An Interview with Gene Logsdon

From A Nation of Farmers (2009)
by Sharon Astyk & Aaron Newton

August 20, 2009 Ukiah Valley, Mendocino, North California

Along with [his good friend] Wendell Berry, Gene Logsdon has been a central leader of the American agrarian movement for decades. He is the author of many books, both practical and philosophical, and it is impossible to read any of his writing without being overcome with the desire to grow food.

Spring 2008

ANOF: Given the rising cost of fossil fuels because of their declining availability, the climate change associated with using those fossil fuels, the problems of soil erosion and water degradation and all the other problems with the way we grow food and eat it at this point in history, what do you think is the biggest challenge facing the American agriculture? And how can we address it?
Gene: The biggest problem in my opinion is that our society, our culture, does not understand that food is everyone’s business. We have decided, as a society, to let a few people worry about our food while the rest of us worry about money. And so food production has more or less become the domain of a few very large international corporations. The only cure for it is what is now happening. Food prices and food shortages and fuel shortages will force people to take back their lives. There’s an old saying that goes “People won’t do the right thing until they have no other choice.” I’m afraid that is true for the majority.

ANOF: Do you think it makes sense to grow food in the suburbs — in former farmland turned neighborhood? And do you have any suggestions for people interested in this sort of suburban homesteading?
Gene: Yes, this kind of “homesteading” is possible and admirable, and if you watch what is happening as food prices climb, it is taking place more and more. You will run into the same problem, however, suggested by the preceding question. Most of the people who live in these enclaves of urbanism out in the countryside, wasting good land in the process, do not have a vocation to farming and gardening and will therefore not do it or fail at it. I was talking to one such person just yesterday. She was full of enthusiasm for putting out a big garden because of rising food prices. But she had not turned a spadeful of dirt yet when the real food producer with a vocation to the work has his or her early garden already planted and growing. People who don’t really like gardening and farming do not understand the first principle of successful food production. You do not do it at your convenience. You do it when nature dictates. The secret of success is timeliness, and nature drives the clock.

ANOF: Could you describe the interplay between plants and animals — wild and domestic — on a small farm?
Gene: I think, contrary to what vegans say, that a really natural and economical garden or farm must have both animals and plants on it. If you don’t have domestic animals, you will have plenty of wild ones. In fact you will have plenty of wild ones anyway, and the biggest threat to home food production right now is wild animals. They are overpopulating without enough natural predation. Humans should be hunting and eating them, or replacing their niche in the natural order with domestic animals. Unfortunately our over-civilized society thinks I am a barbarian for saying that. People can’t be convinced that all life belongs to the food chain and that the food chain is a giant dining table around which all things sit, eating and being eaten. I guess our society is going to have to learn that the hard way.

ANOF: Books on food production are often either too local in scope and therefore useful only to people living in a certain area, or too broad, and therefore not detailed enough to be helpful. What’s the best way to establish information-sharing systems to encourage more small-scale, backyard food production? And how can we best share information in the age of the Internet?
Gene: I probably shouldn’t say this but libraries and the Internet are choking full of information necessary to raise backyard food. That is not the problem. The problem is that the literate world thinks success in food raising (or anything else) can be attained by reading information. Information does not make one successful in farming and gardening. Experience does. We have been led to believe that a college degree brings success; not having a degree brings failure. That is so stupid. If everyone had a college degree, then you would see real fast that the degree does not bring success. Love and bullheadedness bring success, especially in food production. There are a zillion books out there for information sharing. You don’t need to establish anything more.

ANOF: What are some of your personal garden favorites?
GENE: I really don’t have personal garden favorites. If it’s fresh, I like it. The best part of it all is that you can eat these things without any recipe — just raw or heated up. I mean, what kind of recipe would enhance a strawberry or an ear of sweet corn?