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.
Actually, Jan and Andy decided to put up a tent-like awning for me just in case it did rain, but it still struck me as the most fitting place I’d ever signed books, surrounded by the beauty of lush organic flowers and vegetables, especially since my book was about how agriculture has influenced and inspired art in human culture.
But the most artful inspiration of the day came from Andy when he was explaining to the tour visitors how he and Jan live comfortably on a relatively small income from their vegetables and flowers by living deliberately just below the government’s officially proclaimed cost of living index. They can enjoy a kind of wealth, he pointed out, that was not available to those who constantly strive for more money so as to afford more material things. He sounded like Francis of Assisi to me. Then, with just a trace of his characteristic impish grin, he said: “It is fairly easy to live comfortably just below the poverty level because the government keeps raising the level.”
That reminded me of yet another nearby farmer so contrary that he refuses to let me use his name in print. His wife is even contrarier. I will call them George and Grace. They are about eighty now and recently got rid of their chickens as part of “slowing down.” They were sorely stressed to do so however because their own fresh eggs had always been part of their money-saving economy. They hardly ever buy anything they can provide for themselves. George can barely throw anything away, not even trash. He folds the used baling wire from hay bales into neat little packets of two, and then, — I am not making this up! — ranks them neatly, like cord wood, back of the barn. “Never know when someone might want some,” he says. Speaking of cord wood, his barn is full of it, which he has split by hand himself and meticulously stacked in perfect ranks. He has enough split to keep his house warm, he says, until he dies. Grace cooks many of their meals on top of the stove that does the heating.
Members of their family gave them a computer not so long ago. George, being extremely traditional as well as contrary, had no idea what he would do with the thing. It was like giving George Bush a pitchfork. The computer sat on a sidetable in the living room for maybe a year, staring coldly at them like a stuffed wolf, making them feel guilty. My wife showed them how to turn it on once, but that was as far as the matter went. But they felt that they could not get rid of it because that would hurt the gift-giver’s feelings. But there was no place for it taking up space in their utilitarian household. What to do?
Recently on one of our visits, I noticed that the computer was gone. What gives? George smiled sweetly. “I put it in the chicken coop.”