Renewable Farming

Challenge of the Gene Logsdon legacy: Where are the new ag contrarians?

This was the first summer that Jill and I have gone without reading and enjoying the “Contrary Farmer” columns written by longtime colleague Gene Logsdon.

We miss him. Gene died May 31 at age 84 at his country acreage in Wyandot County, Ohio. 

Gene and I were associate editors at Farm Journal in Philadelphia for almost seven years. I left my Managing Editor post at Farm Journal in 1972, joining Iowa State classmate Merrill Oster to co-found Professional Farmers of America. 

Gene and his family moved to his home base of Ohio in 1974, where he intensified his book authorship and small-scale natural farming on 22 acres.

At Farm Journal — 230 West Washington Square in downtown Philadelphia — Gene continually challenged other Farm Journal associates. He questioned eventual consequences of the accelerating trends toward “chemicalizing farming,” as Farm Journal editor Lane Palmer described it. We’d walk at noon across Washington Square and through Independence Hall, touching the Liberty Bell, and every editorial luncheon became a delightful debate. 

Gene and Carol were our neighbors, just across Sumneytown Pike in North Wales, during our wonderful times together at Farm Journal. They lived on two acres, where Gene’s family nurtured a productive gardening paradise. That experience germinated his first book, “Two-Acre Eden.”  He published 30 books through his career, and probably had at least one more in mind when he passed away of Lymphoma. Gene and Carol’s son Jerry and daughter Jennie are close by the Logsdon homestead in Mifflin Township.

Gene’s close friend in Ohio, Dave Smith, promises to maintain Gene’s “Contrary Farmer” website online, containing nine years of weekly commentaries. You can browse and enjoy it at this link. 

Journalists, including me, had a special appreciation for Gene’s genius with worthsmithing, which he used to enlighten readers while delighting them with a tad of unexpected deviltry in almost every paragraph.  One of the most descriptive tributes to Gene’s creativity comes from John Baskin, author of New Burlington: The Life and Death of an American Village. John’s reflections on Gene appear on the Front Porch Republic website at this link under the headline “Gene, Everlasting.” 

Gene and Carol Logsdon

My wife Jill typed Gene’s doctorate thesis, which — if it had been approved by the power structure — would have conferred a “Dr. Gene Logsdon” on him. But the powers attempted to pressure Gene into an academic career because of his innate brilliance and great gifts of teaching and writing. Gene expressed his full contrarian nature at that professorial pressure — and the doctoral thesis conflict remained unresolved.

Gene also wrote several feature articles for a newsletter I began at Pro Farmer and wrote for many years, LandOwner. Jill took over editorship as we moved into “retirement” and produced LandOwner on a freelance basis. LandOwner is still vibrant today, under editorship of another former Farm Journal colleague, Mike Walsten, who has just announced his retirement. 

Gene’s contrary career generated enthusiasm for thinking which confounds conventional wisdom. Writer Wendell Berry declared Gene the best writer he knew. Perhaps he was also one of the best analysts of long-term trends and the quality of life they led toward. That places Gene among the pantheon of other courageous and outspoken ag thinkers we’ve long known as friends, but who’ve passed away. Here are some examples:

Dan Skow, who with Wendell Owens led International Ag Labs in Fairmont, MN for years. Dan was one of the leading presenters at the many “Renewable Farming” seminars I organized as an editor at Professional Farmers of America, starting in the mid-1980s. (Yes… we’ve been rooting for “biological farming” a long time.)

Dave Larson, founder of AgriEnergy Resources of Princeton, IL, a firm which continues to grow and innovate “out of the box” agronomic solutions. We’re doing some field research for AgriEnergy this season.

Steve Westin, one of the most contrary crop consultants we’ve known. Steve was unabashed about teaching radionics. He refused to advise any grower who raised transgenic crops. Like Skow and Larson, Steve viewed calcium as the foundation of fertility which leads to living soils. Steve’s wife Maré soldiers on with Steve’s teaching and product line, based in Otsego, Michigan. 

Charley Walters, originator of ACRES USA magazine, was every inch and every day an example of the contrary character which agriculture needs. Fortunately, his son Fred continues the tradition and the magazine. This firm has assembled what’s probably the most extensive biofarming bookstore on the planet. The ACRES website summarizes Charles Walters’ career, and gives special mention to the fact that Charley was instrumental in collecting and preserving the key research and writing of another pioneering agronomic giant, Dr. William A. Albrecht. Albrecht’s brilliant work in soil science laid the foundations of modern microbiological research among soil scientists.

Fortunately we still have some contrarians active among us who are crusaders for a sane and healthful agriculture. Don Huber comes first to mind, as the keenest researcher and intellectual to challenge the corporate bastions of GMO crops. We must include Arden Andersen, who literally practices what he preaches — as a medical doctor who heals chronic disease with nutrition and other integrated approaches. Bob Kremer, retired ARS/USDA scientist, was among the early and courageous few to document how glyphosate impacts soil biological life — and now that he’s independent, he’s free to go and tell. Michael McNeill and Bob Streit, ag consultants based in Iowa, continue pointing the way to long-term soil health. And veterinarian Art Dunham of Iowa is adamant about telling what he’s seeing in livestock health as a consequence of today’s crop “technology.” And our close friend Howard Vlieger of Iowa is truly a “Student of the Soil” and innovator with producing quality foods, especially beef, pork and poultry. Overseas, there’s Vandana Shiva of India, a vigorous advocate of diverse small-scale and profitable ag production. We should acknowledge a Chinese crusader, Chen I-Wan, who is challenging the entire Chinese government’s official pro-GMO worldview. There are several other notables, too. But these, we know personally and admire them much.

The challenge that Logson’s legacy leaves us: Where is the next generation of pathfinders, who will begin to build a healthier agricultural production system and begin to reverse the parabolic rise in rates of chronic diseases in America? We certainly can’t expect federal “health” agencies to spur such a crusade. 

Perhaps we’re seeing the genesis of such a groundswell outside of production agriculture — in the dozens of health-promoting, whole foods websites and organizations.  Successful Farming acknowledged this powerful trend in its mid-February 2016 issue. This link opens that feature, which further links to six other reports on why healthy, chemical-free food is the opportunity for future farmers.

Meanwhile we encourage you to tie in with the “bio” thinkers now leading the charge to healthier farming and healthier ag profitability. Watch for seminars on these subjects this fall and through the winter. Get connected; get a better bottom line.


By Jerry Carlson   Published August 27, 2016