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