NOTE: Since Ben Logan was a friend during the past quarter century, and personally supported me in many of the campaigns I have been part of over the years, I feel a great loss this morning as do, I am sure, the millions of folks who have read his beloved books – Cornucopia’s Mark Kastel.
by Nathan Hansen
Gays Mills native Ben Logan leaves a legacy of both words and actions.
That legacy will live on in the land and farm he worked to protect. And it will live on in the stories he told of the family farm and stories told by the generations to come who will farm the land.
Logan died Friday in Viroqua at the age of 94. Logan had careers in writing, radio, television and film, but he’s best known for his memoir about growing up on the family farm titled “The Land Remembers.”
The book, which focuses on the family’s Seldom Seen Farm, is filled with stories of his youth growing up on the land. While he spent much of his later life away from it living near New York, Logan carried his connection with the land with him his whole life.
In his obituary, Logan’s family writes that his connection to the land and his community were two things that helped him survive his service in the U.S. Navy during World War II. When he was in college, Logan studied under the preeminent conservationist of the time, Aldo Leopold, who Logan said bristled against his emotional attachment to the land.
His experiences growing up during the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl and the transition to modern farming shaped his conservation ethic. Logan was the speaker for several conferences and programs on the topic of land and conservation and received the 1994 Honorary Recognition Award, the highest award given by the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s College of Agriculture and Life Science.
“Once you have lived on the land, been a partner with its moods, secrets and seasons, you cannot leave,” Logan wrote in his memoir. “The living land remembers, touching you in unguarded moments, saying, ‘I am here. You are part of me.’”
When he retired, Logan and his wife Jacqueline moved back to Seldom Seen, and in 2008, he worked with Mississippi Valley Conservancy to help protect the legacy of the family farm into the future.
Tim Jacobson was the executive director of the Mississippi Valley Conservancy at the time and worked with Logan on a conservation easement for Seldom Seen. Along with agreements that would keep the land in farming into the future, Jacobson said Logan also wanted the farm to be accessible to visitors who read his book, or pilgrims as Logan called them.
“He was thrilled that as part of the easement we could offer hikes and opportunities for visitors to see Seldom Seen,” Jacobson said.
One of those hikes was organized as part of Logan’s 90th birthday celebrations, Jacobson said. He said it was a pleasure to watch Logan interact with the readers of his books.
“He was just a very generous and warm person,” Jacobson said. “He just cared for people.”
The conservancy’s conservation director, Abbie Church, said she met Logan before reading his book. She also helped organize the easement on Seldom Seen and was struck by two things: Logan’s passion that the land remain in use as a working farm, and his ability to weave and tell stories.
In recent years, Logan moved off the farm to assisted living in Viroqua. But Church is proud that the farm’s current owners are continuing the legacy of Seldom Seen, converting some of the farms fields to rotational grazing and bringing cows, chickens and other animals back to the farm.
And both Jacobson and Church will remember Logan’s corny sense of humor and his stories. During their work with Logan, even when the reason for the visit was filling out dry paperwork, Logan always had a story or an anecdote that would make their day.
“One time he would talk about his walk to school,” Church said. “He was just full of tidbits like that. He was just a fantastic storyteller.”