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Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT

In Memoriam Gene Logsdon

In Memoriam Gene Logsdon

In Memoriam: Gene Logsdon

by Beth Greenwood of Whitmore, CA

Gene Logsdon, The Contrary Farmer, died of cancer May 31st, 2016, at his home in Ohio. I first read Gene’s work as a horse-crazy, cowgirl teenager nearly half a century ago, when he was writing for Farm Journal. As I grew older, I searched out his books and learned many things about farming and farmers, gardening and gardeners, life and death, the spiritual and the profane.

None of that was surprising. Born in 1932, Gene was a lifelong farmer and his entire family was made up of farmers; he spent his life either farming or writing about it. Although he felt there was merit in horse farming, he himself preferred the tractor, after a runaway with a team nearly got him killed in his youth. He tried the “get big or get out” farming method, and came to the conclusion that in smaller farms lay redemption, healing for the land and the farmer, not to mention the sheer joy of daily life. Even during his years in the seminary, what he really loved was working the seminary farm and roaming its 400 acres of woodlands. The priesthood wasn’t for him, though, and he fell in love with and married Carol, raised two kids and bought his own 30 acres where he experimented with all sorts of things at which conventional farmers turned up their noses. He made it very clear that Carol was his partner in everything, whether it was weeding the garden, midwifing the ewes or wandering the fields looking for arrowheads.

He came by the contrary part of his cognomen honestly. Gene didn’t see life (or much of anything else) through conventional eyes. I remember his comment about a course he took in psychology when he was trying to argue that animals did in fact have personalities (as any farmer or rancher will tell you is absolutely true), and the teacher basically told him to sit down and shut up because he didn’t know what he was taking about. Gene said: “I was so angry I left the course and then left the whole stupid school.” Despite that, he was highly educated and earned the credits for his doctorate, although he never did have a PhD. I’m sure there’s a good story there, but I don’t know what it was. He was able to take a good hard look at pretty much anything, from rural art to land grant colleges, from farm subsidies to the Amish way of life, and put his own twist on it. Beginning with his very first book, Two Acre Eden, he speculated on possibilities, shared his failures with as much humor as he shared his successes, and made it clear that he was more than willing to challenge the establishment by proving that, yes, it could be done a different way.

No subject was safe from Gene’s pen, whether it was the beauty of a wildflower, the fascination of the insect world, the strong connection between agriculture and art, the idiocy of bureaucrats, the stupidity of farm subsidies or the joys of manure. In The Mother of All Arts, he set forth the thesis that agriculture is itself art. Consider the different shades of green in a pasture, the symmetry of a plowed field or the strong golden light of early evening, said Gene, and it’s no wonder that the land has spawned such artists as Andrew Wyeth painting the Kuerner farm or Wendell Berry — farmer, novelist and poet. In The Lords of Folly, he fictionalizes (one hopes it was fiction, but sometimes I wonder…) his experiences in the seminary. Grass farming and intensive grazing was covered in All Flesh is Grass. He told us how to grow a pancake patch in Small-Scale Grain Raising, how to create and manage a farm pond in The Pond Lovers, the importance of trees and woodlot management in A Sanctuary of Trees. He even tackled “unmentionable” subjects. One of his recent books was titled Holy Shit: Managing Manure to Save Mankind; while the title might be a little off-putting, the fact of the matter is that the natural world runs on and needs manure, and we should in fact treat it with the reverence it deserves. Pope Mary and the Church of Almighty Good Food is both comedy and satire, ruminating as it does on the nature of religion and belief, the connection between food and worship, a renegade priest and the redemption of humans, the seasons of life and the seasons of the garden.

In addition to reading most of his books, I followed Gene at The Contrary Farmer blog for years, discussing with him and like-minded folks a wide variety of topics related to whatever engaged his free-ranging mind. Last year, when he told us about his cancer diagnosis, a number of us wrote a tribute to him and Carol — although we hoped he would beat the big C, we wanted him to know how much he meant to us. I think it was the first time Gene was ever speechless. Face to face with his own mortality, he wrote Gene Everlasting: “I write this book believing that the human race, including myself, is irrational. But being irrational is not all bad… Nevertheless, totally contradicting everything I have written above (another mark of human insanity), I really do intend this book to be a comfort and a solace for those people facing death. And that means all of us…now I understood that it was only because nature changed every month, every day, every moment, that it could come again. Only through change is permanence achieved… To understand immortality, embrace mortality.”

His publisher, Dave Smith, plans to keep the Contrary Farmer blog online. If you’ve never read any of Gene’s material, you might want to stop by. If you read him in the past but lost touch, it’s well worth your time to go back and pick up the thread.

RIP, Gene. You will be sorely missed.

Expanded from text originally published in the blog Jefferson’s Daughters. For those interested in resourceful, inquisitive and individual lifestyles: www.jeffersonsdaughters.com

Link to tribute on the The Contrary Farmer blog: thecontraryfarmer.wordpress.com/2015/03/10/dear-gene-and-carol-friends-and-family-honor-the-logsdons/

Spotlight On: Farming Systems & Approaches

Horse Farming and Holistic Management

Horse Farming and Holistic Management

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Holistic Management was developed by Allan Savory who was a wildlife and ranch biologist in Africa who was concerned that the advice he could give farmers didn’t work in the real environment and even when the advice was good it wouldn’t get implemented. He developed a program which helps farms create a clear Holistic Goal and then use the farms resources to move toward the goal while being ecologically sustainable.

A Year of Contract Grazing

A Year of Contract Grazing

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Contract grazing involves the use of livestock to control specific undesirable plants, primarily for ecological restoration and wildfire prevention purposes. The landowners we worked for saw grazing as an ecologically friendly alternative to mowing, mechanical brush removal, and herbicide application.

Mayfield Farm

Mayfield Farm, New South Wales, Australia

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Mayfield Farm is a small family owned and operated mixed farm situated at 1150 m above sea level on the eastern edge of the Great Dividing Range in northern New South Wales, Australia. Siblings, Sandra and Ian Bannerman, purchased the 350 acre property in October, 2013, and have converted it from a conventionally operated farm to one that is run on organic principles. Additional workers on the farm include Janette, Ian’s wife, and Jessica, Ian’s daughter.

Raised Bed Gardening

Raised Bed Gardening

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Raised beds may not be right for everyone, and our way is not the only way. I have seen raised beds made from rows of 5’ diameter kiddy pools, and heard of a fellow who collected junk refrigerators from the dump and lined them up on their backs into a rainbow of colored enameled steel raised beds. Even rows of five-gallon pails filled with plants count as raised beds in my estimation. Do it any way you care to, but do it if it’s right for you.

Portrait of a Garden

Portrait of a Garden

As the seasons slip by at a centuries-old Dutch estate, an 85-year-old pruning master and the owner work on cultivating crops in the kitchen garden. To do this successfully requires a degree of obsessiveness, the old man explains in this calm, observational documentary. The pruning master still works every day. It would be easier if he were only 60 and young.

Russian Dacha Gardening

Russian Dacha Gardens

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Russian household agriculture – dacha gardening – is likely the most extensive system of successful food production of any industrialized nation. This shows that highly decentralized, small-scale food production is not only possible, but practical on a national scale and in a geographically large and diverse country with a challenging climate for growing. Most of the USA has far more than the 110 days average growing season that Russia has.

The Brabants Farm

The Brabants’ Farm

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The Brabants’ Farm is a multi purpose farming operation whose main goal is to promote “horsefarming.” Our philosophy is to support the transformation of regional conventional agriculture and forestry into a sustainable, socially responsible, and less petroleum dependent based agriculture, by utilizing animal drawn technology (“horsefarming”), and by meeting key challenges in 21st century small scale agriculture and forestry in Colombia and throughout South America.

Chicken Guano: Top-Notch Fertilizer

Whoever thought I’d be singing the praises of chicken poop? I am, and I’m not the only one. Chickens are walking nitrogen-rich manure bins.

English Sheaf Knots

English Sheaf Knots

Long ago when grain was handled mostly by hand, the crop was cut slightly green so seed did not shatter or shake loose too easily. That crop was then gathered into ‘bundles’ or ‘sheafs’ and tied sometimes using a handful of the same grain for the cording. These sheafs were then gathered together, heads up, and leaned upon one another to form drying shocks inviting warm breezes to pass through. In old England, the field workers took great pride in their work and distinctive sheaf knots were designed and employed.

Starting Your Farm

Starting Your Farm: Chapter 4

Assuming that you’ve found a farm you want to buy, next you’ll need to determine if you can buy it. If you have sold your property, and/or saved your money, and have the means to buy the farm you are sitting pretty. If you do not have the full price of a considered farm, in cash or any other form, you will likely have to look for financing.

Starting Your Farm

Starting Your Farm: Chapter 2

How do you learn the true status of that farm with the “for sale” sign? Here are some important pieces of information for you to learn about a given selling farm. The answers will most probably tell you how serious the seller is.

Wild Potatoes and Calcium

Wild potatoes bring increased calcium for better tubers.Have you ever cut into a potato to find a dark spot or hollow part? Early research shows that these defects are likely the result of calcium deficiencies in the potato — and that tuber calcium is genetically linked to tuber quality.

Cultivating Questions Cultivator Setups and Deer Fencing

Cultivating Questions: Cultivator Set-ups and Deer Fencing

We know all too well the frustration of putting your heart and soul into a crop only to have the wildlife consume it before you can get it harvested let alone to market. Our farm sits next to several thousand acres of state game lands and is the only produce operation in the area. As you can imagine, deer pressure can be intense. Neighbors have counted herds of 20 or more in our pastures.

New York Organic Grazing Dairy

New York Organic Grazing Dairy

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Our farm, here in the center of New York State, consists of 101 acres, about 90 in grass, the rest some woods and swamp. It is inhabited by forty-six jersey cows, twelve breeding ace heifers, one bull, and because it is calving season — an increasing number of calves. Also, four Belgian mares and a couple of buggy horses. Last, and possibly least — the farmer, farmer’s wife, and five grown children.

Loose Hay with Ryan Foxley

Loose Hay with Ryan Foxley A Farmrun Production by Andrew Plotsky

Horse Labor Instead of Tractors

Horse Labor Instead of Tractors

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Three different parcels of land were committed for a series of tests to directly compare the impact of tractors and horses on the land. One side of each parcel was worked only with horses and the other only with tractors. There were measurable differences between each side of the worked areas; the land’s capacity to hold water and greater aeration were up to 45cm higher in areas worked by horses as opposed to tractors.

Cultivating Questions: Alternative Tillage & Inter-Seeding Techniques

Our intention is not to advocate the oddball living mulches we use with this single row inter-seeding system, but just to show how it is possible to utilize the between-row areas to improve insect habitat, reduce erosion, conserve moisture, fix some nitrogen, and grow a good bit of extra organic matter. If nothing else, experimenting with these alternative practices continues to keep farming exciting as we begin our twentieth season of bio-extensive market gardening.

Fjordworks A History of Wrecks Part 3

Fjordworks: A History of Wrecks Part 3

Working with horses can and should be safe and fun and profitable. The road to getting there need not be so fraught with danger and catastrophe as ours has been. I hope the telling of our story, in both its disasters and successes will not dissuade but rather inspire would-be teamsters to join the horse-powered ranks and avoid the pitfalls of the un-mentored greenhorn.

Small Farmer's Journal

Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT