GENE LOGSDON: Good Farming Means More Than Good Food


The Contrary Farmer

​Some 19,000 people die in traffic accidents every year and another two million are seriously injured. If death rates like this happened in any other sphere of activity, society would be rising up in holy wrath but travel is the most sacred part of our culture and any effort to diminish it significantly is not about to happen. Nor is it just a problem of modern technology. Take away cars and planes and the roadways would pulsate again with the thundering hooves of horses and runaway stagecoaches. Hi ho Sillllllver.

But small scale farming provides a way of life that decreases traffic automatically. If you own animals, you must stay home most of the time whether you want to or not. When crops need planting or harvesting, you had better be there. Nature waits on no man, and very few women. I suspect that most small, caretaker farmers have chosen their way of life because they don’t really like to travel anyway and can use their farms as a legitimate excuse for their sinfulness. I know there are thousands of people out there traveling to make a living who dream and plan for the day they can get a piece of land of their own and stay home. It would really be interesting to know how many traffic deaths and injuries would be avoided if they all could realize their dream.

Farmers who can’t or won’t cruise the highways in search of happiness learn the art of travelling at home, as Wendell Berry puts it in a poem by that name. When your focus on the world is honed down to your own piece of land, every walk across it reveals something new or different. You don’t miss not travelling. Your homeland is far more exciting than visiting the Grand Canyon. As your observations and knowledge of your land deepen, the more there is to see and be astonished by. Walking through the woods to the barn every day for forty years, I have walked all the way to California and back twice and yet I see something a little different, a little changed, a little more mysterious or intriguing every time. As Wendell puts it: “Even in a country you know by heart/ it’s hard to go the same way twice.”

​Travelling at home, a farmer turns his land into his playground and in so doing not only saves a lot of lives by staying off the highways, but a lot of money on vacation spending. During my growing up years on the home farm, we rarely went anywhere outside the county but the number of vacation pastimes we found right on the farm was remarkable. Our creek and pond and surrounding hillsides and woodlands were our vacationland: fishing, swimming and wading in creek and pond; rafting and boating; trapping fur bearing animals; hunting for Indian artifacts; collecting “pretty stones” and mussel shells out of the creek; having our own hockey rink on the pond and ball diamond on the pasture; cliff climbing on the taller creek banks; molding pottery out of a blue clay deposit in the creek bed; jumping up and down on the rolls of old wire fencing in the trash pile— our substitute for a trampoline; digging through generations of old bottles and pottery under the rolls of old fencing; sledding on the hills along the creek; digging caves where the snow drifted deeply on the hillsides; burning buckeyes in bonfires so they popped like firecrackers; pretending that big, fallen trees were pirate ships; building waterwheels in the creek; soaring out over the creek on a swing Dad hung from a tree on the bank; foraging for hickory nuts and wild berries; hunting morel mushrooms, squirrels, groundhogs, and rabbits; playing archeologist as we excitedly unearthed strange dinosaur bones sticking out of the creek bank that turned out to be a sheep skeleton; hours racing toy boats in the creek current; playing cowboy on the hillsides with make believe and then real horses.

​The joys of travelling at home do not of themselves reveal the really important advantage that landownership provides human society. History has shown time and again that as the number of people who own their own farms and gardens increases, the stronger democracy grows. Contrarily, the more land falls into the hands of the wealthy few, the more democracy dwindles. If the trend toward more small, artisanal garden farms continues, the more it not only means saved lives and good food but saved freedom and good government.