Can A Godless Farmer Be A Good Steward of the Soil?


There is a growing realization in organized religion that something is awry in our industrial food delivery system. Churches are actively urging their members to become more involved directly in local and family gardening and farming. This is great news for those of us who have been fighting this battle for a long time. Organized religion can be a very powerful force in getting society’s feet back on the ground (literally) and we welcome all the help we can get.

But I am not sure how this is going to turn out. Hardly a week goes by now that someone doesn’t send me a book about church involvement in food production or I am not invited by a member of the clergy or a professor at a Christian college to give a talk, which pleases me deeply. But it also causes me a problem. I hardly qualify as a Christian anymore. I don’t know what I am. Sometimes I lean toward Buddhism but then I read a little more in that direction and don’t much agree with that either. I sort of envy Christians and Muslims because they believe in something so fantastically wonderful as an eternal life of utter bliss. I’ve tried to believe. Just can’t. Sorry.  So anyway when I am asked to give a talk about farming at a private religious college or, horrors, in a church, I get nervous. If the inviters knew that I was a godless contrarian, would they really want me to speak? America is a place where “godless” suggests “sinner” or certainly not saint. So I retreat into hypocrisy, giving my talk while cagily hedging my words so that I do not sound too heretical or hypocritical.

Last week when a professor of religion at a private college wanted me to give a talk, I decided it was time to be honest. I told him he might not like what I would say especially about how religious institutions so often glorify rich industrial farmers who practice destructive farming but who give generously to the churches. I told him I was sort of a godless heathen. Did that bother him?

Here was his reply, verbatim: “I am not offended one bit by the approach you are outlining in your email. I am more offended by the vast majority of religious folk who are gleefully ignorant of how their behavior affects the environment and the others around them, especially the poor who generally suffer ecological problems disproportionately. Even worse are those who don’t have the excuse of ignorance to hide behind.”

Now that’s the spirit. But I still sometimes have doubts about ecclesiastical intent. The books coming out now state the problems and offer solutions that I think are excellent and courageous. But then some of them alienate us godless folk by retreating back into theological safety with declarations about how it is all in the hands of their particular notion of God. A new edition of “The Church and the Land” is a good example. The author, Fr. Vincent McNabb, writing in the early 1900s, says all the right things about farm economics and social reform, very applicable today, but then seems to be more interested in promoting Catholic orthodoxy than in improving farming.  He brands those of us who think that population control must be part of any effective attempt at ecological sustainability, as “satanic”!!!  Good grief. Because he was writing before 1925, I suppose I should give him a little leeway there, but why re-issue books with that kind of prehistoric attitude? In the Introduction, which was written in 2003, William Fahey also alienates godless farmers, probably unwittingly. He makes really great observations about economics and social justice but then unaccountably concludes with this rather off the wall statement: “In worship and not in any economic or social scheme, lies man’s end and thus his fulfillment and joy. Worship, particularly the sacramental life of the Catholic Church, once evoked a whole way of life….” Etc. etc. All well and good, perhaps, but we godless farmers are not into worshipping deities. We are interested in sustainable farming and good food. Why turn us away, including many church members who have not yet publicly declared their godlessness?  You need us, William Fahey, and we need you.


I too am a godless farmer. Also a “believer” in climate change and evolution. My wife has become very religous so I always walk a delicate line. Especially since some of my customers come through my wifes church affiliation. Quite frankly I simply do not talk about religion. That also means I have to be careful about things like peak oil or sustainability since those terms immediately put quite a few religous folks on the alert. But my dog always is grateful. LOL. And the people are quite nice.

P.S. There is even a minister for rural dwellers who are not near a community. Check out the website for the Unitarian Universalist church on line.

P.S. We are a liberal church, however, liberal religion can coincide with conservative politics. We have Democrats AND Republicans in our midst. We strive to be a place where everyone is welcome and accepted.

After decades of searching for a church that “fit” me, I found the Unitarian Universalist Church of Lancaster. Charles Darwin’s name is on one of our stained glass windows, along with Thomas Jefferson. We have a mobile of religious symbols in chronological order, starting with a symbol for the “big bang,” We have a picture of the last supper at the front of the sanctuary that is occasionally displayed. A Zen Buddhist group meets on Sunday nights in our basement. We have Mennonites, Catholics, Lutherans, Christians, Jews, and many other denominations in our pews. Oh! And, we have pagans, too. My sister is also a member, though she rarely goes to church. She is at home worshipping the sun god, Ra, getting vitamin D, working in the field, or reading a book and nourishing her soul. It seems to me that our church is for people who don’t feel the need to be right, and also don’t feel the need to banish anyone to hell. We believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every individual. And, we farmers are absolutely adored. It is worth a look for those wanting to be part of a supportive community.


I do like it when you stir the waters (or perhaps turn over the manure pile) and get folks thinking and responding, which I take as your somewhat Socratic pedagogical style. I enjoy the comments almost as much yours essays. I particularly enjoyed this thread.

Again, thanks much.

Ed Searl

In John Ikerd’s book “Crisis & Opportunity”, he has an essay about spirituality and farming. He quotes another (can’t remember who) that defines spirituality as “recognizing there is a higher order to everything and desiring to be in tune with that order” (paraphrasing mine). I think that phrase sums up everything I want to do with my (future) farm, garden, and life.

Religion is often HOW we carry out that desire. Trouble is, most religions are fundamentally at odds with each other- unity is hard when Christians are “infidels” and Muslims are the “antichrist” and pagans are well, “pagans”. Its sort of like asking the readers of this blog to join hands with Monsanto and sing Kumbaya.

I myself am a Christian, but I wonder if God is so much bigger and complex than any one religion… One only has to look to your garden to see the evidence.

    We, pagans, are usually described as heathens, devil worshippers(though we don’t believe in the devil) or just plain evil. Just so you know and needed to call a pagan something 🙂 lol
    I agree that it can be hard to meet together when we are trying to bring together our religion. It is a very private thing. But if we all met as farmers and spent some time getting to know each other and then brought up religion, I have found that for the most part people are willing to listen. Not even just listen, but to put aside differences and see similarities.
    I’m not sure I could do that with monsanto. But then again, I am sure they are people too. Though I would rather just consider them the devil.

I agree with Betty; we need more cookies and fewer experts.

One of the more valuable things I learned in college was that truth unquestioned is false. That’s why I like to read this blog; cookies for thought.


That’s a wonderful joining of minds there with Devin and Dave. A very good example of how all of us can be misunderstood and that this dialog is so very important for human growth. If a farmer works hard at growing sustainable food and does nothing to nourish her mind, how fertile is the soul/soil that all grows from? I’m certain that we have come full circle and back to the original question of, “Can A Godless Farmer Be A Good Steward of the Soil”…or did he mean SOUL? The answer is YES! Most definately YES. As we grow, so shall we eat; and as we eat, so shall we become. I didn’t get that from a book, I just made it up. Thank you everyone for helping me to understand that I am not alone in my non-traditional beliefs. Back to finding a way to communicate with organized religion about growing sustainable food locally. All that has been said here, eliminates the need or temptation to be said to these interested organizations. I would suggest you give them what they are asking for and see if there will be fruits of your efforts. I would encourage them to not just eat it, but to grow it. Get dirt on their hands, smell it, and get as close to the soil(soul) as possible. If those folks get into growing food like a farmer (Godless or not), the whole experience is going to change them. We now know that whatever that change may be, it will be for their higher good. That is what having good s___ does.

Right on, Dave. Thanks for clarifying. We’ll hang out on the farms together!


In trying to strike a conciliatory tone, your statements end up doing the opposite. I’m sure that’s not what you intended, so let me explain:

“to groups that espouse man made dogma”:

Certainly from your perspective we believe in “man-made dogma,” but in fact we don’t believe so. Jesus Christ is not a man-made dogma but God’s ultimate revelation to man. And his existence is supported by historical evidence and reasonable arguments. So saying this begs the question and comes across very badly.

“a certain envy of those who can fanatically believe in something while us lesser mortals are forced to think, evaluate, hope, and yes even pray on it.”:

Um, we too think, evaluate, hope and pray. You are grouping all believers here into “fanatics” who don’t think or evaluate. This is a caricature that is false for most Christians.

“Gene had a particular jab on the chin from organization”:

Haven’t we all? And haven’t we had jabs on the chin from people, whether Christians or atheists or Muslims? Sure we have. Let’s take your own advice and develop a thick skin, forgiving those who hurt us and moving on.

Fact is Gene has taken jabs at religion in things he has written. I didn’t let it bother me and enjoyed his book (and am looking forward to the woodlot one which I’ve already preordered from Chelsea Green). But if we are raising the banner of inclusiveness (which I agree with–let’s celebrate our common ground) then we all have to be respectful and considerate of each other’s beliefs.


    Hey Devin,
    Sorry for any misunderstanding. By fanatics, I meant extremists in either direction, and I never meant to include myself as a non-believer. I just was trying to reiterate the forgiveness Jesus spoke of in inclusive terms. I think Gene’s jabs are more at rigid ritual and less at anyone’s particular beliefs. Everyone reaches their own conclusions eventually, and some of us reach more than one in our search. Fact is man, I think we are on the same page. I may just be a bit less able to communicate it. Holding out my hand and hope to shake with ya.

While I don’t pretend to speak for Gene, I feel I must interject my proverbial two cents. As often is the case, I felt as if Gene was speaking from a similar place to mine. He (to me) seemed to be airing a bit of guilt at not being able to be a “joiner” to groups that espouse man made dogma. Rather than an attack on any spiritual belief, or disbelief, he seemed to be admitting to an innate spirituality, and encouraging the inclusiveness that that implies. Gene even confesses to a certain envy of those who can fanatically believe in something while us lesser mortals are forced to think, evaluate, hope, and yes even pray on it. When he refers to being “a Godless Contrarian” it is just a bit of that self deprecating humor that we all come here to enjoy. Anyone who has read his work knows, that he feels the presence of something special in the land and in food and in honest human work, whatever one chooses to call it. For some, that is God – with a Big G, or Mother Earth, or whatever, for others the acknowledgement of the importance is enough.

I myself have often felt an oppressed outsider to the organized groups and have been accused of being “Godless”, when, in reality I spend a great deal of time pondering deeper meanings and appreciating ‘God’s gift’s’, however one may phrase it. In reading between the lines of Gene’s biography (vaguely remembered from a book jacket I read years ago), it would seem Gene had a particular jab on the chin from organization, and that helped to make the Contrarian we love. If he kicks a bit at someone putting orthodoxy into places where he feels it isn’t necessary, perhaps we should forgive him his sore spot and move on. Gene preaches the inclusiveness of food and natural processes – heathens and the pious alike need to shit. If he is a bit tender on being or feeling excluded, or resents those who may exclude, forgive him and loosen up a bit. You ain’t that important, and you don’t have all the answers either anymore than I do or Gene does, or anyone else here (though LL Brown and a few others seem to be on the right track). We are all human, and that’s really the only group I am willing to join.

While I don’t judge a man by his religion or the color of his skin, the thickness of it tells me a whole hell of a lot.

Now let’s go eat.

Well, the discourse is still almost civil! Wish I could bake you all a batch of cookies and sing “why can’t we just all get along” around my pagan newmoon campfire.

When your hungry and you come buy food from my fertile fields I’m not going to let you go hungry if you are “godless”, “buddhaless”,”Quranless”, a mormon, a republican or a democrat, or a 1%er. And if you want to go hungry just because i chose a different path of religous freedom then you, well, its your belly thats gonna growl not mine.

And I suspect I spend talking to anyone’s version of the creator since my hands are on sheep, my feet are in clay and my head’s in the clouds…

Have to agree with Eric. The Catholic Church has long been an advocate against war…just war theory comes from Catholic Theologian Thomas Aquinas, and being as we don’t see too many just wars being waged by any country, the church and the pope have repeatedly pleaded for Peace.

That…and there seems to be a little too much “Lady protesting too much” both in Gene’s post and the comments…

One thing that clearly comes to mind after reading your post Gene,
is that it’s a dang pity you don’t care to quote “all the write things on farm economics and social reform that are so applicable to today” that you found in McNabb’s book. Particularly as McNabb’s voice is certainly not well-known in the non-Catholic small farming world, and carries with it an incredibly poetic passion for the land, and small communities that we’d all do well to harness.

You read through all of that and all you can give us is a rant against the Church’s long time stance against birth control?

As an organic farmer I’d be interested in hearing any explanations of how condoms, or pills, or abortions, or any other form of contraceptive can be called an organic approach to the cultivation of our bodies.

Heck there’s always learning the natural fertility cycles of your or your lady’s body and working with them to avoid conception. That’s a thought that ought to resonate with an organic farmer watching skies, crops, and soil to grow or not grow various perennials and annuals. That, incedentaly, is one way the Church not only allows, but promotes. Even McNabb says in a passage not to far from his condemning language towards birth control that it is lunacy for a Church to encourage large families and do nothing about the living conditions of these families when they are packed 8 to a room in row houses in the city.

I find it funny that this discussion proportes to ramble along the lines of organized religion…when it’s really just about sex.
And what is sex exactly? Maybe we ought to define it since this seems to be the driving force between who or what we believe.
I think a thing is defined by its end or ends. So What is the natural end or ends of sex?
Go from there.

Sure, I hear you not wanting an organized Religion telling you what to do or not do with your bodies…but allow the possibility that there may just exhist a religion not concerned with that…but rather with re-affirming the inherent natural design of the human body, or the planet, and advocating acting in accord with these realities. Why is the church against having sex with your goat, for instance? Because they’re trying to tell you what you can or cannot do with your body? Come on! Because they stand on the side of a natural law that we all forget from time to time in the midst of our delusional passions and strong wills.

Sorry for that nasty mental image, folks. Really do apologize.

McNabb also pointed out Irish statistics which showed that large families resulted in smaller population growth. Stick with me here. Large families promote personal responsibility and at the very least give you a very real look and look again at what caring for children and sticking with your spouse in thick and thin means….so they experienced fewer out of wedlock babies, and more traditional family arrngements….resulting in lower population. Amazing isnt it? Encourage large families (Think Martha Sowerby’s 12 children on the moor in the Secret Garden) and see…..ready for it, drum roll please:
population control.
It’s so deliciously unexpected! It’s so contrary sounding! Its something I would expect a genuinely contrary farmer to accept…or at least honestly mull over…

God Bless a church that has (contrary like) stuck to its guns throughout the centuries in favor and out on this issue.
A culture that does not promote a view of sex that includes its natural ends is missing out on a better experience of sex. There’s a whole lot of good lovin that’s not happening because we want the cheap stuff alone, the stuff without consequences, research, and patience.

Another thought:
“The tyranny of Tolerance” I’m going to go and chew on that one for a bit.

But, yes, keep writing Gene. Please do. And all the rest of you ornery, zealous, Godless,Godfearing, loveable lunatics out there. God love you, I sure do.

“We are all born as animals and live the life that animals live: we sleep, eat, reproduce, and fight. There is, however, another order of living, which the animals do not know, that of awe before the mystery of being, the ‘mysterium tremendum et fascinans,’ that can be the root and branch of the spiritual sense of one’s days. That is the birth—the Virgin Birth—in the heart of a properly human, spiritual life.” ~ Joseph Campbell

What a mess of cheapshots against and distortions of Christianity here in the comments section! Of course, over the course of Christian history just about everything has been done under the banner of Christianity, but surely some of you all are intelligent enough not to judge whatever should follow from Jesus’ claim to being God (with all authority over heaven and earth) in human flesh, of having been crucified for the sins of men and risen again, based primarily on the behavior of those most obviously just trying to use/exploit Christianity to advance their own purposes. Some of you (including Gene), despite explicitly disavowing any Christian faith, seem quite willing to use Christianity for your other-than-Christian purposes, too, and that’s fair enough, but that ought to help you discern some truth about Christianity.
Gene, your distortion of Christianity is subtler than most of the comments, but I suspect you know enough about the Bible and the beliefs particularly of McNabb and Fahey to show them more respect than you did, specifically not to misrepresent their position. They’re not trying to fundamentally solve the problems of evil (including those that play out in the realm of farming) by appealing to you. And in the context of discussing Christian worship, they certainly don’t “need you.” Good grief! Did Jesus not say, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters–yes, even his own life–he cannot be my disciple”? Did Jesus not promise hundredfold blessings particularly for LEAVING FIELDS for his sake (not to mention eternal life)? It’s one thing to deny these blessings; it’s another to deny McNabb and Fahey the right to speak from the basis of their own beliefs.

Just read an article about urban gardens that I think many would enjoy. Google Will Doig-Salon.

Just yesterday a family friend of ours said that god would make sure that the food she ate was good nourishment to her body regardless of its safety and quality. I couldn’t even respond to that.

Well Gene, the best comfort I can offer you is to remember that when people talk about their religion, they’re talking about their Shit. Remember how you refuse to change the title of your book, even though it’s probably keeping it off the shelves and out of the hands of many a reader? That’s your Shit. It might seem unreasonable, even obtuse to many, but to you, it’s Holy.

So it is with religion. Whether that’s extolling the values of worship or condemning the use of contraceptives.

So, the next time you’re invited to a church and you hear some bit of craziness about how evolution is evil of spanking is God’s way, just smile to yourself and remember that it’s their Shit. Don’t step in it, and you’ll be fine. If you figure out a way to compost religious hooey, let me know.

If Mark Twain is to be believed, thinking curse words to yourself is the closest you’re going to get to a silent prayer. Since you’re going to be in Rome, might as well do as the Roman Catholics do.

    Full disclosure, I’m a Christian, an evangelical one at that. I even believe in the crazy stuff like angels and demons flying around… well okay, the “flying around” is a metaphor, but I digress. I hope my attempt at a joke didn’t come off as too coarse for any gentler sensibilities.

    If I had to give a serious comfort, it would be this:

    The whole notion of shunning the godless heathen, keeping them disenfranchised, etc. isn’t Christian in the sense that Christ taught it. It only wormed its way into our theology when the church went establishment and became a political force. Jesus himself was condemned for consorting with sinners and tax collectors.

    You’re right when you say that the William Fahey’s of the world need you, if nothing else, to keep them on topic. “Do not be over-righteous,” says Solomon the Wise. Maybe some of us just need a lesson in judicious application of the baptismal; not every last thing needs to be Christened in order for it to be good. That’s a lesson that I’ve been long in the learning, but people like you make for good teachers.

    So don’t be bashful, Gene. We need this focus and knowledge of folks like you. To deny it to us would be downright unchristian. 🙂

    Nice. I spent the first 40 years of my life piling up Shit and the next 10 protecting my pile. About 10 years ago I started realizing that a lot of my Shit stinks and it wasn’t doing much good just sitting there in a pile anyway. So I started hauling it out. I am much more conscious these days about keeping a helpful pile well aerated and available to neighbors if they ask but never dumped in their yards without them making the request. I’ve also learned to ask my wife on a regular basis if it is starting to stink.


Just finished your book The Contrary Farmer after discovering your writing in Farming magazine. Loved the book and all your articles over the past years.

That said I’m a Catholic (capital ‘C’ even) and believe organized religion is better than disorganized religion. Three or four times in The Contrary Farmer you take a jab at organized religion (which implicitly seems targeted in large part toward the Catholic Church). I shrugged it off but also thought it was unnecessary and unfortunate. So as we say, “highway six runs both ways.”

From your bio in the book, it sounds like you went to a (minor?) seminary, I would guess around the time of the upheaval during Vatican II or after. In any event, my journey has been the opposite: from agnosticism to Baptist to Catholicism. The agrarian movement has no greater ally than the social teachings of the Catholic Church.

The earth, the physical laws, the mass and energy: where did it come from? Science cannot answer that question; it can only deal with the fact that there is energy and mass, E = mc^2, etc.

Keep writing and let’s all get along.

The old german lutherans that I knew as a child had the right idea, drink beer after unloading hay, castrating pigs, threshing oats, pretty much any time 2 or more got together. Oh, and the mens club from church bought a keg for the church picnic! Then on Sunday, the old farmers were the ones sleeping during the sermon. They all seemed to have modest farms of 80 to 120 acres, didn’t work on Sundays and seemed to have every evening available for visiting and card playing (and drinking beer). For crumps sake, how much deeper meaning to life does a fella need?

After following this trail of beliefs/non-beliefs, something came to me last evening about how the word god has so much baggage when it is used by religions/churches…it’s like their attempt to define it and since we are all individuals (perhaps not even part of the same species), how could a word even hope to define all the different beliefs we have on this good earth. So what came to me was this….HOW DID CHURCHES GET OUT OF PAYING TAXES? Perhaps at one time the church was more involved with helping other humans in need. I’m talking about local…especially now when there are so many homeless families and children needing to be fed or taken into a shelter…even all the domestic dogs and cats that have had to be released due to owners not being able to feed them. I wonder just how much these mega churches (corporations?) are helping our homeless now. What kind of criteria is in place to make sure church does not make a profit and that money they collect goes to something other than building a bigger church or gym, or wings on their church. Do you see what I’m getting at? I would love to see that non-profit status looked at and updated for how church gets out of paying taxes…they pay even less than 15% that the corporations pay. Many of the large church’s members are very wealthy and the more wealth of their members, the more $$ is collected from their congregations. Perhaps we all need to start paying more attention to this aspect of “religion” that seems to be create a third party. I’m pretty sure I’m off topic here, but it seemed like a good place to mention my vision of how church/religion want to contol how we believe. It’s getting very pervasive and humans like Stark Raven are made to feel they are not acceptable. If a dialog was started about this, I believe that there would be a “back-up” of all this god-chatter that is being put on all of us who choose our own personal beliefs rather than the masses.

    I think you are on to something there Lou. Hmm… Maybe we could start a “church” and call it the fellowship of the shovel. Make it a place where you could speak your opinions and NOT get attacked. People of different religions would even get a say! Then we could raise crops and not pay taxes!

    Hmm…kinda sounds like this blog a little…

God is simply a word used to describe an omnipresent Spirit, Force, Spark…. There is no such thing as a “Godless” farmer.

    Amen, Sharon. Actually the civil discourse here among alleged nonbelievers and believers of various stripes has been enormously pleasing to me. And it must have stunned Gene, who probably expected invective and virtual bloodshed.

    I recently came across this quote from religious thinker Karen Armstrong in her The Case for God that really impresses me. As I said in my first comment, I am a believer but in terms of a very personal definition of God that I am sure violates the dogma of most creeds. Thus I find her words very heartening and think they are relevant here:

    “We lost the art of interpreting the old tales of gods walking the earth, dead men striding out of tombs, or seas parting miraculously. We began to understand concepts such as faith, revelation, myth, mystery, and dogma in a way that would be very surprising to our [recent] ancestors. In particular, the meaning of “belief” changed, so that a credulous acceptance of creedal doctrines became the prerequisite of faith, so much so today we often speak of religious people as “believers,” as though accepting orthodox dogma “on faith” were their most important activity.

    “This rationalized interpretation of religion has resulted in two distinctively modern phenomena: fundamentalism and atheism. The defensive piety popularly known as fundamentalism erupted in almost every major faith during the twentieth century. In their desire to produce a wholly rational, scientific faith that abolished mythos in favor of logos, Christian fundamentalists have interpreted scripture with a literalism unparalleled in the history of religion.”

I think all Christians struggle wilth their beliefs and in their attempt to do what they think the Lord would want them to do. You have it half figured out. I would suggest to keep watching the glorious world around and look to the good in man kind and I think that you may find what you are looking for. Keep up the Good work and God Bless you. One of themost important thingsI think is keeping an open mind and heart

I find it interesting that you call yourself a godless man and a bunch of people comment on how you can’t be. That you can be christian and not believe in this or that. Interesting, isn’t it? You know your mind, they do not.
I get that a lot. I am a pagan farmer. It is really hard for us when we go to conferences and everyone assumes that just because we farm and we home school we must be christian. I do have to admit to giggling when I see the big christian farmers talking about mother nature and how to speak to her and listen to her. I wonder if they get how close they are to my family and that we aren’t devil worshiping sinners.
I want to thank you for writing this. For admitting to being godless. It is sometimes overwhelming to hear all the christianity talk mixed in farming.

    Valerie, Do you know (I bet you do)that in ancient Roman times, the word pagan— paganus—meant farmer. The farmers at that time were just as contrary as they are today and they realized that the Roman authorities were using all those gods they kept coming up with to control the people. This did not sit well with rural folk. Gradually the word, paganus, came to mean a disbeliever. This was also true of the word, heathen. Originally, in England, it meant, “people of the heath.” They too did not cotton to the urban theology that had no trouble finding good godly reasons for justifying the enclosure system that would end the lifestyle of the people of the heath. Disagreeing with authority, these people gradually became known as disbelievers— heathens. Gene Logsdon

      I find it interesting that you bring that up. I have always considered the word pagan to come from the word, country dweller or peasant. There are many types of pagans today and many words to describe them, probably just as many as there are for christians. I am asked often what type of pagan I am. I am a pagan. When they don’t get that I say at best I am a kitchen witch, but I most relate to peasant. I want a simple life. To commune with nature, respect the earth and treat every living thing with respect. I don’t worship particular gods and goddesses. I just as often call myself a heathen. We do celebrate some pagan holidays but they so nicely coincide with farming, in fact well that is what they are all about. And they are a lot of fun.

It’s been many years now that I’ve been reading your books. I was a born and raised city boy. I grew up on concrete playgrounds, and the closest I got to nature was the occasional camping trip. What a suprise it was to my family and friends when I bought 160 acres of land, built a house, and started my own journey to becoming a Contrary Farmer. It is no stretch to say that you, Mr. Logsdon, completely changed my life.

One hurdle I have always had trouble with is convincing believers that I, an atheist, can feel a deep and meaningful connection with the earth. (Yes, I dared to use the word “atheist”! The dreaded, sinful, immoral, baby-eating heathen that I am. The truth is, I am simply “not theist” which is what that horrid word really means) To hear that a man who has been such an inspiration to me, also has a connection with this earth, in leu of any God, makes me feel hopeful. Hopeful that one day, perhaps myself, and those religous folks that I hold so dear, can one day take on the terrible food crisis side by side.

I think the outlook we have on what we eat needs to change. It needs to be our top priority. If it becomes so, it will no longer be used as a part of any “agenda”. We won’t plant gardens to promote our churches, but instead built churches to honor our gardens. It may seem like semantics, but it really isn’t. Just imagine a church and a mosque, next door to one another, tending the same garden that lies between them. Imagine the atheist and his christian neighbor, tending a garden that is dedicated to feeding those in need.

I don’t need to be a believer, nor does my brother need to be a non-believer, for us to join together and do the most natural, wholesome, and meaningful thing, hand in hand.

Can a godless farmer be a good steward of the land? That’s a question I never even thought to ask. My question is, “Can a godless farmer and a devout farmer steward the land together?”

And my answer is a resounding, “YES!”

Great subject to write about! Kinda like “farmers are environmentalists!”. Nice idea but NOT in my neck of the woods!! I’m surrounded by CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations) that I can’t drive by without retching in the summer due to the piles of manure, animal carcasses, etc… that the pile up on their sites! But thats another topic of discussion…..

One is nearer to God, Budda, the Great Mystery, Jesus, (whatever deity ) in nature than anywhere else! Thanks for another great topic to mull over!

“Christians and Muslims … believe in something so fantastically wonderful as an eternal life of utter bliss.” That is a sticking point for many including myself. And I gladly accept the label of Christian. The burr in the saddle is the ever mounting body of empirical evidence that seems to lead to the conclusion that if it seems too good to be true then it is. And yet —— if I peel away the clinging cynicism that is a curse, I have to admit “too good to be true” sometimes is true. You and I share a very real example – we both married way better than any sense of justice would ever permit. That doesn’t prove there is a heaven any more than blowing a hydraulic line buried under the platform of the skidloader outside in a freezing rain at nightfall just as you are getting ready to feed silage proves there is a hell. But it does allow for the possibility.

“America is a place where “godless” suggests “sinner” or certainly not saint.”

No, no – “Godless” = “apostate”, because, you know, “America is a Christian nation” or something like that. For a lot of people, if you were born here, you were born Christian, no matter what your parents or you might have thought. If you don’t call yourself Christian anymore, you’ve abandoned the church, which is *really* bad, for some reason.

“Christian” seems to mean “sinner”. Or at least, you have to wonder what most people who claim to be Christian think they’re doing mistreating other people so badly. Gandhi said that well, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

Misread the title as “Can a GODDESS Farmer be a Good Steward of the Soil” and got all excited–Yes! We can, I said, thinking we were stepping back into the pre-Christian times when there was a her to the him and a Yin to the Yang–ha!

Anyway, I’m with you on the whole religion thing, which reminds me of the only joke I can remember: Question: What’s the definition of an insomniac, agnostic, dyslexic? Answer: Someone who stays awake all night wondering if there is a Dog.

    HO! I have to say that I first read GODDESS rather than GODLESS also. That is so funny Betty. Thanks for being honest. This whole conversation comes from feminine healing energy….

For as long I have known you, everything you have written or said was about loving and nurturing the land. As well as taking care of your family and friends. That’s a religion that produces a good day and a good life.

Don’t see the need to enter the religious fray, but I would like to venture one thought re: why seemingly out of nowhere religious comments appear in books about whatever subject. That being that there are many of a certain sort of religious folk who will not read a book if it is not somehow baptized as a “Christian” publication. Books with lots of excellent material for people of any or no religious persuasion, but if there is no God talk (or denomination talk) within, the book will not be read. So often you will find random paragraphs inserted into such books to make them acceptable. Silly, but it seems to get the books sold to those audiences… 😉

Great column! I dunno, though, Gene. I don’t think Fahey is turning you away from good farming & good food, and he would agree that we need each other. We can share what we share, work toward a common good (decentralization a good starting point), & not share what we don’t. Fahey’s comment doesn’t sound at all odd to a sacramentally minded (small c) catholic. William Carlos Williams says something like “there’s nothing to eat anywhere but the body and blood of the Lord.” So sacrament, that is, grace by physical means, the bread of life, still is mysterious and powerful for those of us not in communion with Rome.

So, I don’t think you’re as godless as you think you are, though I understand what you’re trying to communicate with your choice of that particular term. Your friend Wendell Berry has a lot to say about this topic too. A good steward of his land has no choice but to realize he lives under natural law, lives by grace, & lives too close to mystery to abandon religion altogether. A literal reading of the 3 synoptic gospels goes a long way toward understanding of dogma vs. action. Jesus’ message isn’t a set of doctrines – it’s a way of living which, applied universally, ends violence, poverty, and abuse – abuse of the land, and abuse of each other.

As for the population control question, that’s where you’ll find a good bit of resistance from life-minded Christians (who need you, and whom you need). Population control is a product of “modern superstition,” that is, scientism, or a denial of life mystery. This planet doesn’t exist for itself – it exists for people, and we need to make it support as many people as possible over the long term, in a moral and practical way. You yourself have pointed out where our culture could be growing food but isn’t. The millions of acres of suburban backyards – the tens of thousands of acres in highway interchanges – our lack of planning in urban forestry, & so on. This planet can support 7 billion people. If we did things right, it could support 15 billion. Life is a miracle.

I so needed to read all of these comments this morning. I recently found out my husband did not know I believed in God, after over 20 years of marriage. This type of topic just doesn’t come up within my immediate family or with friends, yet I find that I long to speak of it just to understand what my Spirituality is. Having been raised within the church of the Baptist, living in TN, and surrounded by religious zealots I find that if I open my mouth about not being religious now, someone always trys to “save me”. I’m glad I got to experience the good book teachings, but I no longer use it to define the evolution of my Spirit or to understand nature and the world I live in. I see I’m capitalizing Spirit, so I must believe in some thing that allows me to see all the miracles, love and the path forward that I experience as a human being. Whatever it is, the word god or goddes does not do justice to the preciousness of that entity. The word god has a lot of baggage, as does bible and religion. So thank you all for feeding me this morning. I am full of healthy and sustaining nourishment from the farm. I’m not a farmer, but I am a bee listener and I advocate for sustainable farming and our pollinators who just might be the direct connection to Spirit. I remember reading several years ago about the church/religious folk taking an interest in the environment. Not sure what happened to that, but I would suspect that the church’s interest in sustainable farming is not necessarily a long term interest…although I do believe in miracles. It could be that they are just beginning to understand that they will have to have food to continue in a world where our food is threatened. I will keep the faith!~ Lou

What a great way to start a debate, write about religion. Speaking from a Christian perspective, intelligence and learning are not exclusive to the Christian faith of any denomination. If we need to be woken out of our complacency about an issue as important as our food source from someone outside the church then so be it. We have countless evidence of God using people outside the church for this purpose; King Nebuchadnezzar and King Cyrus to mention just two prominentt individuals. God told us to subdue the earth not destroy it. To subdue something is to care, nurture and provide balance. It was not meant to dominate, centralize and destroy a God given gift. The earth and its creation are for us to tenderly care for, there are few that understand the meaning of subdue from a biblical, Godly perspective. It is obvious that you do. So consider yourself a member of God’s family that was blessed with God’s Spirit to see things right side up.
On the subject of procreation, There are some theological perspectives that have no biblical position such as perpetual procreation. There are several biblical indicators specifically in Genesis where it mentions that humanity to have relations and fill the earth. Filling the earth means exactly that. To fill anything with undue stress whether its a glass of water or what the earth can sustain as a society is a fixed measurement. if it were not for our sinful nature with God’s help we could have figured that equation out. That doesn’t mean we can’t have fun in the sack after the earth is filled since relations have two components, one is for pleasure and the other is to procreate. If procreation is finished your left with the pleasure component.
O.K. I’m rambling; this is discussion on land and farm sustainability. Keep on setting us straight Gene.

Dave Kopriva

I guess I’m a default Buddhist: I’ve never read about any war that was started by Buddhists, so I got that going for me. I’ve met Buddhists that told me I had to chant, and do other kinds of things, and I got bummed out by the structure part of it. Fortunately I asked someone about that part, and he told me that some Buddhists were just jerks, that none of that garbage was necessary. I spend most of my time looking and listening, and trying to figure out how I fit it. The last sentence of Auburn Meadow Farm says it all for me. It’s hard to grow things, and not believe in something.

A pretty good piece for the week where Paula Deen revealed she has known for three years that she has diabetes, but still encouraged people to eat the junk that caused it. Now she’s got an endorsement deal for diabetes medication. I doubt she’s a Buddhist.

Evangelicals and Catholics believe in population control: it’s called war. Life is sacred as long as it’s inside the womb. On the outside of the womb, they’ll market war like it was cereal, all in the name of Jesus, or lubrication, or security.

Gene, if you are ungodly, then there is no such thing as a godly person. I think the key terms here are “organized religion.” I have yet to find an organized religion, including Buddhism, that doesn’t tell me how to live my life. As a fellow contrarian, I want to make that decision for myself, thank you very much! I may do something that a regular church-goer would consider sinful and not do something they consider godly (such as go to church), but I respect the world and all its wonders, see some of the interconnectedness of all life — it’s much too vast to see all of it — and try to live in a way that benefits all of the lives dependent on or interconnected with me. i don’t carry it to extremes — I’ll swat a mosquito, hoe up a weed or shoot a bobcat messing with the chickens — but I do understand that we all have a part to play in this thing we call life. To paraphrase Robert Heinlein, another contrarian, I don’t know who’s cranking (but I can’t manage to convince myself that everything in the universe is simply random chance and coincidence) but I don’t want them to stop! besides, I’d much rather hear you preach on farming than anyone else preach on godly behavior…

A few years ago, when my daughter attended kindergarten, i chose to send her to a little country, catholic school, beside an idyllic little church at the foot of an Appalachian ridge. Whatever religion I was or am, it is probably not catholic. I chose the little school because I felt it was the best education my meager funds could buy, with good people, good teachers, and spiritual training that, while not necessarily my own, was certainly good hearted and most especially inclusive. Heck, they still baked their own bread and cooked lunches from scratch. (perhaps that was part of my decision).

But the key word was INCLUSIVE. Generally, when folks start to organize, they turn to being EXCLUSIVE, that is, the say, “this organization is for folks like us”.

The little school was more interested in benefiting the community, mostly Appalachian farmers and simple folk. Did they hope to sway you toward their beliefs – yes. But their primary goal was to benefit the families in the area, and the value of a person rather than the value of their membership. As a small school in a small poor area, they held fund raisers regularly, at least monthly. I would volunteer for these regularly. I would have to show up after work – dirty and riding an old Indian motorcycle. What a contrast I must have seemed to the town folks who came to buy our wares. But the folks from the little school appreciated the organizational and logistical abilities I brought, and we came to be fast friends. Once, when an outsider was heard to comment on my long hair, The Priest himself shot back that “our savior himself wore long hair and it didn’t reflect poorly on his soul”.

Sadly, the little school was closed by the diocese, and the 50 or so students were transferred to a larger school and church in town. There, most of these kids felt outcast, excluded, and most of the country families eventually pulled out. The success of the two chuches and schools I leave to others, but the little school that practiced inclusion and community is gone and the bigger school and church that did not continues to thrive.

Gene, you have been a sort of mentor and role model for me since I first read your work in the early 1980’s. I always felt we were on the same contrarian path, and I am thankful for you blazing the way. Please take a word from the student to the master, your ideas are valuable to the folks who may hear them, and any hypocrisy is only on those who would not learn but would be “included”.

Thank you for you post. I am also now coming into the position of speaking about our methods of holistic farming at church groups. So far I have found their real interest overrides any prejudice about my belief system, or lack thereof. I say let’s keep going when asked, educate to the best of our abilities and expect the occasional oddball reaction.

Press on and thank you – From a holistic, pasture based home schooling farmer.

To paraphrase a quote from a recent book on tape I read, “I don’t believe in God, but God, nevertheless, does exist.” I am not a believer as much as I am a witness. It seems a slippery slope from being a believer to the hubris or knowing the nature of God, God’s will, God’s intent, God’s rules, God’s chosen and unchosen. No, that seems closer to true effrontery to me than just letting the mystery be. My only prayer is “What a beautiful world, Thank you.” This is a nearly daily prayer, whispered quietly in my mind out there among the blueberries and raspberries and blackberries and woods and wetlands. I have no idea who I am talking to and I need no miracles other than the one that surrounds me all the time.

    Your comment reminded me of something I heard recently. There is a beautiful song called “Let the Mystery Be” sung by Greg Brown on his recent album Freak Flag. It was written and performed by his wife a number of years ago. He has a couple versions of the song “Canned Goods” on older CD’s that I’m sure many readers of Gene’s blog would enjoy.

Gene–I assume you are writing of William Fahey of the Catholic Homesteading Movement? I suggest you send your essay to him to get his response. He does not have a computer or phone, so you would need to snail mail it to him. He is a gentleman and I am sure he would give you a thoughtful reply.

I am not a Christian, but I admire Mr. Fahey as he talks the talk, but also walks the walk. Let me know if you need his address.

Dear St. Logsdon,

Feet OF clay. or feet in the clay. When I was born in 1928 we were 2 billion, now past 7 billion. I was raised a Methodist, but now Hallelujah I am a Planetarian and fear not to pee in my garden on the snow. I believe that only Condoms can Prevent condominiums.

Male humans produce about 84.000.000 sperm cells per day.
Females avail themselves of 400 eggs.
The first child born this year at Waterville, Maine’s happy family was on the front page of the paper, the mother 16, the father 15.
Political candidates seem to want us all to commit “Fecundicide”.
When I was in high school we had a nationally assigned debating subject, “Resolved, There is intelligent life in the Universe”
Possibly, but not here.

Brother Charlie

Richard, though I’m not sure what denomination you may be referring too, I’ll take that wager in terms of believers as defined as evangelical believers.
Of course it looks as though I will be in the minority on this forum.

I think the reason religion is getting involved in farming concepts is churches have a group of people that meets often. Especially if they have time to eat and talk before or after the service. Eventually, someone wins them over to the idea of sustainable farming and then they use God to justify it.

Nature is kind of like a wall. If you bounce a ball against it, it bounces back in a predictable manner. Whatever actions we have in nature have predictable responses. If we do nothing nature does what nature does. If we make an input, nature makes a predictable output.

Praying really has no effect on nature except how it affects us.

This concept is very Jewish, although not many Jews have done the kind of studying that would allow them to recognize that.

Keep up the good work,

I very much appreciate this post. Thank you!

I hear you. After a long time away, I’m back to the farm and loving it. , I have a masters in Theological Studies from a Christian seminary in addition to two and a half years of training to be a Spiritual Director and I, like you, can’t seem to embrace any one organized religion. The more I learned, the further I moved from any organized doctrinaire. I take comfort in the farmers from other faiths .. for instance, Masanobu Fukuoka, the Japanese man (probably Buddhist?) who pioneered so many sustainable and permaculture techniques. There is a Green Kubbutz group in Israel and I’m fairly sure they aren’t Christian. I’ve read that many of the farming practices in third world (really?) countries that are being implemented are sustainable. I guess I’m saying that Christians don’t have a lock on caring for the earth. For me, standing in awe of the mystery that I see every day on the farm is enough. I think there are more of us out here than you know.


I would wager that over 90 percent of churchgoers do not believe in a physical afterlife or, for that matter, in a physical God. I don’t, and I am sure that makes me officially a non-Christian even though I go to church and like Jesus. But I think i am in good company.

Surely it is an adult’s task to define God for himself or herself. To me, God is the very real evolutionary force inside people that makes us try to be good—look at the universal human ideals codified in all great religions. I am not talking about egoistic dogma like I grew up with in the Southern Baptist Church, but in things like mercy and justice. These are core yearnings in all peoples, and what I’d call God.

Jesus said God is spirit. That is, to me, an inner force or quality. I recently went out on a limb and wrote a three-part post on my blog defining what God means to me. Whew, what an interesting discussion that stirred up.

Those who SAY they believe in literal angels walking streets of gold are not the only soldiers in God’s army. Gene, you are one of the most godly people I have ever met, contrary bourbon-drinking cuss though you be! In fact, those are the two most godly aspects of you, along with your bent to speak truth to power.

I think believers (like hard core homeschoolers and many other people devoted to a particular cause) are always going to say things that strike non-believers as strange.
Believing that “worship is the chief end of man” doesn’t offend me; it just isn’t particularly relevant when talking about farming. But when you are talking about World Views, everything a believer thinks is colored by his belief and everything a non-believer thinks is colored by his non-belief. I myself think there’s a bigger plan than man’s at work in this world, but that doesn’t negate good discussions about agriculture.
Also, “believers” are extremely varied and can’t really be categorized (again, like homeschoolers, who range from conservative to WooHoo liberal!)

Wow, beautifully worded high five from the professor!

Organized religion is skewed through the wavy panes of very human beings. It’s hard for me to sit through without feeling cynical and a bit judgmental, but from a distance I feel warmth and gratitude for the efforts.

I love what Terra Brockman says of her family’s religious practice in the Seasons on Henry’s Farm – that they are every day BUT Sunday churchgoers. Me too

It’s hard to be a small farmer and not be awed by what you see every day.

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