GENE LOGSDON (1931 – 2016)
From Our Archives Sept 2007
[What happened when a band of merry seminarians full of modern science, took on a traditional old farmer in a contest to decide whether potatoes grown organically would yield better than those grown chemically. An excerpt from the novel, The Lords of Folly, by Gene Logsdon.]
In a rural area where even a car passing on a country road was a Social Event, the Great Potato Race had taken on the trappings of festival: a cross between a county fair and a prayer meeting. Various interested parties began to descend upon Oblate Gabe’s and farmer Hasse’s two potato patches. Horticulturists and agronomists led discussions in the use of sulfur in potato culture and on the increasing immunity of potato bugs to insecticides. Young farmers argued about whether the oblates’ close plantings producing a greater number of smaller potatoes would out-yield Hasse’s wider plantings producing fewer but larger potatoes. Old farmers wondered if it made any difference whether big or small potatoes were used for seed. Harriet Snod’s Garden Club discussed whether Pisces, Scorpio or Capricorn was the better sign to plant under… Oblate Blaze arranged a special ceremony that involved the Prior walking up and down the rows of the Josephian’s potatoes sprinkling holy water, being careful not to do so in his usual ample manner, lest some of the precious liquid fall accidentally on Hasse’s potatoes too…
In case holy water was not enough, Gabe turned to irrigation during a summer dry spell. He showed farmers and agronomists how he could easily irrigate his potatoes by damming up the laterals of his drainage system so that the ever-flowing spring water from the swamps filled the ditches to the desired level, allowing the water to run out into the potato patch.
From Filmers to Farmers
Yes, I’ve read the headlines, and once again – although perhaps a bit more so than previous iterations – the previous year (2016) was one for fawning over many-a-departed pop stars. David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, George Michael, and many others. Pop stars aren’t really my thing, but if that stuff floats your dinghy, well, all the best with that. In the meantime, 2016 was also the year that several luminaries with a more agrarian bent also bade their farewell, beginning with the co-founder of Permaculture, Bill Mollison. Just a couple of weeks ago one of Permaculture’s most respected and more recent practitioners and teachers, Toby Hemenway, also made an all-too-early departure. But along with these, 2016 also saw us lose an agrarian outside the world of Permaculture, that somebody being the aptly named Contrary Farmer, Gene Logsdon.
I’ll admit that I’m nowhere near as familiar with Logsdon’s writing as I am with others of the American Agrarian Crew (as I call them) – Wendell Berry, Wes Jackson, Gary Paul Nabhan, etc. – or what Logsdon referred to as “the five musketeers, a quintet of somewhat radical thinkers and doers coming together in opposition to the steady consolidation of farming into an international mega-agribusiness monopoly” – Berry, Jackson, Maurice Telleen, David Kline, and himself. Having gone through a heavy and prolonged dose of the aforementioned and other agrarian authors a few years ago, I’d somewhat overdosed on said writing and had to take a break from it all, just as I was getting to Logsdon. I did however read just enough – to go along with a bit of a recent nudge – that I’ve been able to realize that Logsdon left us all with a rich treasure trove of writing to discover.
The first of Logsdon’s writings that I (unsurprisingly?) read – and thoroughly enjoyed – was his book Good Spirits: A New Look at Ol’ Demon Alcohol, but it was then with (misplaced) disappointment that I soon thereafter discovered his book Gene Logsdon’s Practical Skills: A Revival of Forgotten Crafts, Techniques and Traditionsin a thrift shop. “Seriously?”, I asked myself. “Did Logsdon actually write one of those hokey ‘101 Ingenious Ways to Using Baking Soda’ type books?” I of course bought it anyways (I probably paid $2.50 for it), and after languishing on my book shelf for a couple of years I one day found myself with nothing to read and so pulled it out.