Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The Contrary Farmer :: Chapters 1 & 2 Book Report

Last week I received my copy of The Contrary Farmer by Gene Logsdon in the mail. I have already read All Flesh is Grass, which he also wrote so I was looking forward to starting this book. It came highly recommended by everyone that has taken the time to read it so I couldn't wait to see what nuggets of wisdom it contained.

Mr. Logsdon is probably one of the better farm "writers" out there these days. He writes in a style that is very enjoyable and entertaining. Even if he didn't tell you it would be evident that he is a writer first and a farmer second. I contrast that with Joel Salatin, who seems to be a farmer first and a writer second. Mr. Salatin writes great and very informational books, but they don't have the "story telling" in them that All Flesh is Grass and The Contrary Farmer have.

In the first two chapters of The Contrary Farmer, Mr. Logsdon deals with work and pastoral economics. A quote from the first chapter that seems to sum it up the best is this:

"Nevertheless, there is much work associated with even a small cottage farm like our thirty-two acres. Making that work enjoyable is a kind of calling, I think. Not everyone is cut out for it, although I am sure that there are thousands of people going through life dissatisfied (I was one of them for a while) because they do not know that they were born to be nurturers - farmers. Sometimes, as a compromise, they become gardeners, and that's okay too. "

In general, I would say that in the first chapter Mr. Logsdon is writing about the romantic side of farm work. He writes about the enjoyment of farm work, the purity of the culture in the farming country, and beauty and depth of creation (although I'm not sure he believes in the Creator). I can see from this chapter why so many people said that they read the book once a year when the just need to refocus their minds and remind themselves why they are farming.

The second chapter of the book deals with "Pastoral Economics", which is something I haven't heard much about. Mr. Logsdon has a great quote from the 1940's by a guy from England named Lord Northbourne. Here it is,
Mechanical efficiency is all very well -- it is good, but life can be sacrificed to it. Mechanical efficiency is the deal of materialism, but unless it is subservient to and disciplined by the spirit, it can take charge and destroy the spirit. In life, though not in mechanics, the things of the spirit are more real than material things. They include religion, poetry, and all the arts. They are the mainsprings of that culture which can make life worth while. Farming is concerned primarily with life, so if ever in farming the material aspect conflicts with the spiritual or cultural, the latter must prevail, or that which matters most in life will be lost ... Farming must be on the side of religion, poetry, and the arts rather than ont he side of business, if ever the two sides conflict.

Farming is an art ... Farming is poetry ... and while I don't believe farming is a religion, I know that it is all about the beauty and wonder of the Creator our God. I do believe that if you separate farming from those things we all miss out. The farmers miss out and the consumers miss out because we are losing all that is important. The health of our food, the connection to our food, the beauty of our lands, and so much more are lost if all we are concerned about is the mechanical world.

Mr. Logsdon seems to be most attracted to farms like his. A small "cottage farm", as he calls it, where the main income isn't derived from the farm but rather from another on farm business. You know, maybe a writer who is also a farmer, or a welder who is also a farmer, or a mechanic who is also a farmer. He seems to believe these types of cottage farms are really the essence of pastoral economics. And, let me tell you ... if I could write I would be all about it! He writes about needing to look at our profits differently. For example, if he breaks even on his wool and lambs he still profits because they maintained his grass. Or, if he puts some beef in the freezer he profits because he doesn't have to purchase it. Plus, selling directly to the consumer (maybe a wool spinner in his case) brings him double the profit. He even talks quite a bit about the Amish in this chapter and the success they have had with pastoral economics (although I would think they are getting away from that in our area).

There was one quote near the end of the chapter that I didn't particularly like. Mr. Logsdon said, "Most people drawn to farming do not like selling and so are not good at it. Much better to connect with someone who understands and like selling and let him or her make some money too." I get what he is saying, but I believe that it isn't entirely true. And, just like you aren't born an entrepreneur but you can become one, I don't believe that you are born a salesman ... but you can become one. I think the farmer being the salesman is the connection that is missing. I do understand his principle and believe that it is true to a point, but I believe the farmer needs to be making those great connections with the customers. Then everyone wins.

So, what do you think of my take on the first couple of chapters? If you have read the book, do you think I missed the point? Let me know what you think!

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