You Can Go Home Again: Adventures of a Contrary Life
by Gene Logsdon
Indiana University Press, $22.95
On Good Land: The Autobiography of an Urban Farm
by Michael Ableman
Chronicle Books, $18.95
Alternatives to the environmental calamity of modern agriculture are best presented by
farmers themselves, as Gene Logsdon and Michael Ableman ably demonstrate in their latest
books. Logsdon, author of The Contrary Farmer, has little use for poison-dependent,
monocultural farms devoid of livestock. That the unfortunate critters eat in confinement,
sometimes a thousand miles from the harvest, scandalizes him. Logsdon revels in diversity,
raising sheep, hogs, chickens, ducks, cattle, and corn on 22 acres in rural Ohio, two
miles from the farm where he grew up.
Already disenchanted with "get big or get out" farming methods in the 1950s,
he quit his job as a writer for a mainstream ag magazine, Farm Journal. "I had
learned the dark and dirty side of agribusiness. . . . I knew that large-scale farming was
a money game, like writing copy to fill the blank pages between advertisements. Neither
had much to do with the human artfulness that I was seeking." That artfulness was
found in the "garden farm," whose creation Logsdon recalls in fond detail,
explaining his choice of crops, how he converted "pitifully exploited cropland"
to pasture, and how he minimized his overhead (no $150,000 combines) to net $200 an acre,
compared with $30 for the typical grain farmer.
e also increased the diversity on his land, planting scores of species of native
wildflowers. "This project, coupled with introducing new tree species, was
Logsdon is a devout disciple of the prophetic farmer/writer/nature-lover Wendell Berry,
but seems to have more fun than his mentor, whether exchanging farm yarns or enjoying
eccentric rituals like presenting the neighbor's cow with a gift-wrapped bale of
hay-something that he did after he was "mesmerized by an elemental peacefulness"
while sitting on his cow, meditating on Christmas.
Urban farmer Ableman's story parallels Logsdon's in many ways, though in an entirely
different operation-an organic fruit and vegetable farm on 12 acres in the midst of
Southern California tract homes. For Ableman, as big a problem as weeds and bugs were the
neighbors and zoning officials who objected to his compost heap, his produce stand, and
even his rooster, which the district attorney charged with being a public nuisance.
Eventually, though, Ableman won the battles -and some converts-as neighbors began to enjoy
and appreciate his farm.
Ableman switched from a single crop of peaches to a variety of fruits and vegetables
that fill the tables for 125 local families. Like Logsdon, he loves agro-diversity:
"I went from being a struggling peach farmer to a kind of ringmaster. When I decided
to reduce the emphasis on peaches and turn Fairview Gardens into an all-purpose
cornucopia, I couldn't stop."
Abelman and Logsdon are gracious rebels who know that industrialized farming wrings the
life out of both soil and communities. Their joy in stewardship and in people celebrates
that life being restored, a psychic sustainability that won't appear on spreadsheets.
Because the authors embrace saner ways to farm and show how it can be done, they should be
read by everyone interested in food production and food policy, from the small farmer to
the secretary of agriculture and members of Congress. -Bob Schildgen