Joel Salatin is the owner and Farmer of Polyface Farms in Swoope, Virginia. In 1961, the Salatins bought and restored an old farm in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley. Mr. Salatin is a third generation farmer whose farm helps to support three thousand families, fifty restaurants, and ten retail outlets through various programs and buying clubs. He is the author of several books about sustainable farming including Folks, this Ain’t Normal and is featured on documentaries such as Food Inc.
FT: Joel, can you tell me more about permaculture and some examples of how you use it on your farm?
JS: I use the concept of stacking enterprises such as the grazers followed by the egg mobiles. The grazers and the egg mobiles run on the same acre during a single season. We allow the animals to do the work here and do what they do best. The “pig-ness “of the pig, the “cow-ness” of the cow and the “chicken-ness” of the chicken. Because the animals do the work, I have no need for herbicides, fungicides, pesticides or antibiotics. The chickens are my pasture sanitizers – they eat all the worms and flies in the cow pats and disperse it, so the pasture is ready to grow more grass. Everything is based on grass. We also use a water system that is highly integrated. We have ponds up in the hills that capture snow melt and rain water and then we use gravity to water our animals and grow our crops. This is all based on permaculture.
FT: What are some of the challenges that you have faced when using permaculture and biodynamic farming?
JS: Well….really I can’t think of one. These systems are based on nature, and they work. I don’t need to improve upon it. I am not trying to force nature to do what it doesn’t want to do. All of these things are synergistic – it’s about multiplicative simplicity.
FT: Could you please explain your concept of true farming and how it reestablishes the sacredness of food for you and your consumer?
JS: We all have benchmarks of truth and value – if it doesn’t heal then it’s not acceptable. If it causes harm, then it is problematic. We don’t want to deplete the commons, we want to increase the commons. We want to protect all the value that is in the soil from the earthworm factory to the voles and moles! The truth in farming – if it doesn’t balance out somewhere, there is a lie. One of the biggest lies is that food is cheap – it is a lie that dishonors life. In regards to the sacredness of food, if you don’t view the pig-ness of the pig or cow-ness of the cow as important and only view it as a sack of protoplasmic protein, you have already committed sacrilege. You cheapen the life that has been sacrificed to sustain your own. How we make this sacrifice sacred is by honoring and respecting the life.
FT: What are some specific ways people who live in cities can participate in their own local food chains?
JS: I have three ways!
Turn off your TV and find your food source! So many people say they don’t have time. Well, you have time to watch TV, shut it off! Find your farmers through your local CSA or farmers market. Many farmers want the additional one or two customers. If you invest the money you spend on HDTV on finding your food source your life would change!
Get In your Kitchen! Can’t have a food chain with integrity if you are not willing to participate. You can’t have a connection with your plate if you don’t have a connection with your producers!
Do something yourself! Pickle something or get two chickens. They are so much more useful than exotic birds or boa constrictors. They are a great role model for teens. They wake up early, work hard turning trash into treasure and go to bed early.
The most important thing though is to do something to connect viscerally with the awesomeness of life!
FT: Wow!! One more question; Do you think there may be a danger for local farmers to be lured to industrialized models?
JS: Absolutely, we see it all the time, but nothing can take the place of a vigilant consumer. It is ultimately up to the individual to make a choice.
Joel Salatin is changing the dialog about the ways in which we source our food as well as how local agriculture needs to be sustained by community involvement. If you would like to know more about Salatin’s work, please visit his website.