In Gene's Weekly Posts on December 24, 2013 at 8:16 am
From GENE LOGSDON
My loveliest Christmas gift this year was the outpouring of recollections about the little things in farm life that so many of you wrote about last week. I am trying hard not to utter grandiose statements about how you are turning this blogsite into something profoundly wonderful, but I don’t think I’m exaggerating to say that you are an extra special bunch of really great human beings. It is just so much fun interrelating with all of you.
Another lovely Christmas present came from my sister, Marilyn: a bushel of wheat for our chickens. I gave her four ears of my open pollinated corn wrapped in a red ribbon, extra delicious for making corn bread. When we tell other people about our gift exchange, we get strange looks. But all of you reading this blog will just nod and say “of course.” What could be more fitting? The interesting aside about getting a bushel of wheat is that, despite the fact that the elevator uptown has tons of wheat in storage, it is no longer able to extract just one bushel out of the huge storage bins. And the neighbors and relatives from whom I used to get a little wheat no longer raise it. But the people at our elevator are mighty nice guys, and when Marilyn put on her best poor-old-helpless-kinfolk-neighbor-farm woman look and smiled benignly at them, they somehow figured out a way to do it. It’s one of the blessing of living in a small community, Marilyn says.
Just when I thought no one could top that Christmas gift, there’s a knock on the door and in comes a nephew, John, and he has a gift for us that is so precious More…
In Gene's Weekly Posts on December 18, 2013 at 9:10 am
From GENE LOGSDON
Responding to the recollections a few of us made recently about milking cows in days gone by, Berny remembered how the cats would eat milk-soaked strainer pads after they were discarded and, to use her words, what came out the other end of the cat as a result. I don’t know that I would have remembered that on my own although, being reminded, I certainly do recall it. There are details about life on the farm I would rather forget. But let us all concentrate now and see who can come up with the most esoteric “little thing that counts” about farm life and thus get the honor of being the most genuine farmer of us all.
In keeping with the Christmas season (happy holidays, everyone), several years ago when we cut our Christmas tree, a volunteer in our red cedar fence line, we found a real bird’s nest in it when we got it back to the house. It made a great ornament with three Jordan almonds nestled inside.
Because I have often had to find ways to do farm work without spending money, one of my favorite tiny details of chore time is knowing that animals will eat snow, at least for a few days, if there is no water available. I had a chance to put that nugget of knowledge into practice just recently. Really cold weather came on us so fast that I found my rain barrels at the barn frozen over (no water piped to my barn as well as no electric in the barn, also examples of farming without money). I could have made an extra trip to the house to bring water to the seven hens, but it would have frozen quickly in the near zero temperatures. I filled their plastic dish (homemade out of an empty laundry soap bottle, easy to knock ice out of without damaging it) with snow. More…
In Gene's Weekly Posts on December 11, 2013 at 8:52 am
From GENE LOGSDON
I am not sure of very much in this crazy old world, but one conviction I hold to firmly: the more people in a society who have the opportunity to own their own homes and a little land, the better the chance for democracy and individual freedom to flourish. So I am aghast at the way the Chinese government is forcing its farmers off their land and into tall apartment buildings that to me are nothing more than giant tombstones in what will become the cemeteries of another civilization. But what made China’s land grab so poignant to me was that at the same time I read about it, and totally by happenstance, I was also reading Oliver Goldsmith’s poem, “The Deserted Village,” written in the middle 1800s. I had not realized earlier in my education the historical background that prompted the poem. Goldsmith was not sentimentalizing the passage of time as represented by an abandoned village but was writing in outrage because this was the time of the Enclosure Acts when the wealthy oligarchs of England grabbed up the common land, driving off the people who lived there, and bought up the holdings of small farmers too. A little research showed that what England was doing then what China is doing now. More research showed that the same thing happened in Scotland. Read The History of the Highland Clearances by Alexander MacKensie if you want to get really angry. People were burned alive in their homes when they refused to vacate their land. No wonder you can find all those huge castle-like mansions in the English countryside today. The concentration of wealth that built them came from forcibly acquiring a monopoly on the land. More…
In Gene's Weekly Posts on December 4, 2013 at 8:29 am
From GENE LOGSDON
Forgive me if this turns into a maudlin memory of barnyard days gone by. I do it not out of sentimentality but hopefully to shed a little light on the pros and cons of pasteurizing milk.
I loved it when, two weeks ago, a number of readers recalled some of the same fond memories I have of milking cows by hand. Yes, Chris N, squirting milk into the mouths of a row of cats waiting nearby in the alleyway. Yes, moving swiftly to pull the bucket out of the way of kicking cows and splattering urine. Yes, the quiet calm of the barn at dawn or dusk or especially when the moon was peering through the stable door. Yes, the irritation involved in milking cows with small teats. Yes, the flitting barn swallows and cooing pigeons and hooting owls. Yes, that particularly unique smell of milk, hay and aged manure bedding combined. Yes, a glass of milk warm and foamy directly from the cow. Yes, the separator and cream so thick you had to spoon it out of the jar.
There are only two things in life I know a lot about: stealing bases in baseball and milking cows. Stealing bases is a whole lot more fun. Dairy farming is hard and trying work and the best you can say about it is that it teaches patience and fortitude that come in handy in other trying moments in life—like dealing with rejection slips as a beginning writer. If you can endure kicking cows, rejection slips are a snap. I never worried about the milk; it’s the cow that can kill you. More…
In Gene's Weekly Posts on November 27, 2013 at 9:24 am
From GENE LOGSDON
Some readers found it hard to believe when I wrote in my last book, A Sanctuary of Trees, that at least in the eastern half of the United States there is more woodland now than there was a hundred years ago. Just recently, a report out of Penn State’s Department of Agricultural Sciences corroborates that claim at least for the state of Pennsylvania. The details of the study, from James Finley, a professor in Forest Resources Management, are most interesting and reflect why the good news about trees is sometimes hard to believe. While woodland is losing ground in southern Pennsylvania where there is more “development”, it is gaining in the northern part of the state, where land previously in farms is going back to forest. Your view can be influenced by where you live. I think the news is even better for tree lovers than the study reveals because it doesn’t seem to take into account the trees on developed land, like in subdivisions. Such trees are not considered part of the potentially commercial woodland, which, as I harp in the book, is a mistake. In fact some surprisingly nice “old growth forest” can actually be found in older suburbs and city villages. A good place to see that is in Cleveland, Ohio which I happen to be familiar with. In fact, if you fly low over most of our cities and villages you will get the impression that parts of them from the air look like forest cover. If they were managed properly, those trees could become part of our supply of wood.
Pennsylvania, according to the study, is 59% forested, about what it has been for the last several decades. This is the case for other states east of the Mississippi, and some in the west too. More…
In Gene's Weekly Posts on November 20, 2013 at 9:30 am
From GENE LOGSDON
You know we are in some kind of new era when the most intriguing information about farming comes from big city newspapers rather than farm magazines. Last week (Nov. 10), the Sunday Review section of the New York Times carried an article about how we are suffering from an “epidemic” of allergies and that relief just might be as close as your nearest barn reeking with manure and murky with hay dust, especially if you are drinking lots of raw milk at the same time.
You think I’m joking, don’t you?
The latest study backing up the healing effects of cow stables (there have been other studies in Europe) was inspired by a curious observation: Amish farmers in northern Indiana, spending much of their lives tending livestock in their barns, were remarkably free of allergies compared to urban populations. Mark Holbreich, an allergist in Indianapolis, investigated. About half of Americans have “evidence of allergic sensitization” but he found through testing that only 7% of Amish children on working farms were so sensitized. Amazing grace.
Having spent more of my lifetime in barns than in bathrooms I provide evidence of this theory. The only thing I know for sure that I’m allergic to is the TV reality show. By spending so much time stomping around in manury cow barns and dusty hay mows, and drinking lots of raw milk (easily a gallon a day in my twenties), I gained a life free of allergic distress. More…
In Gene's Weekly Posts on November 13, 2013 at 6:49 am
From GENE LOGSDON
After years of hearing how great grains are for health and how awful red meat is, I see that the diet mythologists are busy discovering and deciphering a new Dead Sea Scrolls of holy food. Grain is a culprit now, sending us to early graves. Two popular recent books proclaim the gluten-free road to immortality: Wheat Belly and Grain Brain. Both suggest that we are eating too many carbohydrates— too much bread, pasta, and potatoes. What flabbergasted me was the advice in Grain Brain: eat more high fat foods like meat and less grain. The brain needs more cholesterol and fewer carbohydrates.
If so, why am I not a genius? I have been eating a diet high in fats for 80 years now. Evidently the only reason my brilliance doesn’t rise to the surface for all to appreciate is because I cancelled out the good effects of butter and meat with tons of high-carbohydrate potatoes, pasta and bread. The only thing that saved me from sinking into total insanity was that I drenched the carbohydrates in gallons of greasy fat meat gravy.
But I should not make fun of these anti-grain books. I know of a guy who overdosed on bread and it wasn’t funny. In our boarding school cafeteria, we could always get second, third, and fourth helpings of white bread after we gulped down the main meal. We always thought we were close to starvation and so we filled up on Wonder bread. If a teacher pointed out the possible dangers of hogging down all that dough, our answer was “better bread than dead.” One of the guys began stowing away half a loaf or more for dessert after every meal, smearing the slices with jelly or when that ran out, with mustard or ketchup which were also always available for some reason known only to the gods of boarding schools. Finally the dough balled up in his stomach so badly that he ended up in the hospital. Wonders of Wonder, he lived to be 80. More…
In Gene's Weekly Posts on November 6, 2013 at 7:29 am
From GENE LOGSDON
I husked out my little patch of open-pollinated corn last week. It was something of a disappointment because the deer ate about half of it. But perhaps I should be grateful. I planted it so late (June 6) it is a wonder I got any. Frost did not come until Oct. 24 and many of the trees in the woods were still beautifully gold and green going into November.
But I noticed something mysterious while husking that made it all worthwhile. In the little field next to the corn plot, barnyard millet, or barnyard grass, or Japanese millet or whatever the dratted stuff is called (livestock won’t graze it except when it is very young) is growing in strips in the grass and clover pasture. It is easy to see the strips because the millet is brown and the other grass and clover still very green. I surely never planted it. It finally dawned on me that the strips of millet were growing where I had planted corn in strips in that field seven years ago.
How could cultivation that long ago still be influencing what is growing there now? Beats me. That field has almost always been pasture or hay, except for those strips of corn so long ago. Earlier I had grown corn and oats there once or twice— about 20 years ago. In other adjacent fields, the barnyard grass grows all over. So what is going on here?
One deduction seems obvious. The effects of disturbing the soil are more profound and long-lasting than I had imagined. Perhaps Andre Voisin, the eminent pasture scientist, was right when he wrote that once land is plowed, it takes a hundred years for it to gain back its original natural equilibrium of soil life.
Another possibility, which I have a hard time believing, is that the field has had these strips of barnyard grass growing where the corn was planted every year since then and I just didn’t notice. This year, because we made hay twice from the plot, the barnyard grass shows up better. But even if that is true, why hasn’t the grass advanced more out into the ground between the strips? More…
In Gene's Weekly Posts on October 30, 2013 at 9:39 am
From GENE LOGSDON
Is that what’s happening? I kind of think so, in food production anyway. Yes, the vast bulk of our industrial food comes out of large scale factory farming, but electronics surely seems to be leading the way toward something else. The backyard, local food revolution is actually only part of a larger evolution in the way society is reshaping itself. (I just read, in the NYTimes of all places, that there are now businesses that will take care of your backyard chickens while you go on vacation!!!) I see it both in the farming world and in the art world because those are the two areas I know a little about. In the very same way that a small business can start up way out in the boonies growing special heirloom grains and selling them online worldwide is a reflection of what has been happening in the art world. There must be a zillion musicians now who are writing their own songs, putting their music on disks at home with their own sophisticated electronic recorders and sound mixers and then selling their surprisingly professional and sophisticated work on the Internet. One of them lives and works in the woods right here in my neighborhood. He probably won’t make any money, but he does have an audience. The miracle of the Internet is that I can write his name here, Nick Barnes, and I bet you can find him online. Multiply him by several million and what you are looking at is musical production that does not depend on the big centralized Nashville music center for its existence and which in aggregate, whether profitable or not, competes with Nashville. I think (maybe just wishful thinking) that this can eventually be an economic force as well as a cultural force to be reckoned with.
I have several close friends who are professional artists, Karl Kuerner in Pennsylvania and Pat Gamby just down the road. Although both of these artists have their studios on their farms, their work can be looked at online from anywhere in the world. It is just bound to mean a renaissance in local art on the way. More…
In Gene's Weekly Posts on October 23, 2013 at 1:09 pm
From GENE LOGSDON
Those words come not from anti-Monsanto sources looking for excuses to discredit chemical weed killers, but from Big Farming itself. More and more weeds are becoming immune to glyphosate (Roundup) and the chemical companies are moving forward as fast as they can to find new genes they can stack in corn and soybeans to make them immune to other weed killers, especially 2, 4-D to which weeds have not built up much resistance in over 60 years.
At the risk of underestimating readers, I really doubt that the public at large understands how absolutely essential herbicides are to large acreage agriculture. Very large farms just could not exist without them. At least at present, there is no mechanical way to control weeds on that scale. It was hard enough controlling them with cultivation when farms were small. Even then weed cultivation was only effective if hay and pasture crops were rotated with the grains. To control weeds with machines on large farms would mean leaving a third or so of the land out of grain production every year. It would mean hiring people with hoes to walk the corn and bean rows like I did as a boy to get rid of the weeds that neither cultivation nor crop rotation kept at bay.
Are you thinking the same thing I’m thinking? “Going back” to cultivation, legume rotations, and millions more smaller farms with family members and hired help to control weeds sounds like a good idea to me. Walking bean rows with a hoe is not brutalizing unless done in excess. (It is almost fun if there is a chance of finding Indian arrowheads as you walk along.) Is there any way to dispute the conclusion that the benefits to the labor force, the environment and democracy would be enormous? If the change came gradually, as it would certainly come, even the wealthy landowners would not suffer as they sold off chunks of their estates at prices higher than they paid for them. More…