Farming is a religion also
Gene Logsdon, the “Contrary Farmer” and one of my favourite writers, delights some readers and irritates others with his iconoclastic attacks on Big Farming. As a farm journalist, he is knowledgeable about how farming has changed and is changing. Some of the changes he abhors include the massive use of pesticides and the loss of land in soil-building forage crops. He also laments the concentration of power in the hands of certain corporations that offer whole systems that enslave farmers and turn them into cogs in an economic machine rather than sensitive stewards.
Logsdon has published widely. He has written novels, including The Last of the Husbandmen: A Novel of Farming Life (2008), and the provocatively-titled Pope Mary and the Church of Almighty Good Food (2010). His non-fiction output is very large, including a paean to grass farming (All Flesh Is Grass) and one to manure (Holy Shit). Small-Scale Grain Raising has convinced gardeners throughout North America to consider grain a garden crop.
When Logsdon wrote about dropping out of Roman Catholic seminary, he was criticized for “rejecting my ‘call from God.’ In our present traditional society, becoming a priest is a ‘call from God.’ Becoming a forest-loving farmer should be a ‘call from God’ too, and that is what I hope traditional religion will in the future readily recognize.”
Logsdon and his wife operate a 20+ acre experimental farm and homestead. He has raised sheep, cattle and chickens, but age limits some of what he can do. He is a keen observer who doesn’t let received tradition interfere with his observations. He speaks about plant succession by watching it take place. He finds out that wild apple trees sometimes bear good fruit, that bluegrass makes good pasture in relationship with white clover. He makes loose haystacks with the aid of eight-foot “page-wire”, a pick-up truck, a hay fork and family members. He admits to errors: eastern cedar is somewhat invasive, and white-thorn (hawthorne) turned out to be a constant pest, never to be introduced no matter the romantic visions of an English countryside. Deer are lovely, but Logsdon has suggested year-round hunting seasons as the only effective way of controlling them (short of re-introducing wolves into a region as full of dairy farms as Smithville or Abbotsford, B.C.).
For Logsdon, the call to farm is the call to a way of life. He learns from his Anglo neighbours and from his Amish and Mennonite dairy farming friends. He has written about how to keep a sickle-bar mower running indefinitely, about installing a cistern, making wooden combs, “hoemanship” (skilful use of technology), making a twig-whistle, using burdock burs as “Velcro” construction toys, and making wooden farm gates.
Spiritual side to food production
Gene Logsdon’s views on calling are familiar to many Christians. Perhaps, however, those of us who at this point might be forgiven for shouting “Hallelujah” are also puzzled. Isn’t what Logsdon says a biblical insight, and hasn’t Logsdon long ago broken ties with Christianity in any formal sense? What right – one might ask – does this contrarian fellow have appropriating the insights of Luther or Calvin, of Kuyper or Tim Keller?
To paraphrase the Apostle, “some preach Christ out of envy.” Or our Lord, “Other sheep have I that are not of this fold.” Perhaps Logsdon is one of those God is still to gather, as Isaiah noted way back in history (Isa. 56:8). Logsdon’s witness to the sacredness of a whole life centred around the farm has prompted my own praise to the Lord of Life any number of times.
Being a contrarian, Logsdon likes to have the last word, so I’ll give it to my kindred-spirit, Gene Logsdon.
Farming is more than a commercial business. It is a religion also, using the term in its broadest sense. . . . Whether one believes in calls from God, or from Nature, or from both, or from neither, it is much more than a “call from Money” as it is now so often considered. There is a spiritual side to good food production that if ignored leads to bad food production and the downfall of civilizations. . . . The god-fearing farmer and the godless farmer have much in common even if they use different words to express that commonality.