Posts By ds

Our Hidden Wound


Gene Logsdon (1992)

I’m a hayseed, I’m a hayseed,
and my ears are full of pigweed.
How they flop in stormy weather—
gosh oh hemlock, tough as leather…

—From a children’s rhyme heard in the Midwest in the 1930s and forties.

Most of us grew up in a society where farmer was often merely a synonym for moron, and I am quite sure that many farmers are still haunted by feelings of inferiority laid on them by this kind of urban and urbane prejudice. In fact, I suspect that many of the most competent farmers among us continue to expand their farm empires not out of greed or an insatiable desire for wealth, but because they feel compelled to prove again and again that, by God, they are not inferior to anyone. They want to cram that fact as far down the throats of their boyhood taunters as they can, and, sadly, they spend their lives doing it.

In my high school days in the late forties, supercilious town girls routinely claimed that milking cows caused hands to grow too large and rough and the reason farmers had big feet was that they went barefoot too much. Lord help the girl who wore a print dress made from a grain sack, although the dresses were as pretty as any. A boy who came to school with chicken manure on his shoes, as could easily happen, or with the smell (real or imagined) of the cow stable on his clothes, instantly became an object of derision. Wearing bib overalls, which, ironically, are all the urban rage right now, brought automatic jeers, and after a while we refused to wear them, even at home. When the school lunch program came along, country children whose mothers packed a lunch for them, believing for some strange reason that parents, not the government, should feed their children, were restricted to a separate part of the lunchroom, and this separation soon carried with it a stigma not unlike the segregation of blacks in “their own place.” Farm work was in all cases put down as “nigger work” and it was too bad, we were told, that redneck country kids were condemned to it. One of our textbooks, with all good intentions, I’m sure, had a chapter entitled “Farm Folk Are Human, Too.” My mother, half-amused and half-dismayed, showed that page to my father. He took one look and hurled the book across the floor.

We farm kids came to school possessing intricate and valuable knowledge about manual arts, food production skills, and the ways of nature—all of which our urban counterparts desperately lacked, as is now apparent from the actions of well-meaning animal rightists and overzealous environmentalists; yet most of the teachers not only ignored this treasure trove of information, but belittled it as having no relevance to life. Kamyar Enshayan, of the Sustainable Agriculture Program at Ohio State University, calls this “paradigm negation” and says that rural students coming into the university are still treated as if what they have learned at home, from tradition or through farm experience, is of no importance. “This is, in fact, the way colonial powers always treat their colonies as a way of stripping them of their identity and destroying their independence,” he says. “Farmers don’t yet realize it, but rural areas have become no more than colonies from which cities are sucking the wealth.”

In high school we accepted the urban prejudices against us in a solid, simmering silence that erupted into rebellion only once that I recall—a violent, bloody fistfight in the lobby of our local theater. The fight started when a “townie” called one of us a “clodhopper” once too often.

It wasn’t so long ago, really, that that kind of prejudice was perpetuated all over America. We who are now in our forties and fifties bear the scars of these prejudices as part of what Wendell Berry, the poet and farmer, calls “the hidden wound” in his book by that title. And we know, like the blacks know, that the prejudice is far from gone: it has only become more slyly silken in its displays. Though the scars have healed, they ache whenever the cultural weather shifts.

Some farmers flaunt the prejudice by wearing dirty clothes to the bank to borrow a quarter of a million dollars. Others over-compensate by dressing up to look “respectable” for the banker. That’s also why they get the car washed every time they’re in town. Some want to be called “agribusinesspeople” rather than farmers even if it does take half an hour to get that word out. Almost all of us are suckers for the “urban counterpart” argument. Salespeople know that a good way to get a farmer to buy their product is to hint that it will enable us to live “more like your urban counterpart.” Those who follow that allurement to its logical conclusion become urban counterparts, because it is patently impossible for a farmer to live like a city person.

How many generations does it take to heal the scars of prejudice completely? I wonder. I have a notion that prejudice is never eradicated, just transferred. When the “hillbillies” moved into our county from Kentucky during World War II, the focus of urban prejudice switched to them because they were even more “rural” than we were. Nursing our wounds, we farmers, who should have been sympathetic, joined with the townspeople in inflicting the wound on them. When the Mexican fieldworkers came, another segment of society colonized out of its own farm traditions, the “hillbillies” joined us, glad no longer to be at the bottom of the pecking order. Although there are hardly any blacks in our county, they are still referred to broadly as “niggars” by more than a few whites including most farmers; and “niggars” are still thought to be oversexed beyond control. I suspect, in fact, that farmers tend to hold on to such hoary racial prejudices in retaliation against their own hidden wound. Misery loves company.

Our county has just come through a nasty school consolidation fight in which, as usual, the bureaucracy won and the farmers lost. The school in the village of Harpster was closed (along with another township school). Being on the task force that undertook to study the matter, I was involved up to my ears (how they flop in stormy weather) in that battle. I had all the available figures pertinent to the school closing, and those figures did not show that there were any savings to be had by closing the Harpster school. Nor was there any proof that consolidating the schools meant better education. (In fact, nationally, more and more evidence points to quite the opposite conclusion.) Not even population decline could be cited as a reason for closing the Harpster school, because the area was gaining population. But argument was futile since the state of Ohio, like most states, is committed to consolidation. And latent in that policy is a contempt for rural people. Wayne Fuller, a professor of history at the University of Texas, has soundly documented this contempt in his recent book The Old Country School. In order to gain control of the independent school districts, professional educators undertook a campaign, beginning in the nineteenth century and intensifying in the twentieth, to discredit country schools in the eyes of state legislators. The professionals, often bluntly, said that farmers were too ignorant to be capable of running schools. Fuller points out that in most cases, the farmers’ ideas about education turned out to be better than the professional educators’, and that in following the latter’s course, we now have a large percentage of our population that can’t even read intelligently. My friend Craig Bowman who with his sons farms about 4,000 acres today, was a leader in both of the futile fights to save Harpster’s high school in 1960 and its elementary school in 1990. He nods when I tell him about Fuller’s book. “One reason we lost those battles, especially in 1960, was that many farmers half-believed that those yahoos in the state education department knew more about what was good for their children than they did, and they wouldn’t stand up to them. Of course. Society trained them that way.”

Even in our rural county, teachers encourage students not to think of themselves as coming from Harpster, or Marseilles, or any of our little villages or townships, but from the Upper Sandusky School District, which is perceived as a nobler root from which to spring. “Big is better” is a myth behind the myth that country people are somehow second-rate. And that may be why farmers so readily embraced the slogan “Get big or get out.”

But it is not necessary to blame education for the prejudice against farmers, since television, the real educating force in America, reinforces the myth with one prime-time show after another. The bigotry is not even veiled. Night after night, one dramatic episode or another will follow the adventures of a character who just had to get out of a “backward” rural area in favor of the, tah-dah, City. Getting out of rural areas for fame and fortune persists as a story motif even though it flies utterly in the face of reality. The competent farmers and businesspeople who stayed in our county are at least as financially successful as their peers who went to the city, and they don’t have to pay $300,000 for a $90,000 home, either. As one refugee back here from the big city says: “As for the cultural advantages of the city, who needs the traffic hassle? Electronics brings ‘cultural advantages’  to one’s home, wherever it may be.” (The “cultural advantages of the city” is another side of the prejudice against farmers. Why does no one speak of the cultural advantages of the country? For example, is a well groomed, ecologically kept, sustainably fertile farm any less cultural, any less artful, than paintings of fat angels on church ceilings?)

I am sure that the reason for the prejudice so many farmers exhibit against the Amish (the most biased like to infer, with a snicker, that Amish women are oversexed, like black people) is that their lifestyle unwittingly jabs at our hidden wound. The Amish remind us of ourselves fifty years ago, when we lived much like they do now and were ridiculed for it. And it is embarrassing to us that the Amish prove we could all make a decent living in farming by not trying to live like our urban counterparts.

What is so curious about the inanity of prejudice against farmers is that it exists right alongside the opposite prejudice: that farmers are the moral backbone of society. Farmers, of course (including the Amish), can be just as ornery as anyone else. This overly favorable image gains more credence the farther it is removed from agriculture. The wealthy townhouse dweller who has seldom been anywhere except Manhattan and Bermuda (and, as a result, is far more provincial than most farmers), thinks of the “man of the soil” as a kind of yeoman saint in overalls, working without surcease in the peace and quiet of God’s country to feed the world. This image lasts until said townhouser builds a million-dollar home in the country and the farmer next door starts spreading manure. The age-old contempt quickly returns and any farmers who must try to “feed the world” next to suburbs are not even allowed to work in their fields after dark.

The prejudice against farmers carries far from the farm. A New York City magazine editor cannot keep from displaying just a tad of superiority when talking about the work of a farm writer like myself. Usually it is more than a tad. When a Camden, New Jersey, columnist reviewed my book about Andrew Wyeth, which I wrote in 1970 while I was an editor at Farm Journal, she wrote most kindly but expressed surprise that such writing could come from someone who worked on a farm magazine! We farm writers, nursing our wound, aid and abet that prejudice ourselves: invariably, when one of our associates leaves our ranks for work in another field of journalism, we say that he or she graduated to a higher rung on the ladder. Why is Time more important than Farm Journal? It is difficult for the urban mind to swallow the fact that a renowned poet and essayist like Wendell Berry, or an accomplished musician like Elmo Reed, is also a bona fide farmer.

This low opinion of our work causes many farmers to see their land as nothing more than a factory or mine or “resource” from which to extract money. They remain unaware of its exquisite beauty, its natural wonders, and its potential as a sanctuary for the recreation of the human spirit. They ignore its natural pleasures in favor of faraway vacation spots: the same farmer who gasps in awe at a redstart in Cuba (once it is pointed out to him) does not know that the same bird visits his Ohio farm every spring and fall. The farmer who destroys the wild sanctuaries of his own farm uses the money to hunt and fish in Canada. He dines lavishly in gourmet restaurants on food that is not nearly as “farm-fresh,” “free-range,” or “organically pure” as the meats and vegetables he could grow in his own backyard and barnyard. Eschewing the good life of his own farm, he eschews the good life of his own neighborhood. His barn is no longer full of laughing, romping children or grandchildren, his hillsides no longer echo the happy cries of sledders, his pond no longer draws the swimmers and ice skaters of his community. There is no community. The neighbors have all gone to the city. The village churches and schools and taverns and inns that once were scenes of far more delight than the boring, manufactured uniformity of tourism are boarded up.

If we farmers deny the magnificence of our own rurality, how can we blame urban society for treating us the same way?



The Economy of Eden



Gene Logsdon
Sun Magazine
January 1996

[Rummaging around in some boxes in the garage I came across this quintessential essay by Gene I had copied from The Sun magazine, more than 10 years before we started working together on this blog. -ds]

“I have learned how to grow healthy crops,,” wrote Sir Albert Howard in his 1940 book An Agricultural Testament, “without the slightest help from mycologists, entomologists, bacteriologists, agricultural chemists, statisticians, spraying machines, insecticides, germicides, and all the other expensive paraphernalia of the modern experiment station.”

If Howard had gone on to write what he took for granted everyone understood — that he had also learned how to grow healthy crops without any help from politicians, economists, churchmen, government subsidies, oil companies, and charitable foundations — he would have written the perfect farmers’ Declarations of Independence for the twenty-first century. For, in truth, not one of these experts is necessary to the production of food. We know how to grow healthy crops from the experience of intelligent gardeners and farmers of today and centuries past. Experience is the best science. There is no big mystery to it. We also know how to craft houses and furniture and clothes and musical insstruments and machines and all the necessary accouterments of civilization without any help from the above-mentioned bureaucratic parasites on the body politic. Howard knew. He was trying to work through the British bureaucracy in India to help that country’s small farmers attain a sustainable, self-reliant, independent system of food production  — Gandhi’s dream. But he soon realized that ‘help’ from the bureaucracy was not needed.

Nor is it today. In America, governmental “help” has only separated us from the necessary knowledge of survival. Abraham Lincoln naively believed people needed a bureaucracy to help them grow food, so he created the Department of Agriculture. Now that we have a Department of Agriculture staffed by thousands of experts, we have two generations of citizens who cannot find a potato in a garden, and who, as Richard Nixon candidly admitted of himself, do not know what a soybean looks like.

The knowledge granted us by our current coterie of university magicians is vastly overrated. The man who built my house never went to college — never read a book, to my knowledge — but you will look long and hard before you’ll find a house as well built for the money. With all our vaunted expertise, we are not even sure how the pyramids were built. Only a tiny number of archaeologists have ever studied the wondrously sophisticated garden farms of the ancient world, which endured for centuries in Mexico, Cambodia, Africa, and Babylon, without even a whisper from our land-grant colleges of agriculture.

I am not a revolutionary; I utter only a plain truth. My wife and I produce most of our food, and some for our children’s families, using knowledge we gained from our parents, and they from their parents, and they from their parents. Not one of our forebears ever cracked an agronomic textbook or knew the Latin name of a single plant. My father and mother, grandfathers and grandmothers, and father-in-law and mother-in-law all held agricultural-extension advisors in disdain. Tradition, supplemented by our own experience and that of other gardeners and farmers, is the key to our food-growing success. Thousands of expert gardeners and farmers are waiting to pass this knowledge on to anyone who wants it. To this day, after forty years of avidlly searching the realms of “modern” agricultural science for information, I have found extremely little new knowledge that helps us to better produce food. The keys to agricultural success, apart from common sense, were articulated by Virgil, and he got them from the Greeks, who in turn got them from the Orient, where for forty centuries China supported a population far denser than ours today, with gardens.

Gardening as it is popular today — that is, as a mere pastime or hobby — is an effete offspring of wealth. The ultimate example of this is Marie Antoinette’s herding a few sheep on her castle lawn, or Louis XIV’s growing orange trees in his Versailles greenhouses while the people of France starved. There are 40 million gardeners in America only because we are the wealthiest nation in the world; half of these gardeners are interested only in flowers and landscaping as an expression of their monied leisure. They are the people who make laws forbidding vegetable plots in suburban front yards.

Effete horticulture is worlds apart from the gardening of Russian peasants, who kept their country from collapse during fifty years of state-run agriculture, and of the working people and aborigines of three-fourths of the world, who practice small-scale horticulture and husbandry to stay alive comfortably. It is high time that we begin to make this distinction between gardeners and garden farmers in America. Garden farmers are not horticultural dabblers but practitioners of an economically sound food-production system that has many advantages over the current agribusiness economy.

Having keenly followed the world of modern agribusiness for fifty years and having been personally involved in it at least part of that time, I am convinced that the present rush to industrialized farms and animal factories of almost unimaginable size cannot sustain itself, and that forced downsizing will occur, as it has in other bloated businesses. It seems entirely possible, based on history and on shifts already in motion, that the food garden and orchard, broadly defined to include small-scale husbandry and forestry, are capable of taking up the slack and staving off a food crisis if or when the present system falters.

But a declaration of food independence such as I suggest would depend upon a deeper and more profound declaration of interdependence. A nation primarily of garden farms (some large industrial farms would and should continue to operate) would mean a realignment of people into smaller and more local trade complexes based upon personal contact between consumer and producer, and upon biological technology rather than machine technology — a new economy, in other words: the economy of Eden. Then we would understand that people matter, and not only people but all living things upon which people depend. Common interest and self-interest would become one, and that is the definition of a real community.

I may appear to suggest a future that is far more idyllic than we are capable of creating. But I coddle no utopian dream when I envision a nation studded with millions of tiny garden farms and small shop factories — where countryside and city are almost indistinguishable. As an economy, this type of “unglobal” village has stood the test of time not only in China, as mentioned, but in Japan, which, on the basis of an average farm size of under ten acres, has become one of the world’s most financially powerful countries. Asia’s economy is supported by one of the largesst numbers of small shopkeepers per capita in the world.

In America, we are groping in that direction now. Many of those millions of gardeners and an unknown number (about 5 million would be my guess) of garden farmers — some so small they are not counted by the USDA census — are out there working unwittingly toward a new economic paradigm. Architects and builders are desperately trying to design new housing developments to look like, and be like, the rural villages that once supported strong, decentralized trade complexes. In manufacturing, large factories are having an increaskingly difficult time staying efficient. More and more, the auto industry is “farming out” the manufacturing of parts to independently owned satellite factories (often in villages) because these smalleer factories are more efficient. People without land are contracting with small, community-supported farms to buy — and sometimes to help grow and harvest  — their seasonal supplly of fresh fruits and vegetables. The mail-order produce business, which allows farms to remain decentralized, continues to flourish.

I came to my strange notion of garden farming as an economic, if not political, movement not from any of these observaions, however — or even from reading the Wall Street Journal and the Economist, which are full of stories about the treand toward decentralization — but from attending classes in my chicken coop for fifty years. My little red hens understand the meaning of economics far better than humans. For example, they get up at the crack of dawn and roost at twilight so as not to waste electricity on lighting — although utility companies managed to convince several generations of farmers that keeping lights on in the henhouse all night would mean significantly more profit. All it meant was significantly more profit for the utilities. The hens knew. They didn’t ask for lights. They wanted a full night’s sleep so they could live longer and healthier. In thirty years without night lights, I have had exactly one sick hen and have produced just about as many eggs per hen as the experts claim for lighted coops — actually more, because my hens enjoy two or three more years of productive life than public-utility hens.

Yes, the hen is a model of economy. She eats bugs and worms and weeds and grass and table scraps and half-digested grain from cow manure. There is hardly anything she won’t eat, in fact, except citrus. She will keep the barn free of spilled grain that otherwise would draw mice She will even eat mice if she can corner one. She will eat pests in the garden. Three hens can make their entire living off a medium-sized yard plus table and garden scraps and maybe a handful of corn every day. All they need is water, and they can get some of that from dew, rain puddles, and snow. They are much easier to care for than a dog and don’t bark all night. In return, a trio will provide a human family with an adequate annual supply of eggs.

The hen’s chief form of entertainment is singing, and, while she’s no Streisand, her music is so redolent with contentment as to supply more consolation than a hundred-dollar-an-hour psychiatrist. She likes to take dust baths to protect herself from lice, and will make a suitable tub wherever she can find some dry dirt in which to wallow. She goes to her coop dutifully as dark approaches, without any help from her human caretaker other than closing the door so foxes, raccoons, and coyotes don’t get her. (She will even roost in a tree if allowed to.)

In her coop, the hen is a recycler without peer, making better compost of her manure and bedding than a hundred-thousand-dollar compost turner. By scratching furiously in the beddiing under her roost, she mixes her droppings over and over again until the manure and the bedding become an earthy, granulated, dry odorless compost that you can handle with your bare hands. Chicken-manure compost is so rich that it will increase the yields in your garden and thereby decrrease the size of the plot you need to grow the hen’s corn. Is her scratching just a nervous habit? Not a chance. With knowledge no dietician taught her, she scratches through the bedding to consume tiny specks of litter that provide her with vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin K. If you feed her eggshells back to her, she also gets the extra calcium needed to keep her future eggshells strong. When, at three to five years of age, she ceases to lay enough eggs, she makes her final contribution to the economy: heavenly coq au vin such as you can find only in famous French restaurants like Parker’s in Cleveland, Ohio. (Parker will supply you with his recipe if you ask.)

Now bear with me as I make a significant point (after all, it took me fifty years to understand this): A three-chicken garden farm requires very little work and makes no negative demands on the environment, yet adds to the ecological health of us all. Assume three chickens are kept by each of 100 million people in the U.S., about two-fifths of our population. Add to that number another 10 million thirty-chicken farms (like mine) callling for two- to five-acre homesteads. Then add to that 3 million hundred-chicken farms, operated just like the smaller ones, on ten- to twenty-acre homesteads. You can still substitute labor for capital for a hundred hens — even if you raise all the grain for them yourself (about an acre’s worth) — without any punishing physical work and with minuscule out-of-pocket costs. Unlike big agribusiness, you are not lashed to the world of finance: no payroll to meet; no interest on investment to pay; no stockbrokers to please; and no fear of what the Chicago Board of Trade or the farm-policy politicians will do tomorrow.

I believe my figures add up to 900 million chickens, or approximately 225 billion eggs a year — at a conservative estimate of 250 per hen annually — and an awful lot of coq au vin and chicken soup. Actually, half of those hens could be butchered young and provide every man, woman, and child in the country with nearly two chickens apiece, and there would still be more than enough eggs to go around. Less than half the population — 113 million — would be involved in production. Many people aren’t able to raise even three chickens for various reasons, and many, I’m sure, could not be persuaded that doing so can be a pleasant, interesting experience. They are the ones to whom the other half sells surplus eggs. Most eggs would reach the consumer never having seen the inside of a truck.

The value of this garden economy becomes clear when you compare it with the animal-factory economy we currently have. About ten miles south of where I live, an international company born in Germany is building a complex of egg factories, each of which will house 2.5 million hens, with four or five such factories planned within about a twenty-mile radius. Counting pullets for reproduction, a total of about 14 million chickens will be needed. Each 2.5 million-hen factory will require forty thousand bushels of corn and 420 tons of soybean meal a week. For 14 million hens, that’s nearly 12 million bushels of corn per year, more than the 8.5 million-bushel annual output of my entire county. Fourteen million hens produce about eighty-four thousand tons of manure a year — as much as 2 million people do. Approximately seven hundred chickens per 2.5 million will die each day from “natural” causes, according to the historical averages of operating such facilities. (The Humane Society reports that 9.4 million factory fowl died unnaturally in the heat wave of 1995. And one of the egg factories this company’s owner operates in Germany lost some sixty thousand hens to salmonella last year.)

All the grain for these hens must be hauled in and waste hauled out at an enormous cost in fuel, and truck and road maintenance. Odor pollution, judging from other large henhouses, would be considerable. If manure is handled properly, there should not be any great risk of water pollution, but past experience with animal factories indicates that is a very big if. Even when regulations are followed, eventually the manure must be hauled farther and farther away, to the point where the practice becomes unprofitable.

A 2.5 million-hen factory uses 180,000 gallons of water a day, plus three thousand gallons a day for egg washing (the latter necessitating a waste-water lagoon, another potential pollution problem). All that water will come from wells, so neighbors fear that their private wells will run dry. More than that, they fear that their property values will decline because of oder pollution. Worst of all, perhaps, is the strife in the community between those who think they will profit from the huge operation and those who think they will be financially and environmentally harmed. This conflict has unleashed a hatred that I fear will never go away.

The payoff? Large commercial egg producers currently clear about a nickel a dozen. My cost is hardly five cents a dozen. In fact, my operation might actually save me money because, if I weren’t garden farming, I would probably be out spending it on travel.

It doesn’t take a genius to begin to see that a garden economy might not be as preposterous as it first sounds.

I’m a great believer in the pessimistic observation that humans collectively won’t do the right thing unless the right thing also happens to be more pleasurable than the wrong thing, or unless they have no other choice. I do not believe that a significant number of Americans are suddenlly going to roll up their sleeves and start garden farms. But eventually we are going to have to learn to produce food on a small scale, because the alternative is obviously not sustainable. Once the change is forced upon us, people will realize that this new economy isn’t so bad after all. As millions of gardeners will tell you,   horticulture and husbandry on a small scale are quite a bit more enjoyable and interesting than sitting in front of a computer screen for twelve hours a day, or standing on an assembly line for sixty hours a week, or circling O’Hare in an airplane for what seems like half your lifetime, all the while waiting for downsizing to take away your job. All the new economy will require is that you develop a higher regard for manual arts and replace twenty hours per week of your TV-watching time with working in a garden or shop. Those who have made that change already know their lives are better for it.


The Contrary Farmer



Gene Logsdon
From Our Archives May 2007

A farmer of deep ecological sensitivity is to the plow jockey on his 200-horsepower tractor what a French chef is to the legions of hamburger handlers at fast food chains. The chef’s work is infused with artistic, scientific, and spiritual satisfactions; the hamburger handler’s is infused only with the ticking of a time clock. To the plow jockey, soil is a boring landscape of clods that need to be crushed. To the ecological farmer, every clod holds a wondrously exotic, tropical-like world of brilliantly colored microorganisms, the very stuff of life.

Walk with me over our little farm where biological diversity is our first order of business. On this farm lives a human family along with several families of corn, oats, wheat, orchard trees, grasses, legumes, berries, and garden vegetables, the whole domestic tribe living in a sort of hostile harmony with the wild food chain: animals, insects, and plants in such diversity that I have not been able to name them all. On our little farm, I have identified 130 species of birds, 40 species of wild animals (not counting coonhunters), over 50 species of wildflowers, at least 45 tree species, a myriad of gorgeous butterflies, moths, spiders, beetles, etc., and about 593,455,780 weeds.

I believe that the more diversity of species on a farm the more the various forms of life keep each other from achieving out-of-balance population relative to the other species. This increasing diversity means more than merely “balance,” which is a negative accomplishment. Increasing diversity means to me increasing biological dynamism which leads to an increasing amount of total food produced without increasing the amount of human labor or purchased agricultural supplies. The most obvious example is growing clover. Clover works with rhizobia bacteria in the soil to draw nitrogen from the air and make it available to itself and other subsequent plants without any effort or cost to me. A factory to extract nitrogen from the air costs millions of dollars and society’s tendency is then to use the nitrate so produced to make gunpowder, not to enrich the soil…

As all these life forms interact with each other, they create effects that individually they are incapable of. For example, cow flaps draw earthworms to dine on the organic matter. Young trees that have crept into the meadow over the years from the adjoining woodlot draw the cows to their shade. The cow-manure-earthworm-tree environment draws woodcocks to the farm. These birds come for the earthworms under the cow flaps and under the moist dirt bared by tree shade and cow hooves. Not incidentally, the combination has also produced on occasion a fairy ring of edible mushrooms. And also not incidentally, the animal manure is all the while being broken down and returned to enrich the earth. All we have to do is stand and watch in awe and pick the mushrooms.