From Our Archives – October 2007
GENE LOGSDON (1931 – 2016)
The Contrary Farmer
Chuck Walters is almost blind but, using electronic equipment that can render printed words into sound, he continues to keep a lively presence in his magazine, Acres USA: The Voice of Eco-Agriculture and to turn out book after book on farming and economics that make mincemeat out of the political and economic powers that he believes are reducing farmers to mere slaves operating food factories which are not sustainable. That’s why he is surely one of the most revered and most vilified leaders in the world of agriculture. I think he is a genius. Mega-agribusiness thinks he is a crackpot.
Mr. Walters grew up, literally, in the dust bowls of the 1930s. He remembers his mother putting wet sheets over the doors and windows of their home to keep out the dust and watching the sheets turn to panels of mud. He remembers children dying, literally asphyxiated with dust. He remembers “cows that died with balls of mud as big as softballs in their guts.” So when he writes about the ruination of the land by bad farming, he speaks from his own gritty experience. He served in both WW II and the Korean War, so when he talks about the stupidity of war, he talks from his own grim observations, He has an advanced degree in economics, so when he discourses on the dangers inherent in current banking policies and the in mega-consolidation of businesses and farming, he speaks from a position of authority. He was the journalist-publicity director for the National Farmers Organization (NFO) when it began, baring the scandals and injustices that made farmers fighting mad, so when he writes about the insidious manipulations of the oligarchies of power to turn farmers into “hog pen janitors” he knows the territory.
He is the author of several books on the organic principles of farming as laid down by scientists like William Albrecht and others, so when he sounds the alarm against the misuse of chemicals and technology in food production, he’s not just clacking his teeth. And he has been the first among many to protest the way big agribusiness is attempting to manipulate organic certification standards for its own ends, thereby rendering the definition of organic meaningless, so he demonstrates, always, that no one owns him except his personal devotion to what he perceives as the truth.
When I first started reading Mr. Walters, he seemed so fiery and fierce in his condemnation of the dangers he recognized in farming and indeed, in almost all areas of human behavior, that even I was a little afraid to get too close to him, if you can believe that. He was supporting farming practices and theories repudiated by mainstream university science. He was writing for the NFO while I was writing for Farm Journal, Inc., hardly a friend of NFO and definitely not a friend of the kind of seemingly strange farming ideas that Mr. Walters championed. But like all “far out” prophets who do their homework, he kept sounding a little more sane with each passing year, and finally I had to look him up and get acquainted. I found him calm and likable in person (unlike his combativeness in writing) and so widely knowledgeable that it was impossible not to respect him. He could quote about every famous person in history from Plato to “Bush 43” as he referred, not at all approvingly, to the current President.
Recently I caught up with him again, interviewing him and reviewing his writings for my latest book, The Mother of All Arts. He was still going strong, bubbling over with enthusiasm for his new book in progress, a novel which is “sort of autobiographical”, as he puts it. His “wild” organic and agronomic theories are no longer ridiculed and his economic predictions, in light of the current banking debacle, are eerily right on target. Although Chuck Walters will be known mainly for his untiring pursuit of sustainable advances in food production, he is also a most potent social critic — he knows that we can develop a sustainable farming system, but if economic and war policies from on high work against such a system, success is hardly possible.
Anyone who has been reading Walters for the last thirty years is not a bit surprised at the current chaos in our financial institutions because of the sub-prime crisis and hedge fund mania. He has predicted it all, and has spelled out the reasons why it is happening. The clever attempt in the last fifty years to transfer the basis of wealth from real goods like food and fiber and natural resources and real work to paper money and make-believe paper work can lead only to catastrophe. As he sums up in his latest newsletter in Acres in October, 2007: “If this letter is strong tonic, so be it — just remember the brew was fermented in the day that public policy decided to empty the countryside [of farmers] and substitute debt for earnings so that now America can’t even feed itself.”
I think nearly everyone in the field of organic food has been reading Mr. Walters, but if you haven’t, and especially if you are not into organic food production, check him out. And for those who have learned to be cautious of the printed word, this is not a paid or unpaid ad. I have no business connection whatsoever with Mr. Walters, nor does he even know I am writing this.