The Contrary Farmer – A Book Review

In Book Reviews, Pasture & Livestock by James2 Comments

The Contrary Farmer is the second Gene Logsdon book I’ve read, and is probably the book he is best known for. It was in fact recommended in more than a few other books I read this year. To give a little perspective on who Gene Logsdon is I’ll quote from the back cover of the book: “Gene Logsdon farms on 32 acres in Upper Sandusky, Ohio, a mile from his boyhood home. Logsdon has written twelve books and hundreds of articles for publications such as New Farm, Mother Jones, Orion, Utne Reader, Organic Gardening, and the Wall Street Journal.” Since the time of The Contrary Farmer publication in 1995 Gene has written a dozen new books . In short Gene is a farmer and writer who over the years has shared his experiences of growing up and growing old in the same region all the while living the life of a multi-generational farmer. However as the title suggests Gene is not the typical farmer, he is as he calls it a “cottage farmer.” Another phrase for this could be a “small mixed farmer.” He raises livestock on pasture and grows various grains, vegetables, and fruits. He does a little of everything in an area that usually does a lot of one thing. He knows the world of the industrial commodity farmer quite well and likewise the world of the small mixed farmer, and it’s this dual knowledge that adds to the wisdom of his words when discussing the two. Reading Gene’s books is an experience unlike other farming authors I’ve read in much as I feel like his books are more casual and relaxing to read than other information packed books. There is no doubt that his books are full of useful insights and how-tos – but it’s his sense of humor and his ability to share his emotional connection to farming which makes his books so enjoyable.

What’s in the Book? 

The book spans 230 pages and is divided into ten chapters. Chapter 1At Ease with the Work of Farming. Chapter 2Pastoral Economics. Chapter 3The Garden is the Proving Ground for the Farm. Chapter 4The Peaceable Kingdom of the Barnyard. Chapter 5Water Power. Chapter 6A Paradise of Meadows. Chapter 7Groves of Trees to Live In. Chapter 8King Corn. Chapter 9Cottage Mechanics. Chapter 10Winter Wheat, Spring Oats, Summer Clover, Fall Pasture. Bonus ChapterBooks the Contrary Farmer Treasures.

Some Highlights 

This book is filled with a lot of good stories, practical know how, and poetic thoughts about the cottage farming life. One particular thought or observation I found enlightening occurs in the first chapter, At Ease With the Work of Farming. Gene makes an observation about farming and working your own piece of land that attracted me to farming in the first place. I wrote about this mindset before and Gene speaks of it eloquently here:  

                 This calling, by which physical work can be rendered interesting (surely more so than jogging) requires certain characteristics that may be learned, but that I believe are mostly inborn. The first is a love of home. People with a true vocation to contrary farming find so much fascination in the near-at-hand that they feel no need to wander the world in search of truth, or beauty, or amusement. Like the great naturalist Henri Fabre, who turned his backyard into a lifelong, living laboratory for the study of insects, true farmers see their farms and their communities as a source of never-ending discovery, a microcosm of the world. They see the grand canyons and tropical rain forests, the city lights fantastic, the now much-trodden wildernesses, the history of civilization ebbing and flowing, all repeated in their own neighborhoods and villages. If they wish to heighten their awareness of how the outer world is reflected in their lives, they can “travel” the world by book, or by radio, television, telephone, and computer. They learn that people are the same everywhere and that the way to enjoy humanity (or at least learn to endure its absurdities) is to cultivate the people and places of their own community. One can dine as well in a country cottage in Ohio on standing rib roast and homemade apple pie as in gay Paree on chateubriand and creme brulee. More to the point we can enjoy chateaubriand and creme brule in a country cottage in Ohio. With this sensibility, a farmer avoids the attitude that most often makes farm work burdensome: he knows he is not missing something grand and great down the road someplace. 

Another observation I liked can be found in the second chapter – Pastoral Economics. In this section Gene lists the 7 financial yardsticks in cottage farming. He talks about what the future might look like if more people embraced the cottage farm lifestyle. I think the biggest point to look at is the drudgery of city life. The industrial age brought people out of the country and into the cities for job opportunities. However over the past one hundred years the economy has changed and morphed into what today can best be described as a crony capital monster where fewer and fewer companies have hold of market shares due to big industries which enjoy a comfy relationship with government officials who eliminate their competition by passing regulations that favor them and make it tough on small business to compete or even get started. As a result of this rigged system and the twelve plus years of government schooling ensuring a destruction of curiosity, critical thinking, and self sufficiency,  a vast majority of people on this planet have accepted a life as a worker bee for these giant companies. Very few of them actually enjoy the work they do and justify it with their salary which allows them to make payments on their enormous car and house loans, along with payments on credit card loans which allow them to consume abnormally and travel to exotic paradises during their two week yearly vacations. Most people aren’t a part of any real community nor do they spend much quality time with their family. This is where the bankrupt value systems that people complain about come from. It’s this system that most people just accept which produces shallow people, shallow communities, and a people that are constantly fighting one another over trivial issues rather than addressing the insane principles they’ve been taught to accept as moral. Google “The Non-Aggression Principle” to get a better idea of what I’m talking about – it’s this simple principle that is missing in the world today. The only way this is going to change is if people start to opt out of the system and embrace the entrepreneurial and self sufficient spirit that made early America the wealthiest and most creative country in the world. Here’s Gene’s thoughts on this:

                  The value of a husbandry-driven infrastructure of small cottage farms across the whole nation is also incalculable. If healthy, such a rural culture could mean who knows how many people retreating gladly and willingly to the countryside, relieving the population pressures that are turning cities into heat sinks of human frustration. Spreading out the population to share the life of shepherd and cowboy would hopefully generate a renewed emphasis on traditional rural virtues and give families a reason to work and play and love together again. I sometimes entertain myself with a crazy vision of Ohio. From Lake Erie to the Ohio River, the land is quilted into meadows, tree groves, and playing fields, the latter kept manicured mostly by the grazing animals upon which the local economy would be based. In the groves, pastoral “factories” would be built – home/workshop combinations where most of the society’s basic manufacturing would take place. Instead of staring at flow charts and spreadsheets all week, today’s office workers could sit in their home workshops and spin and weave world famous Ohio Persian rugs or construct world famous solid walnut furniture, making a living by producing something they could be proud of. Instead of gathering on street corners to await in boredom the day when they can join the real world of meaningful work, teenagers could have just as much fun gathering in field corners where they would also be keeping an eye on the flocks. Every weekend the towns would host food and craft fairs along with sports tournaments. Golf addicts could play 7000 holes from Cleveland to Cincinnati and never leave the sheep pasture golf courses. Champion basketball and football players could become champion sheep shearers and hay bale slingers in the off-season and thereby contribute something useful to society while staying in shape. Teams of former factory workers could travel the grove and grass landscape, turning excess lumber into houses and home fuel. They could build small lakes and ponds for water storage, fishing, and swimming. We would all live eventually in a region-encompassing natural preserve. Good T-bone steaks and lamb chops and fresh fish would become as cheap as White Castle hamburgers. Pollution would diminish drastically because long-distance truck transportation would lose much of its economic base and long-distance vacation driving would lose much of its allure. 

Of course this is very fanciful or sounds fanciful, but it certainly could happen if people chose to opt out of what they’re told success looks like.  In fact this is already beginning to happen in pockets all over America. I believe as the economy continues to weaken and the unsustainable house of debt government has created  begins to crumble more and more people will wake up to the fruits of entrepreneurship. They will not all become farmers, but surely they will leave cities and form smaller communities, or more accurately repopulate all the small and nearly abandoned towns across the country. I think the Gene Logsdon’s vision of the cottage farmer dotting the landscape is the future of food and community building.

Final Thoughts of a Wannabe Farmer

This book has much more to offer than the two highlighted segments I chose, actually there is much more know how and practical advise than stories and philosophizing. However there is just enough of that to make this book stand out in it’s own special way. Gene Logsdon is a thoughtful farmer and writer. Reading his books always have a calming effect on the reader’s soul, and I recommend anyone interested in cottage farming or exploring the idea of community and local food to give this book a read.

Buy the book via Amazon by clicking HERE (It’s an affiliate link so I get a little kickback if you buy. Thanks!)

 

Gene Logsdon has a blog where he publishes articles frequently. Check it out here: The Contrary Farmer

Comments

  1. Addye

    I loved his concept of the dreaming of families playing, & working & actually loving it, being possible. We would have no concept of boredom & that i think would be awesome!!!! Thank you for this review!!

  2. Author
    James

    Absolutely! If people took control of their lives in a way that enables themselves to produce meaningful work, the idea of being bored would surely be as abstract as being content in one’s work is today. There’s a lot of ways to change the corrupt value systems present today and I think this type of farming is and will continue to be a big part of the solution. Glad you enjoyed it, and thanks for the comment.

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