Letter to a Young Farmer
How to Live Richly without Wealth on the New Garden Farm
Foreword by Wendell Berry
For more than four decades, the self-described “contrary farmer” and writer Gene Logsdon has commented on the state of American agriculture. In Letter to a Young Farmer, his final book of essays, Logsdon addresses the next generation—young people who are moving back to the land to enjoy a better way of life as small-scale “garden farmers.” It’s a lifestyle that isn’t defined by accumulating wealth or by the “get big or get out” agribusiness mindset. Instead, it’s one that recognizes the beauty of nature, cherishes the land, respects our fellow creatures, and values rural traditions. It’s one that also looks forward and embraces “right technologies,” including new and innovative ways of working smarter, not harder, and avoiding premature burnout.
Completed only a few weeks before the author’s death, Letter to a Young Farmer is a remarkable testament to the life and wisdom of one of the greatest rural philosophers and writers of our time. Gene’s earthy wit and sometimes irreverent humor combines with his valuable perspectives on many wide-ranging subjects—everything from how to show a ram who’s boss to enjoying the almost churchlike calmness of a well-built livestock barn.
Reading this book is like sitting down on the porch with a neighbor who has learned the ways of farming through years of long observation and practice. Someone, in short, who has “seen it all” and has much to say, and much to teach us, if we only take the time to listen and learn. And Gene Logsdon was the best kind of teacher: equal parts storyteller, idealist, and rabble-rouser. His vision of a nation filled with garden farmers, based in cities, towns, and countrysides, will resonate with many people, both young and old, who long to create a more sustainable, meaningful life for themselves and a better world for all of us.
Reviews and Praise
“An elegant, modern georgic in prose by ‘contrary farmer’ Logsdon (Gene Everlasting, 2013, etc.). Of a piece with the works of Wendell Berry, Wes Jackson, and other modern back-to-the-landers, Logsdon’s last book (he died in May 2016) comprises a set of essays addressed to an imagined young person contemplating a life in the fields. ‘There’s no such thing as the American farmer,’ counsels the author at the outset. Instead, there are beet farmers, dairy farmers, flower farmers, marijuana farmers, and even ‘moonshine farmers,’ which makes it difficult to categorize all the different kinds of farmers and to subsume them into any meaningful political organization. The point is that because there is so much diversity in farming, anyone with intelligence, gumption, and stick-to-itiveness shouldn’t be dissuaded from having a go at it. Of course, there are plenty of reasons not to farm, and Logsdon isn’t shy of enumerating the challenges, from the fiscal and physical ones to matters that embrace even the heart: one of his essays concerns how to find a suitable helpmeet out in the sticks, where, as a former seminarian, he discovered ‘there were girls peeking out from behind every crossroads stop sign in the county.’ Times change, but the struggle continues, one aspect of it the corporatization of farming. Oddly, there Logsdon finds an ally in the chain restaurateur Bob Evans, who encouraged those who would listen to invest in biological over mechanical solutions, saying, ‘tractors don’t have babies.’ Logsdon is encouraging without being Pollyannaish, homespun while also sometimes arch: ‘On the occasions when I have had to travel in city traffic, the thought always occurs to me that people who must commute into cities to work spend about as much time just waiting for traffic lights to change as it takes me to write a book.’ From raising cattle to organizing markets, there’s much value here for every aspiring farmer, whose work requires brains along with brawn.”
More Reviews and Praise
"This engaging, conversational book dispenses life advice for farmers and others who seek to live close to the earth. Letter to a Young Farmer is an accumulation of wisdom with a large dollop of humor and a conversational tone that will endear it to almost every audience. The book recalls a conversation with a parent or older family member in that many of its common-sense directives are informed by experience, from the purchasing of land to the management of aggressive rams. But not all the advice here is specific to farmers or 'garden farmers'; general life advice can be extrapolated from discussions of love, finance, and other common-sense aspects of life. Categorizing Letter is tricky at times, perhaps appropriately so, stating that 'contrary farmers,' as the author self-identifies, tend to defy stereotyping. It is philosophical, but it also dispenses concrete advice. Likewise, though it does present useful information, much of this is apocryphal, cast in a slyly humorous way, and even opinionated. For example, the author agrees that climate change is a problem, but he also describes people concerned over the issue as paranoid 'hand-wringers.’ Letter is best read as an inspirational piece. It seems likely to lure many a gardening neophyte to the farm life, though it takes care to stress the difficulty of this path too. Above all, it preaches consistency, locality, and the long view, occasionally contrasting this philosophy with the frantic pace of mainstream modern life. In the book’s worldview, small farming is the key to solving the most serious of our environmental, mental, and physical problems as well as the existential emptiness of consumerism. Yet at the same time, it does not advocate complete abandonment of capitalist modality. Parts of the book recall Buddhist principles of moderation. With its unique point of view, Letter to a Young Farmer is a must-read piece of environmental, agricultural, and social philosophy.”
If Logsdon (1932-2016) had his way, the term contrary farmer would have been every bit as familiar as country farmer. A learned proponent of ‘stay in and stay small' garden farming, Logsdon’s outspoken outlook was completely in opposition to the practices and philosophies of corporate agribusiness. Instead of encouraging farmers to 'go big or get out' by adding more property, more machinery, and more debt, Logsdon championed the idea of working on a more personal scale that allows farmers to appreciate nature and honor tradition while still accepting technology and innovation. In this posthumously published book of essays, Logsdon extols the virtues of finding a good mate, praises the pluck and professionalism of women farmers, and enthuses about the health benefits of a day in the barn. Along with other hard-earned advice about hauling livestock, pasturing chickens, and controlling weeds, Logsdon’s lifetime of farming wisdom is firmly lodged in common sense. Sagacious and sly, practical and poetic, Logsdon’s voice may have been contrarian but it was never condescending.”
“In the midst of our epidemic fear of the future and its so-far predicted emergencies and catastrophes, here is Gene patiently, quietly, with the right touch of merriment, talking about the small, really possible ways of solving our one great problem: how to live on the Earth without destroying it.”—Wendell Berry, from the foreword
Late Ohioan farmer Logsdon (Gene Everlasting: A Contrary Farmer’s Thoughts on Living Forever) sends a meaningful (though poorly titled) message to up-and-coming homestead farmers. Written during the late stages of an illness that would take the author’s life in 2016, the book stands as his final assertion and rallying cry against the misguided notion, so prevalent at one time, that farmers needed to 'get big or get out.' The book isn’t written in the intimate style of a personal missive as the title suggests; it’s more of an essay collection squarely addressing topics such as small-scale economics, pasture farming, raising sheep, and the 'modern plowgirl,' with practical-minded advice throughout. This work serves as a guiding light and lodestar for farmers facing the modern challenges of any farming operation, large or small.”
About The Author
|Size:||5.5 x 8.5 inch|
|Publisher:||Chelsea Green Publishing|
|Pub. Date:||April 5, 2018|
Available In/Retail PricePaperback, 232 pages, $18.00
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