“Conversations out in
the Grain Field”
A Review of
Small-Scale Grain Raising
by Gene Logsdon.
Reviewed by Mary Bowling.
Small-scale Grain Raising is a textbook, but it doesn’t read like a textbook. Chelsea Green has brought this classic text back into print following thirty years of demand for the out-of-print first edition. A lot has happened in the last thirty years that would influence how a book like this could be revised. New scientific research is always in the works on hybridizing and improving every species of edible plant imaginable, but that’s not all. In the last thirty years, information of any and all sorts has become readily available to anyone, anywhere at the touch of a button. So why bother with a textbook? Aren’t informational books of this type obsolete by now?
Gene Logsdon has recognized trends in information technology and assumed people will use them freely. In his afterword he says, “Today there is no pure information in the field of small-scale grain raising, or anything else, that is not done to death on the Internet. So I deleted some of the ‘facty’ stuff, as I call it, that you can easily find at the click of a computer mouse. It actually made the book better, it seems to me, because that kind of information is so boring.” And he’s right. It’s not that this book isn’t informative; it is – very. It’s just that it’s not as dull as most garden-variety textbooks.
Gene Logsdon is the author of many books related to life on a small farm, both fiction and non. His writings come from his life, both in subject matter and in style. Logsdon’s books read – and this one is no exception – like conversations had out in the field. He talks directly to his audience. He muses. In place of dry tables, charts, and graphs, he includes droll stories, wisdom, and asides, which is what the organic homesteader really wants. Producing table and chart one after another is not the lost art that people are hoping to recover by reading this or any other of Gene Logsdon’s books. People are hoping to learn again how to live in their place, on their land. Logsdon writes as a real person who is sharing a life’s worth of experience with other real people.
There is a lot of material covered in this book, from the most basic grains, corn and wheat, to the exotic and experimental, triticale and quinoa. He includes legumes like beans and clover because they are a staple for people or for animals, and are useful for maintaining the fertility and health of the soil. This is a book about feeding everyone on the farm; people, animals, plants, and the soil. An organic farm won’t work if any one aspect of it is not being fed.
With the breadth of information he has to cover, Logsdon has to assume that we have at least a basic knowledge of at least some of what he’s talking about, and that if we don’t, we can remedy that pretty quickly online. He does do a lot of explaining, a lot of spelling things out, a lot of describing implements and their uses. There is a very helpful illustrated glossary at the end of the book, because no amount of description can match a picture, and too much description without a picture can be counter-productive. He includes sources for seed and tools, as well as websites that contain basic and useful information. There are also a few recipes at the end of each section to give an idea of the range of uses for some of these grains.
Relating to the grains, he discusses when and how to plant, methods for weed cultivation, pests and diseases, when and how to harvest, and how to store, prepare, and use the various types. Of course, there are no hard and fast rules given, just what he or those he knows have found to be the most helpful, reasonable, or advantageous. He encourages the reader to use his or her own common sense and knowledge of his or own particular place to decide and try different methods for his or her own self. No two farms are the same, just as no two farmers are.
Small-scale organic farming is a way of life. Grains and legumes are the staple of life for all people all over the world, and yet they are often overlooked by small-scale farmers, either because they are thought to be too complicated or require too much space, or because they are so thoroughly the property of large agri-corporations that people don’t even consider them a viable option for growing on a small farm. Logsdon refutes this, as he does much other conventional wisdom related both to farming and to life in general. But far from taking cheap shots at modern institutions just for the sake of iconoclasm, he suggests something more life-affirming and health-giving than modern farm technology could ever provide. And he’s backed it up with years of his own experience. So while the internet is rife with information related to farming, Gene Logsdon brings a humor and humanity to the subject which goes far beyond numbers and data, and actually makes you want to grow grains for yourself.