Gene Logsdon Blog – The Contrary Farmer

GENE LOGSDON: Anthropomorphism, A Big Word Getting Bigger

 

imageFrom GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

Treating animals as if they were humans or ascribing human characteristics to animals, which is what anthropomorphism means, is gaining more cultural ground every day and giving farmers who produce meat a huge headache. Things have gone so far that some people equate eating any meat with cannibalism.

Good grief. But if the human race decides not to eat meat anymore, what can I say? I am not infallible in matters of faith and morals like the Pope is supposed to be. Come to think of it, I wonder what the Pope has to say about animal rights because the accusation of cannibalism was often leveled at early Christians to make fun of them. Christians believed, and Catholics still do, that, during the communion service, bread actually, literally, not symbolically, transubstantiates into the body of Christ when the priest pronounces the words “this is my body” over it. Critics of early Christianity said that if someone truly believed that, then they were cannibals to consume that transformed bread. Silly, perhaps, but by the same token I could accuse today’s more extreme animal rights defenders of cannibalism for consuming all those tiny microbial animals in the bread they eat.

GENE LOGSDON: Your Favorite Farm Or Garden Job?

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From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

That’s an easy one for me— burning off the asparagus patch in the early spring. Just something about lighting up the new growing year. After so long staring out the windows at one snowfall after another, we can finally go outdoors and not have the wind freeze our faces. And it takes a bit of knowhow. We wait for the perfect morning. There needs to be a slight breeze, enough to blow the fire briskly over the bed, but not brisk enough to blow sparks into the woods. The dead asparagus stems need to be dry enough to burn readily and completely. We light the dead foliage at one end of the patch and carry burning stems with forks, dribbling fire down the row. Something satisfying about how the fire does all the work while we lean on our forks, or sit in lawn chairs, keeping watchful eyes so no little errant flame sneaks out into the leaves and dead grass bordering the patch. And there are no bugs. The result is not only that many asparagus beetle eggs are destroyed, but the fire leaves a nice black covering on the patch to soak up sunlight warmth and make the new shoots come up a little quicker.

GENE LOGSDON: Farm Success Brings Farm Failure

 

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From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

After years of belittling organic farming, some chemical farmers are exploring the possibilities of getting into it. Can’t blame them. Conventional grain is selling around $3.60 a bushel and in some cases even lower because of the glut. Alan Guebert, in his excellent national column, Farm and Food File, suggests there is enough corn and soybeans in the bin right now to last us through next year. At the same time organic grain is selling around $8.00 a bushel and some 40% of it is imported. I was talking recently to John Bobbe,  the executive director of the Organic Farmers Agency for Relationship Marketing (OFARM) and author of Marketing Organic Grain about all this. “I am getting several calls every week from farmers looking to get into organic grain farming,” he says. “Some are calling it the ‘rush to gold’.”

So we should all be rejoicing at organic farming’s success, right? Afraid not. The worry now is first of all that farmers wanting into the gold rush don’t really appreciate what they will have to do. Almost all organic certification requires specific rotations that include small grains and legumes that have to be marketed too if the operation is going to be profitable. Most conventional farmers don’t want to go that route (which is partly why there is a glut of corn and soybeans right now). As has been the case so often, farmers who try to transition to organic when prices are high don’t have the commitment that it takes and want to go back to conventional when conventional market prices rise.

GENE LOGSDON: Farming Controversies Are So Complicated

 

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From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

​I read an article on the DTN/Progressive Farming website that once again shows how difficult it is to resolve differences of opinion in farming disagreements. The article was an even-sided discussion of possible overproduction of organic crops, (which I plan to write about soon) but a respondent took the occasion to launch into a rather vitriolic attack on organic farming. He was irritated about the organic stand against herbicides. How could organic farmers consider their methods to be environmentally correct, he wrote, when they use cultivation to control weeds in row crops and shun herbicides. Cultivation increases the severity of erosion and uses more fossil fuel than herbicide applications. That’s true as far as I know. Cultivation also releases CO2 to the atmosphere, disturbs soil life negatively, and breaks up soil particles too much, he argued. He concluded by opining that those of us who cultivate row crops, or use flame throwers instead of herbicides to kill weeds, are stupid.

GENE LOGSDON: Milk Is Going The Wine Route

 

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From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

​The increasing interest in artisanal foods is opening up all kinds of opportunities in farming that could hardly have been predicted even a few years ago. Who would ever have thought a good market for small, backyard hen coops would open up. Or hops and malting barley farms starting up close to craft breweries? Or cricket flour discussed as a practical new food?

The controversy over fats and cholesterol has contrarily opened new specialized farm markets for what I like to call artisanal milks. During the scare about cholesterol, Jersey and Guernsey cows, known for milk high in butterfat, declined in number and Holsteins, with less fat in their milk, increased. (A neighbor who milked Jerseys told me once that he kept a Holstein in his herd in case he had to put out a fire.) Then slowly, the attack against saturated fats subsided to the point where books singing their praises popped up all over. People started looking into dairy products with a more discerning eye. Consumers discovered what dairy farmers have known all along: milk is not a generic product, but encompasses many versions with varying tastes. Jersey milk tastes different than Holstein milk. Cow milk tastes different than goat, horse or sheep milk. When we went from milking by hand and cooling in tubs of well water to machine milking with the milk flowing directly from the cow through a pipeline into a cooling tank where its temperature was lowered rapidly, the taste improved markedly. Cows out on fresh green grass after a winter on hay and grain give milk with a different flavor that takes some getting used to. Milk from cows eating mostly corn silage tastes different than that from cows eating hay and grain. Homogenized milk tastes different than un-homogenized, pasteurized different than raw. Fresh from the cow, milk tastes different than after it is cooled. Even the kind of plants in the pasture can change the taste.

GENE LOGSDON: Factual Science and Maybe Science

 

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From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

​I am not against genetic modification but only against the way that herbicide manufacturers are using it to justify patenting any plant in nature that interests them and then, in my opinion, trying to use the patents to gain unfair monopolies in the food and farm economy. So whenever I see research favoring agricultural GMOs that sounds to me like only maybe science, not proven science, you can hear my teeth grinding clear across the room. The latest is some research out of Purdue University being publicized all over and in at least one publication, Farm and Dairy, under the headline “Eliminating GMOs Would Raise Food Prices.” Note well that it doesn’t say “could” raise prices but “would” raise prices, insinuating that the findings conclude with a fact, not a possibility.

​Purdue scientists fed data gathered from worldwide cropland production in 2014 into a computer model which then told them that eliminating all GMOs in the United States would mean a decline in corn yields of 11.2%, soybean yields down 5.2%, and cotton down 18.6%. They then stated, as if it were written in stone and not in a computer program, that 250,000 acres of pasture and forest would have to be converted to cropland to make up for that loss. If not, commodity prices for corn would increase as much as 28% and soybeans 22%. Food prices would rise one to two percent or $14 billion to $24 billion a year.

​Snot. This is not proven science but just maybe science.

GENE LOGSDON: Scratch An American, Find A Farmer

 

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From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

​Old sayings like “scratch a Christian, find a pagan” or “scratch a Russian, find a Tartar,” have a counterpart in agriculture: Scratch an American, find a farmer. There are a whole lot more people involved in farming than generally meets the eye or gets counted in the demographics. For instance, reading the latest (Spring, 2016 edition) Draft Horse Journal, I learned that Leroy Van Dyke, world famous country music star (his “Walk On By” has been named the most popular country music single of all time) lives on a farm and raises mules . He remembers his youth on his father’s 3000 acre farm, where, he recalls, “in 1936 we planted 650 acres of corn with mules.” So much for my notion that horses and mules are only practical on small farms.

​This issue also carries a story about Andy Mast, an Amish artist and farmer who is now receiving national recognition for his amazing pencil sketches. Then there’s an article about William Busch, the fourth generation of the Busch family which made Budweiser beer famous. Growing up, he worked on the family farm estate and learned to like farming and breeding horses, which he is still doing. In addition, now that the Anheuser-Busch beer business has mostly been merged out of his family’s control, he has started his own new craft beer business, brewing a brand he calls Kraftig.

​I personally know a doctor who maintains a working farm and grows open-pollinated corn. We’ve traded ears of our corn. I just got a letter from another doctor in Idaho who farms and writes newspaper columns too. He has “a few cows, sheep, chickens, dogs and horses including a team.” He is in the process of acquiring a hay loader for putting up hay loose, that is un-baled. Anybody willing to work that hard is a real farmer, I don’t care what else he does. Reminds me of the article I wrote for Farm Journal in 1965: “When Doctors Took Over Farming.” It was reprinted in the Wall Street Journal. It was supposed to be humor but not everyone thought it was funny. Right after that Farm Journal hired me and perhaps doctor farmers were part of the reason.

GENE LOGSDON: Shall The Meek Inherit The Earth After All?

 

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From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

​I’m not what you’d call a Bible thumper, but I do like to quote it on occasion, inserting an appropriate passage into the conversation in a sonorous voice that makes me sound wise. The passage that I have found most hopeful and most unhopeful at the same time is about how the meek shall inherit the earth. It’s in Psalms and evidently important enough that Matthew repeated it in the New Testament. However the only people I’ve seen inheriting the earth have been the wealthy whom I would hardly refer to as meek. As a young man I realized that what I wanted most out of life was a farm of my own, but I was so poor that only meekness would work for me. That made me fond of the biblical saying. However I was out of luck. I could hardly ever bring myself to act humble no matter how broke I was.

​But as I now try to make an argument for a future in which small garden farms and pasture farms replace the huge acreages of industrial agriculture and animal factories, I am cheered to have the Bible on my side for a change. What I’ve been writing for the last 30 years without actually realizing it is just that: the meek shall inherit the earth. How can I be wrong with the Bible on my side?

New Age Farming Is Not About “Going Back” To the Land

 
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From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

One of the prejudices about artisanal, small-scale food farmers is that they are “going back” to the land. The truth is, they are going forward to the land. For several generations now the older people in our preponderantly urban population have handed down to their children an image of farming based on experiences that date back to the early 1900s. The hard life they described of lonely, boring days without electricity, running water, television, radio, central heating furnaces, and fathers who overworked their children in a vain effort to keep up with mounting industrial farming costs, got imbedded in the subconscious minds of urbanites even though they know it isn’t true anymore. These old images have left a prejudicial residue on urban minds that scents the mental air with the notion that farmers are somewhat backward and less intellectually aware of what is going on today. When we were trying to get a new doctor or two into our rural county as late as the 1970s, some prospects, or more often their wives, did not want to come here because they figured rural communities were intellectually narrow-minded and uninformed and our schools not good enough for their precious children. People infected with this kind of bias unconsciously think that going into farming today are “going back” to the clodhopper days of the past.

GENE LOGSDON: Organic Farming News Almost Too Good

 

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From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

​I attended the annual conference of the Ohio Ecological Food And Farm Association recently and as usual it really lifted my spirits. We are so barraged by doom and gloom these days as presidential candidates yell insults at each other, that we tend to over-emphasize the bad news and ignore the good news. In farming, mainstream agriculture is mostly full of bad news right now, but although I sympathize with the farmers caught in the jaws of a declining industrial agriculture, that is sort of good news to me. For instance a report just out says that a huge corn-ethanol plant in Kansas is declaring bankruptcy and leaving millions of dollars it owes grain companies unpaid. That’s bad news but good news in the sense that farmers just might start to realize what a bad idea it is to grow corn for ethanol especially on hills and prairies where annual cultivation is very destructive. Ironically, the farm paper, Farm and Dairy, recently quoted Monte Shaw, head of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, saying that even though Iowa has the highest production of ethanol from corn (3.8 billion gallons per year) “we still have excess corn.” Think of how tragic that is and yet how it might bring some sanity back into commercial farming. ​

GENE LOGSDON: Part-timers Do Most of the Farming

 

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From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

​I don’t know how the idea got started that real farmers are full time farmers. We tend to think of part-timers as hobby farmers or beginners who will not be successful until or unless they get to be full time. Lots of part timers think that themselves. They think the advantage of getting bigger is to be free of the off-farm work hassle. But it mostly tain’t so. Even in pioneer days and during the high tide of agrarianism in the generation or two that followed, farmers invariably worked other jobs to bring in a little cash, or had another skill from which to earn money right on the farm. My favorite example I wrote about long ago, and Tim Henslee, one of the responders to this blog, reminded me of it recently. The hero in that story was an Amishman, whom we tend to think of as particularly full-time farmers. But like many Amish farmers, he had another skill, making homemade bent hickory chairs which provided extra income. That enabled him to make a comfortable living on a very small farm, milking only 26 cows, very good ones which brought in extra cash too when he sold their highly prized offspring. He also grew about an acre of strawberries and a plot of tobacco, both high-value cash crops, plus a few hogs and a flock of chickens.

​I know two farmers personally, both deceased now, who made and sold moonshine to help pay for their farms. One of them was my father-in-law. He liked to tell me about how his cows came to the barn one evening very frisky from drinking water from the creek that had seeped through some spent mash he had dumped in a sinkhole. ​

GENE LOGSDON: Does Art Sense Social Change Before Science Does?

 

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From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

The top photo above of an Iowa farm scene, by New York Times photographer, Tony  Cenicola, was the subject of one of my recent posts here. Responder Rick Oberer graciously posted the photo for us to see. In that essay, I mentioned the similarity the photo bore to a painting that hangs in our living room, by local artist Pat Gamby. That painting also appears above. Then my sister Jenny, herself an artist, sent me a photo on the same theme by her son, Ben Barnes, a professional photographer in Columbus, Ohio. His photo will be one of the prizes in an upcoming Columbus Museum of Art fundraiser. Both Ben and Pat, who is a close friend of ours, grew up in this county, surrounded by corn. As I think readers will agree, the three pictures together pack quite an emotional wallop. I wonder exceedingly if their similarity is just coincidence. I have a hunch that there are hundreds of paintings and photos of lonely or abandoned farmhouses surrounded by cornfields hanging on walls around the nation.

GENE LOGSDON: Small Scale Farming Really Isn’t Small

 

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From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

​Economists sanctify expansion in agriculture as the way farmers survive but in the very act of saying that, they are also pointing out why farmers don’t survive. If all the land is occupied, for every farm that expands, another ceases to exist. So it would be just as accurate to say that expansion is the way farmers don’t survive. And that leaves us in a situation where, according to the statistics, as quoted in a new, soon- to- be- published book, Miraculous Abundance, some 80% of the arable land on the planet used in intensive mechanized agriculture is owned by multinational corporations. Meanwhile, the proponents of big farming continue to flaunt their challenge: “get big or get out.” When all the land is owned by one big corporation and it still doesn’t make enough of a profit to satisfy the stockholders, what then?

​As a matter of fact, small commercial farms and so-called hobby farms are on the rise again and whether or not they are profitable by today’s money standards, they are generating a lot of other economic activity which in aggregate becomes quite significant. These farmers are creating a different economic model than that of industrial production. They are successful because they really aren’t about how much money they can make but how much of what they do make they can keep in their pockets while they spend their time doing what they really want to do in life. As they proceed, they generate all sorts of other small businesses and avocations that in turn prompt more small business. The sum total amounts to big business. For example, judging from the exhibits at our county fair, looks like there are more goats on farms now than cows. And who would ever have thought that kale would become a cash crop and soul food of America?

GENE LOGSDON: The Kingdom of Corn

 
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From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

You can find a stunning photo of the kingdom of corn in, of all places, the Sunday New York Times travel section Jan. 7. I stared at that photo on and off for three days, transfixed by what it silently said for all of us who know corn. In the photo, taken in rural Iowa, there’s one lonely farmhouse, surrounded by winter corn stubble as far as the camera can see. Miles in every direction of nothing—nothing — but corn stubble on low rolling hills, as forlorn a sight of human habitation as an artist could depict to me. To a corn farmer the scene probably brings more good feeling than bad because the thickness of the stubble indicates a very good crop there last year. All that stubble also indicates that little erosion will occur there over winter and as it decays and is worked into the soil, the fodder will add to the organic matter content.

But there is an ominous message in that photo too. The photographer could easily have taken a similar picture just about anywhere in Iowa where the farmhouse would be abandoned. Corn has been replacing farmsteads for fifty years at least because it looks like an easy and comparatively uncomplicated way to make money but requires constant expansion to do so, like all industrial businesses. Over the years pasture and oats and even wheat dropped out of the kingdom of corn. Grazing livestock and fences disappeared. Woodlots vanished. Crossroad and village stores closed. The number of farmers dropped precipitously.  Over 60% of the land today is owned by non-farming investors. In fact, 21% of Iowa farmland is owned by people who do not even live in Iowa. What is particularly rankling about these figures is that some 40% of that corn is grown to feed piston engines. This is a travesty especially now that gasoline is so cheap. Everyone I talk to except corn farmers themselves admits it. Ethanol from corn is not a sustainable process. It is not profitable without subsidies. But our leaders, neither Republican nor Democratic, have the moral fiber to oppose the corn kingdom because they believe that without all that corn, the farm economy of the midwest would collapse at least for awhile.

GENE LOGSDON: Sex Is Such A Botheration

 

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From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

After food, sex is the most important factor in keeping life going but it causes almost as much sorrow and pain as it does joy and pleasure. I have often joked about how much easier it would be if we could mail order babies like we do baby chicks and I am not entirely sure that won’t come to pass some day.  In the meantime, in the world of animal agriculture, we are very much headed that way and in no sector more so than small scale husbandry.

Sex really is a pain for small and mid-sized farms— for all farms actually. Bulls and rams and billy goats can be downright dangerous and hardly worth the risk and effort for only a few ewes or cows. Part of the time they have to be segregated from the females unless you don’t care when the calves, lambs or pigs come. Artificial insemination (AI) has therefore become the standard practice even with many larger farms. Operations that keep male farm animals for AI will most likely become even more lucrative in the future as a side effect of the new interest in small scale husbandry. AI is a botheration too and not as sure as physical mating, since you have to catch the females in heat at just the right time, a skill that takes time to acquire. But the advantages are many. You not only don’t have to worry about getting gored by a bull, but you can use semen from the top bulls in the nation and so improve your herd quicker.

GENE LOGSDON: The Sanctuary of the Barn

 

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From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

​A great story going around is about some Amish boys who found a novel way to make a little extra money. Their barn is the traditional kind, of course, with stables and hay mows and even dovecotes. Pigeons or rock doves have from time immemorial been a part of barnyard farming because they provide an economical source of squab or what my mother called pigeon pot pie, plus some fly control, and if you want, communication with faraway places. They can scavenge part or all of their food from the neighborhood and the barnyard itself. It seems that the pigeons in this story, that made their home in this farm’s dovecotes, had homing instinct. The Amish boys learned that a nearby game farm was buying barn pigeons to let loose as targets for would-be great white game hunters. Great white hunters are not great marksmen so they miss most of the time. The Amish boys’ pigeons flew back to their native barn and could be sold again until they died of old age. If that’s not real economy, what is?

​As more people turn to small farming as a business, or just for fun, or both, they are going to experience some of the delight that those of us who grew up in farm barns cherish. And in doing so, many unforeseen advantages, like these pigeons, will occur. The local, artisanal food movement is reviving interest in all this (although I haven’t seen anyone selling pigeon pot pie yet) and therefore in smaller versions of the old traditional barn. That’s ours in the photo above which we built for a small flock of sheep, two cows and calves and one horse 35 years ago. (I think the pet craze has something to do with the new interest in farm animals too, a subject for later posts.) These barns are built for animal and human comfort, not like today’s factory barns crammed full of animals with little thought for anything except how to reduce the per unit cost of production. Barns are becoming again society’s food sanctuary at the center of the new farming universe. As such, they give off an aura of peace and security that is uncanny and difficult to put into words. There are certainly times when mayhem can hold sway there too to keep the farmer from getting bored, but for the most part, standing in an old barn full of animals you feel a tranquility sort of like being in an almost empty church in the middle of a quiet afternoon. For some farmers, their barn is their church.

GENE LOGSDON: Contemplation On A Dead Chicken

 

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From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

A neighbor showed me a neat way to get rid of dead animals which I think we mentioned here some time ago. He buries a dead old hen in a pile of horse manure and in a few months, voila!, it disappears, bones and all. I imagine this works better with horse manure than most other kinds because it heats up faster and hotter. I almost burned our barn down in my more ignorant years when I made a big pile of horse manure right in the horse stall.

Composting dead animals as well as manure has become a standard practice on farms and works fairly well. But as you can surmise, the more animals involved, the more problematical the process becomes. Last year, when avian flu struck and millions of turkeys and chickens had to be disposed of, what a horrid mess that meant. When I think about it, I return again to my dismay over the tendency to increase the size of farm operations unendingly. The reason for doing so is to increase profits of course or mostly to keep up with costs. Industrial economics can’t work any other way. Production must be increased steadily, or the system won’t work.

GENE LOGSDON: No Such Thing As ‘The American Farmer’

 

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From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

​Whenever I hear a commenter or politician (or sometimes even myself) refer collectively to “The American Farmer,” I know what follows will contain a lot of hot air. There ain’t no such thing as the American farmer. I don’t know how many farmers are out there at the moment but no two of them are the same, even within the same line of commodity production. There are grain farmers (and there’s tons of difference between corn, rice and wheat farmers), dairy farmers, hog farmers, sheep farmers, vegetable farmers of all kinds, irrigation farmers, dryland farmers, organic farmers, chemical farmers, greenhouse farmers, urban farmers, market farmers, horse farmers, fish farmers, cattle farmers, hop farmers, small fruit farmers, orchardists, part time farmers, full time farmers, make-believe farmers, pot farmers and street corner farmers.

​The extreme variation is why it is so difficult to unite them all into one organization. No one has ever been able to do that. They are often in competition with each other and though they’d never admit it out loud, when corn yields are low in Iowa, the corn farmers of Ohio can’t help but be just a tiny little bit gleeful because the corn prices will be up.

GENE LOGSDON: It’s All About Money, Even When It Isn’t

 

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From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

​If you follow this blogsite, you know I spend more time than I should predicting the glorious future of small, artisanal farms. I keep trying to define and describe this farm the way it will be when mankind it forced to come to its senses. But my sister pointed out to me the flaw in my thinking. “So let’s say you’re right,” she acknowledged, “and this kind of farming becomes the norm. How long do you think it will be before these model farms will start expanding eventually we are right back where we started.” The good old American way. But if these small farms spread over the entire world and become the norm, concentration will come again. All I can say in my defense is that monopolies will be quite a long while in becoming movers of that economy.

GENE LOGSDON: Watching the Gardens Go To Sleep

 

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From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

My definition of melancholy is putting the gardens to sleep for the winter. Sometimes I wonder if the whole holiday season came into being because people deep down in their souls felt the year’s life sort of coming to an end in the fall, and needed to be distracted from thinking about it.

​Carol just finished, in December, pulling out the last of her dead zinnias. But we started in late October, taking down the bean poles, rolling up the deer fence, removing all kinds of plant supports, the hardest being the stakes and wire that held up the tomatoes. As we did each task, I was remembering clearly the jubilance of the planting season, the soaring hope of another year, the rising creative juices of both gardener and garden. I remember the frantic work of May and June, the laying by of the plots in July with hoe and mulch, ending (sort of) the constant weeding.

​One of my last putting to sleep jobs is cutting the cornstalks of summer and making them into a shock, a ritual to honor the agrarian culture I grew up in, now mostly past except in Amish country. Then we put pumpkins around the shock. It is time for Halloween.

GENE LOGSDON: Toward A New Farming Image

 

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From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

A Ron Chast cartoon in a recent New Yorker shows a food store scene with a display of vegetables under a sign that reads: “Locally grown by a guy with a Masters Degree in Philosophy.” That’s funny in more than one way but it also suggests one of my fondest dreams. It is becoming quite common for food production to be an artful, artisanal activity done by master gardeners and skilled professional agronomists with extremely sophisticated biological methods of growing food with improved nutrition, taste, and natural resistance to disease and pests. What if this continues to the point where food farming is indeed a highly respected profession on a par with all the other higher professions in arts and sciences. What if “farmer” suggests  to everyone the same kind of regard or esteem as musician, or astronomer, or  doctor? This should be the way it is of course because what profession is more important than the one that keeps us, literally, alive.

Historically (but unbelievably to me) producing food has often been a despised human activity. In fact most of the food in centuries past was produced by slaves of one kind or another. Or by peasants, sharecroppers, hicks, hayseeds, all terms of derision. If you wanted respect you got out of food production. As a result, economics practically forced farming out of an art form and into a technological industry where the main idea was to find ways to escape the labor and increase the quantity without increasing the labor. So we have monster farms today with guys driving tractors who do not know a really enriched fertile soil particle from a lump of radioactive ash. Instead of encouraging quality in our food, which also means encouraging sustainability of our food supply, this attitude (make the slaves do the work) encourages quantity and industrial “labor saving” (the fewer the slaves the less the cost) and  justifying that approach by claiming that it is the only way we can keep growing populations from starving to death.  This attitude is absurd for in truth the only way to keep up an ample food supply is for more and more people to get into the action.  It takes brains to grow truly good food. It takes brains to handle a hoe properly, for heaven’s sake. I like to think the young people coming along are realizing this and understanding that being a clodhopper is a laudable occupation. (Even that term, clodhopper, tells the story. In good artisanal farming, there are no clods to hop.)

GENE LOGSDON: Looking At Climate Change Like A Farmer

 
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From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

I don’t like to write about climate change because it only inspires bristle talk: bristles to the right, bristles to the left, bristles from the pulpits, bristles from the labs, bristles on social (unsocial) media. It is just a bristly subject that is never going to be solved anyway. But because all sorts of important meetings are taking place at the moment, it occurred to me that approaching the subject from a sustainable farmer’s attitudes about weather change might be helpful. Weather change is not the same as climate change, but the search for defense against weather calamities in farming ought to present some guidelines for dealing with the impossible problem of global climate change.

And if you think the problem is solvable, take a closer look. I’m sure there is serious talk, for instance, about the amount of fossil fuel that all these new highrises require. But it rarely gets in the news. If you look at almost any developing country, not to mention developed countries, there is an enormous new growth of tall buildings that simply can’t function without enormous amounts of fossil fuel. Furthermore, houses keep getting bigger too. Should there not be a law limiting the size of houses? Good luck on that one. Good luck on limiting travel. Look at the irony of our leaders of all countries meeting now to discuss ways to cut carbon pollution, and at the same time calling for more and more bombs. Have you any idea what all those bombs and bullets cost us in carbon pollution?

Happy Thanksgiving from Gene and Carol Logsdon

 

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GENE LOGSDON: How Can You Keep Them Down In Paree’, After They’ve Seen The Farm?

 

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From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

​Although the song “How Can You Keep Them Down The Farm, Now That They’ve Seen Paree?” is nearly a hundred years old (1919) and just as stupid then as now, it still lingers around the edges of popular music. The notion was that when American soldiers were shipped to Europe to fight WW 1, the glitter of the big city would sweep the dumb yokels off their feet and they’d never be content to go back to forking manure and providing the food for all those terribly intelligent, educated people for whom actual physical work was beneath their dignity. The song was meant at least partially as humor but like all things humorous, its roots were fed by the rich loam of cultural prejudice. It might not exactly be racism in the biological sense but it is very much so in the division of labor sense. Those who have to do the “niggah work” are just not smart enough for the challenges of intellectual pursuits. I tend to overreact to this bias ever since a cultural historian advised me to stick to writing about corn and leave important decisions about human progress to people better equipped for it, like of course him. He did not even know that I had as much accreditation in human cultural studies as he did. But that is not the point. He was exhibiting what in my opinion is the most destructive kind of cultural bias, as if sitting in an office cubicle all day staring out the window and waiting for your computer to tell you what to do next is a higher calling than the window cleaner who keeps the windows clear enough to see through.

​From the most ancient times, the division of labor has reeked with bias against physical work. Smart people don’t dig ditches even though it takes brains and skill to dig ditches properly. For that reason, farm work has rarely been held in esteem. Farm children used to be told that the only way to success was to flee the farm. Those smart enough to know how wrong that was and stuck with farming are as rich today as any “professional” in town. None of the ones I know even bothered to go to college.

GENE LOGSDON: One Lonely Little Red Clover Plant

 

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From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

On my way back from the mailbox recently, what should I see under the big sweetgum tree at the edge of the lawn but a red clover plant blooming there all by its lonesome. Red clover happens to be one of my Heroes of the Plant World so I took special note. It is rare to find just one red clover growing alone anywhere much less in rather deep shade amidst a jumble of big tree roots. How had it gotten there? I can’t recall planting any red clover around the house, yard and garden, but always in the pastures on the other side of the woods. The corn and soybean farmers around me quit planting red clover years ago. And if some wandering seed did manage against all odds to get into our yard, why didn’t it choose a spot more acclimated to its nature, like out in the middle of the sunny yard?

​I like to think that the plant was preaching a little sermon to me about nature’s resilience. Red clover is resilient if it is anything. It is first of all a world traveler, native to Asia and Europe and brought to America by early farmers who thought as highly of it as I do. It is the national flower of Denmark and the state flower of Vermont. Seeds of it will remain viable for years, even centuries some books say. It is often used in traditional medicine, especially as a tea, but most authorities deny its effectiveness. (Naturally.) I don’t care if it is good medicine or not. I just love to pluck tufts of flowerets out of a blooming head and suck the sweet nectar you can squeeze out of the whitish blossom ends, a childish pastime we used to spend hours at. Another childhood pastime was chasing butterflies across the clover fields with homemade nets, in the full bloom of August. The air just pulsated with life.

GENE LOGSDON: How About a Manure Magazine?

 
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From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

​If I were young and crazier, I think I would start a magazine called “Manure Matters” or “Fecal Point” or “Defecation Nation” or “Excrement Extra.” I had no sooner written about manure a couple of weeks ago when there appeared in the New York Times Sunday review section a most interesting editorial about stools and the author was not referring to bar stools. (“Should We Bank Our Own Stool?” by Moises Velasquez-Manoff, Oct. 11, 2015.) Journalism has discovered the medical practice of using feces from healthy people to correct digestive tract problems. Then “CG,” one of the responders to this blogsite, clued us in with a link to a very complete article about this procedure. “Medicine’s Dirty Secret” on the website Mosaic: The Science of Life. The practice has evidently been around awhile but has been and still is controversial. Both articles show all so clearly how much we are affected by cultural attitudes rather than scientific fact. Shit—oops, s**t— is bad stuff to our culture and no amount of scientific fact is going to dissuade many people from changing their minds. When I was being interviewed on the radio about my book, Holy Shit, I could not say that awful word on the air without getting bleeped, but recently I was mystified to hear a radio reporter say goddam either because he figured out a way to beat the bleepers or because he was quoting somebody directly. Seems to me that “go**am” is surely more offensive than “s**t”.

GENE LOGSDON: The Good, the Bad, and…the Zucchini

 

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From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

Zucchini has about as much taste as a roll of toilet paper and yet it is one of our favorite vegetables. It gives us an excuse to smother its taste with stuff we really like: butter, garlic, parmesan cheese, crumbled bacon, chopped ham, sour cream, paprika. Or hide it in omelets, soup, ratatouille and tortellini. Or dip slices in batter and fry because the batter tastes wonderful.  An exhaustive worldwide search of cookbooks would most likely reveal about thirty-seven thousand ways to disguise zucchini in other food to trick people into eating it. I dream of finding a recipe featuring a large zucchini suffocating in five inches of whipped cream.

Not even seed catalogs can exaggerate zucchini’s prowess in the garden. Throw a seed at bare soil and get out of the way. Once it sprouts and goes into high gear, nothing daunts it. It will shade out purslane, strangle rabbits, pull down fences and at full height, hide a small herd of deer. Fortunately it does not vine out like some other squashes do. If it did, a strand in good growing weather could beat you out the lane to the mailbox in the morning. Under optimum conditions, one plant produces enough to feed a small village. In bad weather, it takes two. A zucchini “fruit” can grow so big you may need a wheelbarrow to get it to the house. Small ones can trip the unwary and break a leg. I once grew one that— honest, now, I’m not exaggerating this time— was on the slender side but almost two feet long. I took it to a softball game and stepped up to the plate swinging it like a bat just to get a laugh or two. I am tempted to say that I lined a double to center field with it but that would be a lie and I never lie. It was only a slow roller to the pitcher. The end of the zucchini went farther than the ball.

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