Gene’s Weekly Posts

The Last Farmer

789901EB-D5A5-49EE-AD42-64E235101469An Interview in 2001 with Marvelous Marv Grabacre
From Gene Logsdon

{Thanks to Pamela Smith, an Editor with The Progressive Farmer, we are posting an article by Gene that was published  in the May/June 1984 issue of The New Farm that you may find is still relevant today…}

Now that we have entered the 21st century we can look back in amazement at one of the most rapid technological strides in the history of man. In the final quarter of the 20th Century, 2.5 million farmers were freed from the drudgery of farm work to spend their days happily assembling silicon chips on circuit boards in computer factories. Average farm size skyrocketed from a measly 400 acres to more than 1,975,456,000 acres, not counting those parts of the central and southwestern plains abandoned to decertification. While one farmer fed only 78 people in 1984, today he feeds 275 million, more or less. And he is, as everyone knows, Marvelous Marv Grabacre.

Since Marvelous Marv bought out his last competitor recently (Great Western Farms LTD), which had owned most of the farmland west of the Mississippi), he has been a hard man for the press to corner. Odd as it may seem, although there is only one farmer left, there are still 743 magazines and newsletters in business to serve him. Until last week, Grabacre had successfully eluded the farm press. Then he mired his 5,000-horsepower Steiger Dreadnought in the mud while straightening a bend in the Mississippi River just south of Cairo, Ill., leaving him more or less marooned up in the 12th floor of the tractor. Tipped to Grabacre’s plight, his writer rented a helicopter, raced to the scene and was lowered to the cab of the Dreadnought. In exchange for enough Tanqueray gin to keep him in martinis until Dreanought No. 3 arrived from Oklahoma to pull him out, Grabacre consented to this exclusive interview.

New Farm: How does it feel to be the last farmer in the United States?
Grabacre: Humbling. I’m just a simple country boy, you know, and now I’ve got to worry that if I don’t get Illinois and Iowa planted on time, 10 million people are going to starve to death.
New Farm: Well, you didn’t have to buy the western United States, too.
Grabacre: These are tough times in farming, son. Prices being what they are, you gotta keep lowering that per-unit cost to stay solvent. Like Farm Journal put it in an editorial just a month ago, the eastern half of the United States is just not a viable economic unit anymore. I hated to take advantage of Great Western when those boys were down on their luck, but it’s not my fault the Colorado River dried up. Besides, if I hadn’t bought that farm, Japan would have.
New Farm: To what do you attribute your colossal success?
Grabacre: The Lord’s been good to me, son, and so have a lot of mighty fine banks… er, people. If I could take credit for anything it is in having faith in this great country. I believed the government when it said it was out to save the family farm. All those years when critics said government programs were only helping the big boys, they we’re wrong and I knew it. Uncle Sam kept its word. He saved the family farm. Mine.
New Farm: You…are…saying…that…you, er, Grabacre Enterprises is a family farm?
Grabacre: Of course.I got a son or daughter, or brother or in-law running every region. We’re just one big happy agri-family.
New Farm: C’mon now, Mr. Grabacre, you’re running a big multinational corporation.
Grabacre: Well, of course we’re incorporated for tax purposes, like every family farm should be. But 84% of the stock is family owned. Back when all that hullabaloo was raised about big corporations taking over farming, I kept saying that was bunk. There never was more than 10% of the farms owned by those outside corporation. And now it’s 0 percent.
New Farm: Is there any particular government program that stands out in your memory as a real savior of the family farm, that is, your family farm?
Grabacre: They all helped plenty, but the PIK program back in ’83 [Reagan’s payment in kind program] was the real banana cream pie. That’s when I realized the Good Lord wanted the Grabacres to feed the world. Hardly anyone remembers now, but I was bankrupted in ’83. I’d built up to 50,000 acres in central Illinois by borrowing every cent I could. Already I could see the big picture. If you could farm 50,000 acres, you could farm a state, and if you could farm a state, well, you see how it goes.
New Farm: But you went bankrupt.
Grabacre: Not my fault. The bankers just lost faith for awhile. Little minds tend to worry about little debts–a measly $5 million or $6 million. Money comes and goes, but the land just lays there waiting to be grabbed. So I had to take a Chapter 13. Sold all my machinery. I couldn’t farm the 50,000. They’d have sold that too, but the price was too low for them to get their money out of it. And then, out of the blue, came PIK. I put every acre in it they’d let me, and I was saved. In fact, that was the only year I ever remembered making money actually from farming, or, that is from un-farming.
New Farm: The only year?
Grabacre: Hardly ever is there any money in actually farming. You make money most of the time on the land. And on tax breaks. You got a zillion tax breaks in farming, if you’re big enough to take advantage of them. I’m telling you, Uncle Sam has stopped at nothing to save the family farm.
New Farm: But why your family farm and not someone else’s?
Grabacre: I was just fortunate enough to have a bigger imagination than the other, that’s all. See that clipping there on the cab wall? That’s from a Kiplinger Agricultural Letter promotion piece in 1984, 10-year prediction. I know it by heart: “Thousands of farmers will be forced to sell out completely or switch to a part=time operation… A lot of good families are going to get hurt. But if you are the one out of four or five who plays it smart and survives the shake-out, you are going to be in the driver’s seat… running the major food factory for a world that grows ever hungrier.”
New Farm: Oh, we heard that kind of promotional drivel for years.
Grabacre: Sure we did. But it was true, only not true enough. Right then, when I read that back in ’84, I says to myself that if the system was allowing this to happen, then it would go on happening. It wouldn’t be the “one out of four or five,” it would eventually be “the one” period.
New Farm: What do you have to say about the public outcry against you, even though you feed all of us? Your critics say food prices are too high, the quality too low, and only the staples in good supply. Grabacre: Hey, what do you expect with one man feeding 275 million? I can’t do everything, you know.
New Farm: They say you only got where you are by contributing more money to political campaign funds than other farmers did.
Grabacre: I’ve never done anything illegal. I’ve never had to do anything illegal. Society and the government it votes for made the rules and I just followed them a trifle better than other farmers. Sure, there have always been critics and protestors bemoaning the passing of small farms, but the truth is that the majority of people wanted someone to provide them with the cheapest possible food in the most convenient way. They wanted a Grabacre to worry about food for them, so they had more time for leisure activities. Now that I’m making them pay the full cost of the food plus a good profit for me, now they complain. But society created me. If it wouldn’t be me, it would be someone else like me.
New Farm: But you drove land prices up so other farmers couldn’t compete for it and new farmers couldn’t get in.
Grabacre: How can you say that? I’d have loved to buy all that land cheaper. Takes two to bid up a price. All of society is motivated by the Top Dollar Psychology. I didn’t invent it. That’s how the economy works. Just look at all those farmers who condemned me on the way to the top. When they retired, did they sell their land to a young beginning farmer at a price he or she could afford? Hell no! They sold to me because they knew I’d pay top dollar.
New Farm: What’s your next move?
Grabacre: I’ve been watching Russia lately.They’re in a real bad way over there. They did the same thing with their farmland as I did with ours, but they had to use force and bloodshed, while all I needed was a good banker and a first-rate machinery dealer. The problem is that none of those Commie leaders know a thing about good farming. So they’re just about broke enough that I can buy them out reasonable. If China doesn’t beat me to it. Now the Chinese, they’re smart enough to know that one good farmhand is worth 32 soldiers any day. It just takes a little longer. But first I’ve got to ditch some water out of Canada into the Colorado to get it running again. Gonna take a lot of money. A farmer never has much cash in his pocket, but boy, he sure does die rich.






The Lovely, Life-Saving Virtue of Laziness


From Our Archives
GENE LOGSDON (1931 – 2016)
The Contrary Farmer

Surprise, surprise. The work ethic, before which our culture bows down in adoration, can result in failure perhaps as often as it does success. I came to that conclusion after many years of trying to follow an ecologically-sustainable lifestyle out on the ramparts of society, and after reading hundreds of letters from others trying to do the same.

Real success in this endeavor (if not all endeavors) comes more often from a healthy dose of shrewd, laid-back laziness. We Americans are just too ambitious for our own good and in an effort to gain success (tranquility being the best measure of a successful life) we carry the habits of the commercial workplace into our private lives and over-extend ourselves with activities that are really unnecessary and even harmful. The only cure for it, at least in my case, was getting older and running out of all that eager energy I once possessed. Nowadays, my first order of business in all homestead endeavors is: “Do nothing you can put off until tomorrow. It might not need to be done at all.” In other words, there are times when “work ethic” is an oxymoron.

Eager beginners, seeking a more independent life style on a little farm or even a big backyard, have a tendency to bite off more than they can chaw. Instead of setting out ten tomato plants, they set out 50. Instead of half a dozen hens, they try 40. I can reel off a whole litany of painful examples of what happens next.

a.) A gardener became enamored with the “labor-saving” advantages of mulch gardening. In one exploding orgasm of sweat, (mostly his children’s) he covered nearly half an acre with about a foot of old hay before he had even the slightest experience with what he was doing. Sure enough, he licked the weed problem for awhile, but he never got even half of the area planted to anything except the weeds that grew up from the seeds in the hay. And ever afterwards, his children hated gardening.

b.) A wife, explaining to me the last straw that sent her into divorce proceedings: “He — meaning her husband (you know there is trouble on the way when someone starts referring to a spouse with a pronoun), — he planted an acre of sweet corn and then expected me to pick, shuck, and freeze it all while he was off at his day job in an air-conditioned office.”

c.) A shepherd bought eight sheep, mostly for the very smart purpose of taking the place of mowing brush land. The sheep prospered and resulted in lamb chops for several families. The shepherd could not resist more sheep. He turned his little lambing shed into a much bigger shelter that the sheep did not need since they could do just fine behind a windbreak of trees. Then he had to buy hay because the pasture was not enough. Soon the poor sheep became infested with worms from overcrowded pastures, the lambs grew only slowly if at all, and all the lazy-man’s efficiency of the small flock was lost. P.S. The shepherd suffered a hernia trying to drag a ewe out of a tangled, broken-down fence.

In so many cases including my own, the time and work of keeping a big garden would be better invested in a smaller one because even in the event that the bigger garden does produce more, much of it goes to waste. When she died, my grandmother left a cellar burgeoning with canned fruit and vegetables too old to eat. We have followed in her footsteps by way of the freezer and end up throwing old stuff out to make room for new. Jonathan Swift, among others, heaped praise upon those who could make two blades of corn or grass grow where only one had grown before. Often one is enough.

The glorification of neatness that grips so many of us is another result of the much abused work ethic. The last time I looked at the statistics, we were mowing 30 million acres of lawn, not counting the miles of mowed grass along highways and byways. To do that we burn eight hundred million gallons of fuel (see chapter 4 of my book, All Flesh Is Grass). That amount of mowing could easily be halved if we weren’t culturally addicted to lawns that resemble rugs.

The neatness addiction can lead to the hospital bed rather than the hammock. One hard-working neatnik I know mows several acres of steep hillside that he should let grow up in interesting weeds, bushes, wildlife cover and finally trees. Every year he risks death from overturning a tractor on that hillside.

The whole agricultural trend in America rests on the notion that hard work is virtuous and its reward prosperity. One of my most searing memories is of a farmer who told me many years ago, as he sold out, that “I worked so hard I didn’t take time to see if I was making any money.” This worship of the work ethic has led to a worldwide system of farming that is becoming ridiculous. We tear up millions of acres of soil every year with huge, fuel-gulping machines, opening the land to erosion and compaction. We plant annual grains with other huge machines, racing rainstorms in the spring to get all those acres planted. We apply fertilizers that are going sky high in price right now, and spray pesticides, also expensive, meanwhile praying that neither flood, drought, nor hail destroys the crops. Then we lumber through the fields on more huge machines, racing weather again to get the harvest in, truck the grains in semis to handling facilities where zillions of dollars worth of natural gas are used to dry the grains for safe storage. From storage, the grains are then shipped all over the world, mostly to feed animals in huge confinement factories. Then the meat, dairy products and eggs are shipped far and wide to the ultimate consumer.

There is a practical alternative, especially for brilliantly-lazy, small-scale farmers. Plant the fields to permanent and semi-permanent grasses and legumes, ending almost all annual cultivation and much of the horrendous cost involved. Allow animals to graze those pastures for their food, becoming both harvesting machine and fertilizer spreader in the process, leaving the farmer free to oversee the process by improving his pastures and resting under a shade tree much of the time. Then when this kind of lazy farming spreads all over the countryside, most of the meat, dairy products and eggs can be sold locally.

This is not a dream. Grass farmers are actually making it happen. Surely all farmers will some day shed their myopic admiration for the work ethic and do likewise. Buy stock in hammocks.

Gardening In The Nude (or New Use For Rhubarb)



From Gene Logsdon

One of the greatest mysteries of life for me is society’s ambivalence about the naked human body. People line up by the hundreds every day to get a look at Michelangelo’s anatomically-correct statue of David. But if a real live David were to stand naked beside that statue, the sex police would haul him away, even in Italy where nude statues are as common as pizza.

I once did a lot of “research” into the subject of outdoor nudity. Research for a writer means I “asked around.” What gives here, anyway?