Every time I pick up a Gene Logsdon essay, I say to myself “why don’t I read more Gene Logsdon essays?” They’re thoughtful, pastoral, and practical. And they’re contrary.
Mr. Logsdon’s Wikipedia biography can be read here and includes a list of his many works. This biography correctly defines him as an American man of letters and I think that’s right; he is an intellectual, but he is not a scholar or an academic. Interestingly, he completed the work for a Ph.D. in American studies and folklore “but was denied his degree when he refused a teaching position.” Although he refused the traditional path of teaching, he is a do-er; after spending much of his life as a suburban journalist, he returned to his boyhood home of Upper Sandusky, Ohio, farming on land near this home. He is still writing.
His book “The Contrary Farmer” begins with a short introductory essay “The Ramparts People” in which he describes his journey away from his early farm life, following the suggestions of his father and the world to do what he was supposed to do, i.e. leave the farm and make his way. I identify with Mr. Logsdon when he states “Unfortunately I tried to follow his advice and it took me until I was forty-two to realize that I knew what was better for me when I was twelve. And having hunted everywhere for the peculiar kind of freedom…I came back to my boyhood home—the place of my beginnings—and found it.” He describes such people who eschew the conventional notions of success as “Ramparts People.” He holds up hope that these people, on their small “cottage farms” have the potential for creating real communities.
His book “The Contrary Farmer” was the first “farming” book I read; my brother gave me the collection of ten essays when I first started talking about growing food.
There is quite a gulf between talking about something and doing it; at that time, many of the essays were confusing to me, like the chapters on meadows and water. After a second reading and the passage of a few more years spent growing some food, I better understand what Mr. Logsdon means when he writes “Without adequate water, the most advanced agronomic blend of fertilizers or organic composts is so much powder in the wind.” The essay provides an introduction to such things as drainage, the importance of ponds, springs, and wetlands.
Logsdon’s essay “The Peaceable Kingdom of the Barnyard” provides a guide to livestock, outlining the easiest to the more difficult types of critters a new farmer might select for a cottage farm operation. The author recommends chickens as the easiest and most economical of barnyard animals.
Mr. Logsdon contrarily suggests many things in his essays, beyond the acquisition of a few chickens. He suggests ideas; some of these ideas are radical. In his essay on forests and woodlots, “Groves of Trees to Live In,” he says “A woodburning stove is the cottage’s symbol of economic and therefore political freedom.”
Above all, Mr. Logsdon is passionate about rural living; his “afterword” essay is called “Books the Contrary Farmer Treasures” and it’s a helpful list of other contrary authors who are equally passionate about life on the farm.
Not everyone is cut out to be a “Ramparts” person, but it is always interesting to examine the possibility before turning away from such a life. Reading about ideas is an easy first step in this examination; reading a Gene Logsdon essay will put a reader on the contrary path. If one is too busy to read a whole book of his essays, read his blog. He writes one essay per week, every Wednesday.
Hey, it’s Wednesday; he’s probably working on his blog right now.
All quotations in this book review are taken from “The Contrary Farmer” by Gene Logsdon, published in 1994 by Chelsea Green Publishing Company, White River Junction, Vermont, ISBN 0-930031-74-1(pbk).
Tell me, has Logsdon ever discussed Victor Davis Hanson? Hanson is a lifelong farmer in California, and simultaneously a very successful classicist, with a long string of books that have sold very well. They make an interesting contrast.
That is an excellent question, P, and one for which I don’t have a quick answer. He does not mention Hanson in “The Contrary Farmer.” He does mention Lord Northbourne’s “Look to the Land” and William Cobbett’s “Rural Rides.” I would imagine you might have some familiarity with these authors.