Editing “Hopelessness” Into “Hope”
The Story of Ben Logan's Farm and its Protection
By Timothy S. Jacobson
~The Nonprofit Provocateur~
Once you have lived on the land, been a partner with its moods, secrets, and seasons, you cannot leave. The living land remembers, touching you in unguarded moments, saying, “I am here. You are part of me.”
-Ben Logan, The Land Remembers
It started with an interview of Ben Logan by Wisconsin Trails Magazine. Interviewer Andrea Bahe asked Logan, “Is your farmland legally protected in any way?”
This discussion wasn’t about some ordinary bit of dirt. They were talking about an important part of American cultural history. They were talking about a slice of heaven on earth, “Seldom Seen Farm,” that provided a fertile bed for growing not only abundant crops, but also a sturdy family rooted in the earth. This parcel of the rural Wisconsin landscape between Mt. Sterling and Gays Mills forms the centerpiece of the book The Land Remembers: The story of a farm and its people.
Was Seldom Seen Farm--a cultural icon, a robust piece of Americana that had been cultivated in the early 1900s by the Logan family using horses and respectfully cared for--at risk of being chopped up into little pieces by a developer or turned into a factory farm? Would this simple farmstead that had continued to draw “pilgrims” from as far away as California be exposed to having its essence obliterated by bulldozers?
Logan himself lacked optimism and knowledge of the path to follow to achieve protection of the resources that made the farm special. When asked by Ms. Bahe if the farm was legally protected, he replied:
No, but I would hope that it stays in farming. Good, well-taken-care-of land…. Because I think the rural people are an important part of the American society and I hate to see it ending. That may be a hopeless hope.
Peter Annin, another Wisconsin writer and Ben Logan fan, saw Logan’s response and jumped into action. In early 2008 he met with Logan on the farm and broached the subject of conservation easements. Annin then talked to his friend Mike Strigel, executive director of Gathering Waters Conservancy, Wisconsin’s service organization for land trusts. Strigel, in turn, called me at Mississippi Valley Conservancy to ask if we would be interested in protecting the farm. Interested? That would be an understatement.
The path to protection, not surprisingly, contained a few bumps and washouts. The first meeting between Logan, Annin, Strigel, Buddy Huffaker and me, for example, had to be canceled due to severe flooding of the Kickapoo River in June, making some roads and bridges impassable.
Ben Logan and Tim Jacobson at Seldom Seen Farm while discussing conservation options
Part of the journey toward protection of Seldom Seen Farm weaved past Aldo Leopold’s now famous shack for a meeting hosted by Buddy Huffaker at the Leopold Legacy Center. Although Nina Leopold Bradley wasn’t able to attend, the meeting there had special significance since Logan had been one of Aldo Leopold’s students decades earlier. Logan, his friends Paul and Kathy Fairchild, Huffaker, Annin, and this author brainstormed about ways to protect the Logan legacy of a special farm and a wonderful tradition of storytelling.
MVC worked with Logan effort to craft a conservation easement that would protect Seldom Seen Farm forever and honor Logan’s wish that the tillable parts of the land remain in farming.
Tim Jacobson with Ben Logan at the closing to sign the conservation easement
Before signing the conservation easement at MVC’s office, Logan read aloud an essay he had written to honor his mother’s memory. He also told those assembled how the farm, in some ways, meant more to his mother than to his father. (Stella Logan died without warning when Ben was only sixteen. The story of losing her forms the final chapter of the book.)
Logan said, “It gives me great satisfaction to know that Mississippi Valley Conservancy is working to ensure that my family’s farm will be protected forever.”
Now, the farm at the center of Logan’s book has been immortalized, not only in words, but physically as a vibrant, productive piece of our rural heritage and a visible reminder of the importance of connecting people with land.
In the years that followed Mississippi Valley Conservancy’s protection of Logan’s Seldom Seen Farm with a conservation easement, a series of events have occurred to give honor to Logan and the conservancy for protecting the iconic farmstead. Each year, MVC has organized guided nature hikes on the farm, even after Ben moved off the farm and into town due to advancing age.
In May 2009, MVC organized an event at which Rod Nilsestuen, Wisconsin Secretary of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, presented a proclamation from Governor Jim Doyle to Ben Logan.
In October of that year, Gathering Waters Conservancy acted on my nomination and honored Ben Logan, his neighbors Paul and Kathy Fairchild, and fellow Wisconsin author Peter Annin with the Harold "Bud" Jordahl Award.
In September 2010, MVC organized a nature hike and celebration of Logan’s 90th birthday, which included a book signing.
Hikers during the 2010 Seldom Seen Farm event Jacobson & Strigel along with GWC honorees
In October 2011, MVC honored Ben Logan with the unveiling and dedication of a monument on the farm. State Senator Jennifer Shilling and State Assembly Rep. Lee Nerison attended to present a citation honoring Mississippi Valley Conservancy for carrying on Ben Logan's philosophy and values in regards to farmland conservation and sustaining rural communities.
Today, Seldom Seen Farm remains as a testament to the character and land ethic of the Logan family and as a vibrant symbol of the stories conveyed through Logan’s classic book.
‘Like’ and/or 'Share' this article below if you're a fan of Ben Logan's book The Land Remembers. What’s your favorite passage? Share your stories!
Tim Jacobson, CEO of Visjonær Consulting, has served as a board member and executive of a variety of nonprofit and for-profit organizations over the past two decades. He's author of the book Explosive Marketing for Nonprofits: Trajectory for Success, to be released in 2014, the executive producer of a documentary film, Mysteries of the Driftless, broadcast on PBS, and author of Amazon best-selling thriller The Kurchatov Penetration. He has been featured dozens of times by TV and radio stations, magazines and newspapers for his organizational consulting, filmmaking, writing, conservation and legal work and for his exploration of international justice and peace issues.
This article is updated from one written by Timothy S. Jacobson for MVC in 2008, and is copyright (c) 2008-2014, Timothy S. Jacobson. All rights reserved.