bad to say about booze.
Alcohol has historically played a significant role in agricultural life. In colonial times it was the most “liquid” alternative to hard currency as a means of exchange. Alcohol was the most reliable, safest, and most convenient way to store the grain harvest, and was an integral commodity on nearly every farmstead. Because it was so valued–does this surprise us?–the government muscled in, looking for its own piece of the action. George Washington was the first of many politicians to regulate alcohol as a means to generate revenues and gain political control.
Good Spirits is a rare and brave revisionist view of history. Logsdon is a master at exposing the absurdity of the commonplace. Does it really make sense that the government can make it illegal for us to combine common substances (grain, water, and yeast) on our own property? Can it be true that every war effort in the nation’s history has been fueled literally and figuratively by alcohol and the tax revenues it produces? Why must the farmer fund the government that oppresses him?
In between good-natured tirades, Logsdon makes sure the reader learns some valuable lessons. He tells us how to make beer; he teaches the rudiments of distilling; he interviews Booker Noe (patron of America’s First Family of bourbon) to tell us how to sip and tell; and he adds lively tales from alcohol’s quasi-legitimate past. This is vintage Contrary Farmer: 100-proof, single-barrel select. Good Spirits is outrageous, entertaining, enlightening, and an eye-poppingly interesting, natural and holistic look at the role of alcohol. You will savor this book like a snifter of Calvados, the double-distilled apple brandy of Normandy that evaporates on the tongue like a heavenly ambrosia. Heady stuff, but delicious when consumed in moderation.
Customer Review: Good Spirits by Gene Logsdon is a light, easy read, suitable for reading on rainy summer days while swinging on the front porch swing. Best served with cold wine coolers, inexpensive California Chablis, home-made beer and/or gin-&-lemonade.
Gene Logsdon writes, “On the subject of alcohol, hypocrisy is the standard-bearer of public opinion in America…..More evil is done in the name of good than in any other fashion, because the goal of persuading people to act morally invites the idea that the end justifies the means.” Lest there be any doubt, Gene Logsdon is strongly against the stigma attached to the (moderate) consumption and production of alcohol.
Logsdon is a good story teller. The first chapter is an unsanitized version of American history that illustrates the origins of our schizophrenic policy on alcohol. The remaining 11 chapters are a mix of three fictionalized “true-life” stories and eight how-to manuals.
Finally, this is not a hard core how-to book. Reading this book will not prepare you to run Seagram’s out of business. However, it might give you the gumption to sneak a few jugs of cider into the garage when your wife isn’t looking….for scientific experimentation, that is.
Logsdon–the contrary farmer, as one of his earlier (1994) books’ title styles him–offers warmth and insight in his autobiography. He describes the pressures that compelled him to leave the Ohio farm of his childhood for seminary training and the epiphany that propelled him back to secular life to pursue the dream of returning to the lifestyle of his childhood. He discusses the slow death of the agrarian lifestyle at the hands of agribusiness and clearly delineates the economic and political forces destroying small farming in America. But he doesn’t just talk. For years he has lived the contrary lifestyle he advocates, using ecologically informed farming techniques and the agricultural wisdom of his background on a sustainable, highly profitable 32-acre “garden farm” in the valley in which he grew up. And he provides not just a fascinating glimpse of a lifestyle that has nearly disappeared but also a blueprint for those who want to lead a similar way of life. The simpler life is within our reach–if we will choose it. Bonnie Johnston
Here s another voice in the down-to-earth American tradition that runs from Thoreau through Aldo Leopold to Wendell Berry. In this vigorous memoir of his search for the good life, Gene Logsdon tells us why America’s agrarian values matter to our future as well as to our past. Living simply, respecting the land, taking pleasure from the work of our hands, supplying many of our own needs, acting as neighbors those values have not been lost, they ve only been displaced, shoved to the margins. And Logsdon shows how we might draw them back to the center of our lives. –Scott Russell Sanders
Gene Logsdon demonstrates once again that a combination of intelligence, scholarship, passion, and fervent patriotism can equal only one characteristic these days, a contrary mind of a high order. –Wes Jackson, The Land Institute
Gene Logsdon has lived by failing according to most people s standards of success, and has made a good life. A good book, too. I like You Can Go Home Again (to name one reason of several) because it comes from experience. It has to do, not with speculation or theory or wishful thinking, but with what is possible. –Wendell Berry
His latest work is typical Logsdon, blending philosophy with practical advice from cover to cover. The author includes chapters on the economics (and pleasures) of gardening, as opposed to our present agribusiness, food-factory economy, which he sees as ultimately unsustainable. Other chapters treat mulching, grain gardening, water gardening, garden husbandry (raising chickens and other small animals in combination with gardening), and protecting the garden from destructive wildlife.
Readers will learn how to prepare coq au vin, pigeon broth, and sweet corn; when to harvest zucchini; how to read a seed company’s catalog; what kind of manure is best for making compost; and why chickens are good for peach trees. Recommended for public libraries and all libraries with alternative agriculture collections.
Customer Review: This is the second book of Logsdon’s that I have read, and I intend to read the rest of them. In many ways, he reminds me of the old farmers who would sit around the barber shop when I was kid. Mr. Logsdon has opinions on just about everything, and isn’t afraid to express them. One gets the distinct impression that he really won’t be too bothered by whether his readers are persuaded by his opinions or not.
Amidst his (admittedly spot on) diatribes about industrial farming, government meddling, and modern day prohibitionists he does manage to paint a lovely picture of the garden as the embodiment of the urge to simplicity and living close to the land. Further, he makes it clear that the reader can start whereever they already are, even if it means growing a few plants in a window box.
There is plenty of practical advice, but it is delivered anecdotally. There aren’t any pictures or diagrams, but he describes his compost heated seed starting bed so well that one doesn’t need a diagram. Likewise for what he calls mulch-bed gardening (basically lasagna gardening). The topics covered include the reason for gardening, vegetable gardening, small scale livestock husbandry (read: pet chickens, at least until they quit laying and end up in the stew pot), and aquatic gardening (ponds and such).
The key thing to keep in mind is that this book is an invitation to gardening, and not a primer or a manual. If you are looking for a how-to guide, this isn’t your best book. If you are wondering whether you might enjoy gardening, or if you are already a gardener and you need something to do between the first frost and the last frost, this is an excellent read.
Customer Review: The Contrary Farmer’s Invitation to Gardening by Gene Logsdon, my new favorite author. Reading what is written by Gene makes me feel like I’m listening to a grandfatherly character talk about his days on the farm. He is a remarkably good storyteller and can make even books about farming and gardening seem like a fun quick read. I have not read any of his novels yet, but I intend to as soon as I can get my hands on one. Our local library only has two of his books, I think he has written thirty or more, so I’ll buy them as I can. You can also read his blog post at [...] or Organictobe.org where his post from the first site are posted in conjunction with several other like minded authors.
The Contrary Farmer’s Invitation to Gardening is about gardening, but not in the same way that most books on gardening approach the subject. He discusses why we need to garden as a nation, not only to provide food for ourselves, but to break our dependance on industrial agriculture (which will eventually fail). Then he discusses his version of deep mulch gardening. He has animals so his approach is slightly different than Lasagna gardening, or gardening without work. He takes one of his pasture paddocks which has had years of manure added and mulches it in the fall, then plants it in the spring with successive plantings till winter. then the next summer he plants corn, his own open pollinated sweet corn, for people food and animal fodder (the whole plant ears, leaves, stalks, and all). Then he plants winter wheat which starts growing in the fall and comes back in the spring to make grain. In the spring he seeds clover in with the wheat. Then when the wheat ripens in early summer he cuts it, and the clover. This provides animal food and wheat for the kitchen or the chickens. After the cutting the clover grows back for either grazing or making clover hay.
He has both permanent pastures, the hilly uneven ground, and temporary pastures, the flat ground. The temporary pastures are for grazing, hay making, and gardening. The wheat leads into Flour gardens and Pancake patches. His discussion on how to grow all of your own grain. He has another book that goes into more detail, but I haven’t read it yet. The grain discussion leads to husbandry, chickens at a minimum. With animals he also discusses how to grow your own worm farm, either for money, fishing, or just to turn kitchen scraps into compost fast.
Now that you have a garden you need to protect it from wild critters that want to eat it as much as you do. This does not mean bugs, on a diversified deep mulch garden this isn’t a problem, it means wildlife. Did you know that in 1950 that farmers in the USA lost 7% of their crop to insects while only using 5 million pounds of pesticides. Now we use billions of pounds of pesticides and lose an average of 13% of our crops to insects. Then the conversation turns to water gardening, growing aquatic plants and fish to eat. And finally a great essay by him to close the book.
If you are tired of struggling to keep it neat like the neighbors, there are some good suggestions. All of which will help your house feel more in place on a farm or in a village than a subdivision.
The first half of the book, on construction practices, reads like a cross betweeen “long-term quality costs” and “here is a list of manufacturers with an interesting idea” but 17 years later I see very few of those ideas have taken the construction world by storm.
Seeing the low prices this book is being offered at, an average homebuyer may find it worth picking up because he does a “total cost over many years” comparison of many of the materials. It shouldn’t surprise anyone with an understanding of building materials that brick costs more to put up than a wood wall, but requires less maintenance in the future, but some of the other comparisons are more interesting.
Customer Review: If you want a book to help you through tough times cheaply, this is it! An emergency situation may cause books such as this one to be a life saver. Covers:
1. Maintaining & Repairing House Items
2. Home Comfort: Buying a Wood Stove; Getting the most heat from fireplaces; Running Water. The Hydrolic Ram.
3. Making and Making Do
4. Food Prep: Milk from the cow to the fridge; Homemade Butter, Butchering a chicken, Hog Butchering, Practical Wild Foods.
5. Yard & Garden: Things To Build & Maintain
A Practical Privy, Septic Tank principals, cistern, dry stone walls & fences, building Icehouse Coolers, A Wood heated fruit dryer (dehydrator) Garden Skills: Hoemanship, Low Cost Hothouse frame, Homemade bug fighters.
6. Around The Barn: Basic Construction & Livestock Tips.
7. On The Land: In The Fields: A Farm is a large garden OR a garden is a small farm. Tools for small Time gardens.
(NOTE: I just hit the “basics of this book.) I have used several of his ideas: One was how to keep a mile long gravel road from “washing” out using a gravel trench type drain with 2 railroad ties filled with loose rock.
I weigh 100 lbs. soaking wet, am a female, & can honestly say this book is high on my list for learning practical skills!
Gene Logsdon has found an imaginative way to introduce gardeners to a fuller enjoyment of nature — fauna as well as flora. From suburb to countryside, every gardener knows that there are many pests who delight in one’s precious creations — rabbits devour petunias, raccoons eat the almost ripe sweet corn, deer browse the morning glories, crows pull up young corn sprouts. How can gardeners and wildlife live together in harmony? Gene knows.
A work of literature as well as a “how to”… the advice is there, but it is presented through various characters who represent different points of view and levels of knowledge about nature — Smith, Brown, the Widow Lady, the Beekeeper, the Farmer, and the neighborhood itself, Gwynnedde Township. You’ll fall in love with these characters, with the Township, and with Gene Logsdon.
Reviews and Interviews