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/