Gene Logsdon 1931 – 2016…

 

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From Filmers to Farmers

Yes, I’ve read the headlines, and once again – although perhaps a bit more so than previous iterations – the previous year (2016) was one for fawning over many-a-departed pop stars. David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, George Michael, and many others. Pop stars aren’t really my thing, but if that stuff floats your dinghy, well, all the best with that. In the meantime, 2016 was also the year that several luminaries with a more agrarian bent also bade their farewell, beginning with the co-founder of Permaculture, Bill Mollison. Just a couple of weeks ago one of Permaculture’s most respected and more recent practitioners and teachers, Toby Hemenway, also made an all-too-early departure. But along with these, 2016 also saw us lose an agrarian outside the world of Permaculture, that somebody being the aptly named Contrary Farmer, Gene Logsdon.

I’ll admit that I’m nowhere near as familiar with Logsdon’s writing as I am with others of the American Agrarian Crew (as I call them) – Wendell Berry, Wes Jackson, Gary Paul Nabhan, etc. – or what Logsdon referred to as “the five musketeers, a quintet of somewhat radical thinkers and doers coming together in opposition to the steady consolidation of farming into an international mega-agribusiness monopoly” – Berry, Jackson, Maurice Telleen, David Kline, and himself. Having gone through a heavy and prolonged dose of the aforementioned and other agrarian authors a few years ago, I’d somewhat overdosed on said writing and had to take a break from it all, just as I was getting to Logsdon. I did however read just enough – to go along with a bit of a recent nudge – that I’ve been able to realize that Logsdon left us all with a rich treasure trove of writing to discover.

The first of Logsdon’s writings that I (unsurprisingly?) read – and thoroughly enjoyed – was his book Good Spirits: A New Look at Ol’ Demon Alcohol, but it was then with (misplaced) disappointment that I soon thereafter discovered his book Gene Logsdon’s Practical Skills: A Revival of Forgotten Crafts, Techniques and Traditionsin a thrift shop. “Seriously?”, I asked myself. “Did Logsdon actually write one of those hokey ‘101 Ingenious Ways to Using Baking Soda’ type books?” I of course bought it anyways (I probably paid $2.50 for it), and after languishing on my book shelf for a couple of years I one day found myself with nothing to read and so pulled it out.

The Adventures of Uno the Chick

 

unoFrom Our Archives
GENE LOGSDON (1931 – 2016)
The Contrary Farmer

The odds were against Uno ever coming into existence. With the cost of chicks from hatcheries getting higher, we decided to try to get one of our hens to hatch the few chicks we needed every year to replenish our little flock. But the commercial breeds of chickens we were raising have had the hatching instinct all but bred out of them. Egg factories do not want hens that quit laying every year to hatch out a clutch of eggs as nature intended hens to do. So we started experimenting with old fashioned breeds that still carry the mothering instinct. We tried Plymouth Rocks, Rhode Island Reds and finally Buff Orphingtons but not with much luck. A hen might start to set on eggs, but grow disinterested before the 21-day hatching period was up. Or if I separated a setting hen and eggs away from the other hens to keep them from bothering her, she would get antsy for company and not stay on the nest.

But this Spring, Buffy, one of our Buff Orphingtons, finally got serious about hatching some eggs. She took over one of the three nests in the coop and would not budge off the eggs in it. Other hens squeezed in beside her and laid more eggs and Buffy appropriated them too. I thought about marking the first dozen eggs and taking out the rest, but I didn’t want to bother her and since we had more eggs than we needed anyway, I just let nature take her course, hit or miss. Eventually Buffy got so cross that the other hens went to the other nests to lay their eggs. By then there were 18 eggs under Buffy, laid over a period of a week or so. Obviously, not all of them were going to hatch at the same time if they hatched at all. How would Buffy handle that?

In the prescribed time, one of the eggs hatched. I knew when I discovered Buffy down on the floor of the coop guarding that one tiny chick from the other hens. How the chick got to the floor, three feet from the nest, I don’t know. The other eggs were in various stages of development, but Buffy was totally taken up with her one chick and no longer interested in them. Out of 18 eggs, one chick. So I named it Uno. Turned out it was a she.

Gems From The Lives Of Contrary Farmers

 

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From Our Archives August 2007
GENE LOGSDON (1931 – 2016)
The Contrary Farmer

A fellow contrary farmer, and also a shepherd in my neck of the woods, was having a problem. He found his flock ram dead in the lot behind the barn. Since long experience had convinced him that sheep love to die, he was not too upset but decided to worm the rest of the flock, just in case parasites were the cause. He and his equally contrary wife rounded up the sheep which were about half wild from being out all summer and tried to run them into the barn. No way. There is one thing more contrary than contrary farmers and that is contrary sheep. When they do not wish to go into the barn only a good Border Collie can change their mind and this farmer did not have one. For the better part of an hour he tried every trick known to mere humans to force them inside. Forget it. Beside himself with fury, his eye fell upon the dead ram in the lot. Suddenly an inspiration. He grabbed the carcass by the leg and dragged it into the barn. Sure enough, the sheep piled in behind him.

If you want to know why people who otherwise seem to be quite normal insist on trying to farm, that story gives an inkling. Wondrously strange things happen out here between the fence lines and the long rows of corn and you have to live here to experience them.

Another example: A very very contrary farm couple who operate a little market garden farm (Andy Reinhart and Jan Dawson) were hosting a guided tour of organic farmers from the Ohio Ecological Food and Farming Association (OEFFA). Would I like to come to their farm on tour day and sign my new book? Well, of course. We live not far away. That’s when Andy came up with this gem: “Do you want to sign books under the ash tree, the maple tree or the oak tree?”

Now I ask any writer in the whole world. Did you ever have a choice like that? I chose maple because it would have the thickest shade and go the longest in case of rain without dripping.