I woke up this morning thinking about Gene Logsdon. And Orlando.
Gene Logsdon, who lived in Upper Sandusky, Ohio, and called himself “The Contrary Farmer,” died May 31. He was a farmer, but his gift was really his writing, and he left us with books and essays and blog posts and lots of contrary thoughts about farming and life. He was our Wendell Berry. Our Wes Jackson.
Gene started his career — well, not exactly “started,” because his life was filled with twists and turns — as an ag journalist with the Farm Journal (1965-1974), and wrote his first two books through its book division.
But “journalism was not the kind of writing that I really wanted to do,” so he quit his job and moved back to a small farm in Ohio — “without steady income or inherited money or a working spouse. Everybody who knew me thought I was crazy. And they were right. But I was so scared that I wrote like a demon.”
And write he did. Columns and articles and books, packing more character and humor and philosophy and down-to-earth wisdom into each sentence than anyone I know. Who else would write a book called Holy Shit: Managing Manure to Save Mankind. Non-farm readers discovered his writings through Ohio magazine, which gave him a channel for creative writing from 1974 through 1998.
“I like to say that agriculture is the mother of all arts: the sustained, practical, intimate engagement between the power and creativity of both nature and humans,” he wrote in the introduction to his 2007 book, The Mother of All Arts: Agrarianism and the Creative Impulse.
More than anything, he challenged the status quo of modern farming practices. One reviewer called him a rabble rouser, another a “sanely, unruly voice.”
Last December, in a blog post on diversity in agriculture, he wrote, “From Farm Bureau I once got a letter scolding me for what I wrote. From Farmers Union, I got an award.” He didn’t call himself the Contrary Farmer for nothing.
But Gene Logsdon made you think — and that’s a true gift.
I have to be honest, we were sometimes on different places on the philosophical spectrum, but I respected his opinions and valued reading them because his thoughts made me reconsider my own.
So I thought of Gene as I tried to make sense of the nightclub shooting in Orlando. They might seem like disparate thoughts, but he’s been weighing on my mind since I learned of his death. Gene and I didn’t always agree, just as you and I may not agree with people of a different political party, race, religion or lifestyle. But I always valued his right of expression, and what he believed in.
I found an unlikely voice to my emotions in television comedian Jimmy Fallon, who said, in a monologue following the Orlando shooting, “This country was built on the idea that we do not all agree on everything. That we are a tolerant, free nation that encourages debate, free thinking, believing — or not — in what you choose.”
“We need to support each other’s differences and worry less about our own opinions.”
In a fable Logsdon wrote in 2001, The Man Who Created Paradise, our Contrary Farmer gave us a character who singularly inspired others to restore what had been destroyed. How one person’s actions triggered a ripple of others’ actions. It was a story about the power of one person to change lives — to change his world.
One person. That’s all it takes. And then another.
Thank you, Gene.
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