Letter to a Young Farmer - A Review

I was first exposed to Gene Logsdon in the 1990s when my father brought home a book from the library. It was recommended, I believe, by a columnist in the Buffalo News. In At Nature’s Pace, Logsdon presents his idea for the small family farm as a lifestyle and not merely a career choice. That book talks about the economic viability of small farms—particularly horse farms—arguing that success is, perhaps, more likely on a small scale.


In his recent, and final, book, Letter to a Young Farmer: How to Live Richly without Wealth on the New Garden Farm, Logsdon further develops some of his elegiac essays on the life of a rural farmer with something like an epistolary exhortation to someone who feels irrepressibly drawn to cultivate the earth. This is a collection of essays, with a conversational tone. Just the sort of tone you would expect if you stopped by to visit your aging curmudgeonly neighbor for a few minutes while leaning on his split rail fence. It is, in fact, the sort of book you would expect someone who claims to be a “contrary farmer” to write as a swan song. Logsdon has recently died and this book represents something of a last will and testament for the folks he’s been writing for during the past half century.

Logsdon’s writing style is comfortable and enjoyable to read. He adds a good dose of facts and figures, with a dash of common sense, and a large dollop of opinions. The mixture that results enables the reader to politely disagree at points while still enjoying the experience and getting some helpful information along the way.

Letter to a Young Farmer is not an extended argument, but a series of discussions that surround a cogent theme. This makes the book an easy one to read piecemeal over the course of several weeks or even months. There are essays about managing the politics and economics of a farmer’s market, about the uses and failures of big data, and about the joy of living in one local area for most of one’s life.

The central topic in all of the essays is how to make a go of it as a small farmer. Thus, the subtitle is more descriptive of the content than the title. Logsdon is not writing to the person who inherited a vast tract of land and is putting thousands of acres under plow. Neither is he writing to someone who is necessarily chronologically young. Instead, Logsdon is writing to someone who has decided to engage in agriculture on a small scale—often for the fulfillment of the act itself—who lacks the benefit of his decades of contrarian experience.

Some of Logsdon’s earlier books make is sound like the small farm is the only way to go. This book, however, is more balanced. Logsdon acknowledges that there are many ways to farm and many reasons to farm. Though he still acts as an apologist for the small, “garden” farm, he does not come of a polemical in this book as before. Just persistently contrarian.

Most of the wisdom in Letters to a Young Farmer represents the sort of common sense that seems so uncommon today. He argues that young farmers should avoid debt, diversify assets and income sources, save for the future, avoid social vices like smoking and drinking (they are exorbitantly expensive), minimize eating out and the purchase of non-essentials, build trustworthy relationships with mechanics and other service providers, live in a reasonable house, and so on. These lessons are essential for someone trying to build up a new garden farm, but they are equally useful for those who live in the suburbs—so much of the angst of the modern worker is due to grasping for a lifestyle that has been advertised on television.

The moral of the book, so to speak, is that life is much better when you live within your means and pursue contentment in the place you are. For Logsdon and many of his readers, this translates to finding satisfaction in farming 10, 50, or 200 acres. Often it means being content to do so while working another job, whether full-time or part-time. This is a book that marries up the idea of a sense of vocation with the sense of place.

Even if you aren’t a garden farmer—as I am not—this is an enjoyable book. Logsdon—a lapsed Roman Catholic—is somewhat caustic about the value and durability of Christianity, but if you filter his occasional snide remarks, what you have is a collection of essays that are a pleasure to read on a cold winter evening. The end result may well be a deeper appreciation for where you are, what you do, and perhaps a growing desire to plant a decent sized vegetable garden in your backyard.

NOTE: I received a gratis copy of this volume from the publisher with no expectation of a positive review.

The Marvelous Pigness of Pigs - A Review

God created nature so that it has integrity. Different pieces of creation have purpose according to the way God designed them. These differences are part of God’s design. There is a moral order in the created order that should be honored.

When humans distort the moral order of the created order, it results in evil, suffering, and sin. This is true whether it is the distortion of human reproduction, relational development, or farming practices.

I share this understanding of the moral order of the created order with Joel Salatin, who recently wrote The Marvelous Pigness of Pigs.

Forgiveness Farming

Salatin is a libertarian farmer. He runs Polyface farm, practicing what he calls forgiveness farming. His method of farming entails stewarding his farm, with both crops and animals, in a way that mimics natures patterns and harnesses the processes of nature. Therefore, he eschews monoculture, but instead rotates crops and animals on a regular basis.

Farming for Salatin is about feeding his family while making the world a better place. He is careful to emphasize that maximizing profit by outpacing the ability of his land to replenish itself is not a goal. In fact, it’s exactly the sort of thing that Salatin works to prevent.

Salatin is a somewhat more modernized version of Wendell Berry and Gene Logsdon. He recognizes that the farm should only produce at nature’s pace and that farmers need to take the long view of economic stewardship. At the same time, both Berry and Logsdon are strong proponents of more rustic farming methods. In particular, they both advocate horse farming.

In contrast to Berry and Logsdon, Salatin does not eschew innovation, but he still keeps a close eye on the patterns in nature. Find what makes a pig healthy and allow it those conditions. In this manner, Salatin's perspective on farming is much less romantic and much more realistic than that of Logsdon and Berry. As a result, his vision of farming has a better chance of implementation.

Preaching to the Choir

For those already questioning the factory farm methods, The Marvelous Pigness of Pigs. Even for those who are just skeptical and wondering if there is another way, Salatin presents a case that will seem like common sense.

This volume, however, offers more eloquent argument than compelling data. Those committed to agribusiness will not find The Marvelous Pigness of Pigs very convincing. This is a nice book full of anecdotes, not a scientific argument.

Though Salatin is a farmer, the subtitle of the book seems to indicate the topic of the book includes a broader environmental ethic. It’s certainly present in Salatin’s writing for those equipped to find it. Respecting the integrity of creation is the beginning of a robust Christian environmental ethics. However, the focus of the book quickly slips into Salatin’s wheelhouse: the evils of the factory farm, the benefits of his methods of farming, and the importance of good quality food.

Some Points of Weakness

Overall, the book is an engaging read. Salatin is nothing if not an interesting writer. There is a theological point in the book that is well worth listening to.

At the same time, this volume falls short of excellence on several important levels. First, Salatin’s writing style is raw. In trying to make the book entertaining he significantly overwrites in places. There are exaggerations, sandbags, and linguistic flourishes that would have made good blog posts, but make reading several hundred pages tedious. Good editors should have assisted Salatin in writing better. Toward the end of the book, Salatin repeats himself a lot. Statistically speaking, most people don’t finish books. However, those of us who do finish books like to find original content at the end, too.

Second, the book is theologically anemic. There is no doubt Salatin is an engaged and faithful Christian. However, the book lacks awareness of basic doctrinal teaching. Salatin has familiarity with Scripture, but his repeated misuse of texts to make points is grating. In many cases Salatin makes a sound, biblical point, but uses an unrelated proof text to support it. Additionally, the translation of Bible quotes seems to have been selected for words that match his point, rather than faithfulness to the text and context of Scripture. These are the sorts of weaknesses I expect to find in independent blogs on the internet or self-published e-books, not in books from established publishing houses.

Third, the thesis of the book undermines a holistic environmental ethics. According to Salatin, “The thesis of this book is simple: all of God’s creation, the physical world, is an object lesson of spiritual truth.” (pg. xiv) This sort of matter-spirit dualism is the cause of much of the heartbreaking failure of many fundamentalist and evangelical Christians to engage in environmental ethics. The physical world is not merely an object lesson for spiritual truth. It is not even mainly an object lesson for spiritual truth. The basis for a Christian environmental ethics must include the inherent value of the present creation. Minimizing that value by describing God’s creation as a mere object lesson does not provide the best or most biblically faithful foundation for Christian environmentalism.

Some Points of Strength

Despite these critiques, Salatin should be applauded for engaging in a discussion of environmental ethics from a conservative Christian perspective. As my own doctoral research has shown, there is too little positive engagement by conservative Christians on the topic. As a Bob Jones University graduate (and previous alumni of the year), Salatin may help some Christians who have written off environmental concern as “earth worship” see that there is value in caring for the environment.

I also celebrate Salatin’s continued efforts to recognize the unnecessary suffering of animals that occurs in some modern factory farms. In particular, Salatin’s call to utilize the market to entice meat producers to change their methods is a healthy approach. If people begin to demand meat from animals whose God-given value is recognized during their lives and in their deaths, then some unjust practices can be eliminated without the inevitable secondary consequences of additional governmental regulations.


There is much to be praised in this book. Salatin does well to show that one can be an orthodox Christian, committed to the fundamentals of the faith, and still be concerned with proper, loving stewardship of creation. However, there were significant opportunities for a more theologically robust case for creation care in this text. Salatin failed to take them. The book is only moderately successful as a result.

Note: I received a gratis copy of this volume from the publisher with no expectation of a positive review.