Once A Farm Boy, Always…



I was sort of shocked by an ad in a recent New York Times Sunday magazine which I read regularly. It showed photos of a magnificent new high rise apartment and the surrounding skyline of the city, also magnificent. The building’s form was awesomely grotesque with the floors seemingly piled on top of each other rather haphazardly, not stacked straight and square, jutting into the sky as if in a careless, random flirtation with the natural environment. Most of the walls were glass which added to a feeling that this was not a building at all but just a dream of a building. I am sure the whole affair was a triumph of architectural design but instead of being awed by it, I felt fear and discomfort. The building looked like it was going to topple over in the first strong wind. In fact the whole scene suggested impermanence and instability to me. My main thought was wondering where all the power came from to energize those zillions of electric lights sparkling unnecessarily across the cityscape.

As I studied the photos, my agrarian upbringing struck me with renewed conviction. City splendor means nothing much good to me, even though I am a peasant with lots of higher education. I am not at all comfortable with cities or being in them. To me they are the final heartbeat of a civilization reaching climax and about to crumble. Walking on sidewalks I feel exactly as I would feel walking in a volcanic crater about to erupt again. All those years I walked the streets of Philadelphia, I tripped the lights fantastic only to earn the money that a poor farm boy needs to escape to the quiet green fields and the smell of curing hay in the barn. I never put my full weight down on the pavement. But I did learn the source of the city’s charm. I would stop every morning in the heart of Philly and buy a sweet roll at a little Greek bakery. One week, traveling, I missed my appointed round. When I returned, the ancient grandmother of this family enterprise looked up at me from behind the counter as I paid her and asked— remember this was in a city thronging with eight or nine million people—: Where were you last week? That’s how I learned the peasant and pleasant truth about the big city. It is held together with local roots nurtured by a network of old country villages from which it sprang.

Why is it that no matter how far I strayed into academia and big city life, the yearning for the farm environment, as rough and crude as it sometimes was, never left me. The sound of hens singing in the barnyard, the sight of cows and sheep grazing in the pasture, the smell of spring stirring in the woods, the creak of the windmill outside my bedroom window, fireflies aglow over wheat stubble, — these things were ever present in my mind and when I would encounter them during forays into the countryside, I would be overwhelmed with nostalgia. A farm boy friend of mine in Texas and a well known writer and musician in his own right (Joe Dan Boyd), happened to email me on this very subject, even as I was writing about it. He wondered if it were “ancestral mind” at work, and used phrases like “genetic predisposition” to explain it. I think the other part of it is environmental. The years from birth to adolescence are surely the most influential time of life, and if the child spends that time on a farm, the sights and sounds and smells weld themselves to the psyche even if the experiences aren’t always pleasant. It is amazing to me how many famous writers and singers try to flee their “ancestral mind” only to be drawn back to it for the creative energy they need to write or sing.

It is interesting to study the stark ruins of ancient cities in North Africa and note that around them, there are peasants drawing spiritual and physical sustenance from the land that when it was neglected, spelled the end of those ancient great metropolises.


Yet again, you bring out the heart of the matter. I find that cities energize me. I love a trip to see plays, eat food far more exotic than anything I cook, and to enjoy the imagination-sparking press of so many people surging around me. But I’m not comfortable being energized that way for very long. I swear my heartbeat doesn’t slow down until I can hear the birds and smell things growing.

Since all of humanity springs from the same ancestral roots, grown in wild places, I suspect we all find peace in nature. Some are simple drawn to, even addicted to, the energizing effect of cities. May we all understand an occasional dose of Country Mouse/City Mouse does us some good.

thetinfoilhatsociety May 13, 2013 at 5:42 pm

We were farm caretakers when I was small, and though we moved on, we always had a garden even if we had to drive out to the grandparents’ homestead to take care of it. I thought I would be a doctor and lawyer so I wouldn’t have to dig potatoes out in October through the snow. Here I am, x years later, digging potatoes out in November and loving it. Along with everything else that goes along with the rural and farming life. My mother would be so shocked.

As an aside, have you ever heard of Louis Bromfield? I found a book of his on his Malabar Farm in the thrift store, copyright 1947. It’s really interesting to read about swales from someone who used them long before permaculture came along. Along with lots of other types of practices that are beneficial rather than damaging to the land.

    Yes, tinfoilhat, I know about Louis Bromfield and have read and liked his books. In fact wrote a foreward to a reprint of one of his books. Although his farm is only about an hour from my homegrounds, I never met him. Gene

I thought it was just me feeling strange in the city…we live near DC and when I (rarely) am there, I find it interesting to talk to people and tour museums. I love to talk to people! But living there seems so unnatural, even if I had the money. And I never had been on a farm till college, when I stayed on my grandparents hardscrabble little Louisiana homestead, but somehow, that changed my life’s direction toward the country.
Now I’m getting old and I’d like to still have a garden and chickens, but not be so isolated.
I need a small town of the 1930s!

Thanks. It was almost 10 years ago when I read At Nature’s Pace.

I was living in St. Louis then. I find it very acceptable to embrace one’s rural heritage. Today I live on the 237 acres my grandfather bought in during the depression. There is a spring, 2 creeks, 89 acres of the worst corn ground in the county, and 147 acres of the best pasture in Norther Illinois. My “day job” is making beer bottles in a factory 25 miles away.

Its hilarious to listen to others at the factory talk about their new trucks. They don’t know the pleasures of driving an ’89 1ton truck or an ’80 Jeep scrambler ride in the pasture. They won’t understand the conversations I have with friends and family. It is a completely foreign lifestyle to them.

Rural life isn’t an inferiority. It is an asset worthy of embracing.

It’s also interesting to watch land agents come out of Houston. They really have no clue who they are dealing with as they come looking to make a quick buck from right of ways and land rights. They might know something about making money from energy, but they nothing nothing about land and value. The are most certainly a most uneducated bunch.

Thank you for reminding us it is perfectly acceptable to be ourselves.

Gene. Wonderful as your words are as always, I fear that the photo tells it all at a glance. That young fella could only be racing around some rural backyard with his wheelbarrow, exuding life, energy and with an attitude that will serve him well for the rest of his life. Compare that with a proverbial photo of a couple of kids kicking a ball around some dusty street corner. Not quite the same I fear. One speaks of aims and focus, the other of boredom and a lack of direction.

I recall early last year reading the eulogy at my father’s funeral where I said that I felt I was extremely privileged in my up-bringing and that I put it down to what I termed as the 3 “P”s. Growing up in rural NZ on a farm in the 50’s and very early 60’s those “P”s stood for period, place and people. I explained that the period was important as there was a feeling amongst the general population then (and a political backing for it as well) that you could pretty much aspire to anything you wanted if you were prepared to work for it. During the war years prior to that and in the ‘chaos’ of the later 60’s and 70’s this was not so evident and is certainly very hard to do nowadays. What I meant by place was that I grew up in a small rural community (dairying and sheep/beef farming) that was far enough away from the larger cities/urban centres not to have them overwhelm you but they were there if necessary and yet we lived in a very community-orientated farming village that was not really deprived of anything if you needed to make or grow it. As for the people, my parents (and their forebears) worked hard, played hard, were very self-sufficient in nearly everything (if not, they did without), enjoyed life and taught their children those values; especially the value of a strong family structure (which I firmly believe the dissolution of is the prime cause of many of today’s woes) and community involvement.

After the funeral was over many of those there, including those older and younger than me, came up to and said that they had felt exactly the same. Wonderful times but I am sure they are not totally essential to living the dream nor to bringing up well adjusted youngsters however I know that I would be a completely different person if any one of those “P”s was missing.

Love your blogs as always and will be intrigued to read your next publication on death. I think a good deal of today’s angst can be laid squarely at the feet of not facing up to this inevitability.



I live in the suburbs and spend most of my waking hours in a cubicle working in the technology sector… but long for the days when I can live on a farm. Quite honestly it’s about all I can think about. I discovered a number of co-workers who are avid gardeners, we talk quite a bit about our gardens and can’t wait to leave work to tend them! Just about all of them have a desire to own a farm. I didn’t grow up on a farm – but have always been involved in gardening in some way or another, it was my way of staying close to nature. And even though I didn’t grow up on a farm I’ve always had that yearning to have one of my own. I believe there is some primal instinct at work there, pulling me back…

I grew up on a farm in a farm community. I had no idea what a blessing that was. I hit adulthood looking forward to taming the world. I soon found out that the world was not mine to tame. It almost beat me, but then I found the soil again. I have been grounded ever since.

I work off-farm to pay down debt and build a farm. My 73 acres has become a nice hamlet in the country. We are diversified in our farm products. I am working to secure markets and innovative ways to sell our goods while patiently securing our future. Very soon I will return to the land for good.

You are right Gene…you cannot take the country out of the boy!

“Burn down your cities and leave our farms, and your cities will spring up again as if by magic; but destroy our farms and the grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country.”William Jennings Bryan

I did over twenty years in the US Army so I could afford to live in the country. My grandparents had a dairy farm and I spent every second I could there. I was so bad about it I wouldn’t let my mom wash my jeans after I came back because they smelled like the farm. Now I live in a small village in Germany ( population 77) with fields and woods surrounding us. I am so glad that my son and his family live next door so that my grandchildren will grow up in the sticks.

I hear you! I grew up in the city (Amsterdam) but as a child I always longed for the country. I did enjoy living there in my early twenties.Once we came to Canada and a job brought us to rural B.C. we fell in love! We made being in a place the focal point of life, taking whatever jobs made that possible. I have never been sorry. We are not rich but I had those twenty years and more right here in paradise.


I once read that “wages are compensation for time stolen from your life.” Wasn’t it you that stated, “A bad day on the farm is better than a good day at a job?” Truer words were never spoken.

A few years ago my son David said, “Don’t tell anybody, but I really like the smell of manure.” I knew he was a real farm kid then. Some of the best discussions we’ve had have been while pitching manure and picking stones, tasks that repel many people, but I find give time for soulful introspection and face to face contact.

    it is aid that most of the Psalms would never have been composed if David hadn’t been a shepherd. if he had been attached to electronics and never seen the night sky unpolluted by artificial light.
    doing chores leaves the mind free to think, and deeply.
    deb harvey

I was just a little girl, standing in the backyard at my grandparents farm and informed my mother that I wanted to be a farmer when I grew up. She immediately explained to me that you couldn’t make a living being a farmer. I took a “city” job and spent 20 years working on getting back to my grandparents farm. We’ve built a house and a barn on 20 acres of it and are raising food for ourselves, friends and family. A couple of more years at the city job and they’ll hopefully pay me back (financially) for the years that I wasn’t here.

I can’t wait to get out of that city and never go back!

Large cities I have visited,NY,DC,Philly etc don’t offer anything I want or really care about even the entertainment is better here on the farm watching the young chicks or ducklings make their way in the World or watching the Wren that always builds a nest in one compartment of a bolt bin in my tool shed.
Really most country people can live and die and never really need anything from the city folks
but city people are wholly dependent on country/rural people for their very existence as their water,food,energy are all supplied by those in the country probably not many their look at it that way though.

I’ve wondered about these things too–but it has to be more than genetic or ancestral DNA at work. Maybe that and something else. I was born on but only later visited my grandparents farm in Arkansas. I’ve been told that I have recreated their farm here, and when I look around, I guess I have. It just feels right to me.

But my mother was born and raised on that Arkansas farm and could not wait to escape to the big city–Los Angeles! She frequently said that was why she married my father–who as a navy man was stationed in California during Korea–to get off that damn cotton farm! While I have tried my whole life to get back onto it.

Funny thing is I also like country living, although in a small town these days, but come from along line of city dwellers. My mother loathed the country.

Im with you on this Hannah .

I enjoyed this article. I, too, am a peasant who loves the farm and woodlot, and would not trade them for the finest mansion in a city. We have space to spread out, fresh air to breathe, laundry flapping on the line, and caring neighbors.We move to the pace of the seasons, instead of the 9-5 rat race. City folks would think we are deprived (can’t afford to play golf, have fancy vacations, or buy new vehicles) but I feel infinitely rich having good soil to cultivate and a diversity of plants and animals here in our little sanctuary.

Reblogged this on Dang Yankee and commented:
I’m a huge fan of the writing of Gene Logsdon – today he posted about once being a farm boy.. It made me think about how some of us love living in the country and others in the city. It’s pretty rare that someone goes for both and it seems like usually when someone likes one they can’t imagine living in the other. Is it something in our genes, no pun intended, or something that we learn? I understand many of the charms of living in a city but I feel that I’m more comfortable in the country. It aligns with what I like to do and if I’m craving city type things – I can visit a city and satisfy those cravings. For me, the thing that I miss the most about the cities are the ethnic variety and the resulting food options.

Wow, Gene — another missive that speaks to my heart!

I grew up on a farm and couldn’t wait to get away to a high-paying big-city job. And years of those big-city jobs now finances my return to farming.

So where’s the justice in that? If I had a place to go back to when I was a kid, I might have done like the Amish and taken a year sabbatical to discover the down-side of city life, then come back home.

But farm prices are far too high for the involvement of most young people. But if farm prices come down to something affordable for young people, there’s going to be a lot of margin calls on highly-leveraged farms. Catch-22?

As you hint, I think it’s safe to say that things are going to be changing soon. Those who are blind to that are the ones who will suffer the most.

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