An Interview with Joel
most Influential Farmer in America
Who is Joel Salatin? A man on a
mission, a rebel with a cause, a lobbyist against food laws and
bureaucratic decisions for the food industry that don't make sense. He
is currently the most influential farmer in America, an advocate of
holistic, natural farming and a crusader of being a steward of the
A farmer at Polyface Farm,
Virginia, Joel Salatin decided long ago that he would not sell his food
to locations further than a 4 hour-drive radius from his farm. Joel
encourages the "eat local" movement as a result, making sure that that
money remains in the community, and encourages people to grow their own
and make their own. Now famous for his salad bar beef and his
chicken tractors, Joel is a leader, not a follower, an innovator who
finds complacency an anathema.
Joel Salatin spends a lot of time on the road speaking at
various locations both locally and abroad. He is also the author of 10
books, his latest. "Folks,
Normal" is his latest book. See below for details.
So, I would like to thank Joel for taking the time out of
his very busy schedule to answer my questions which I hope will give
you insight into the world of Joel Salatin and the reason behind his
thinking and philosophies. Truly a man to admire for his ceaseless work
his community and his tenacity of chipping away at the bureaucratic
face, hoping that eventually his words will make a difference.
Question 1 to Joel Salatin:
Joel, when reading about
you and your
frustration with government regulations and regulators, would it be a
fair assessment to call you a rebel with a cause? Do you think that you
will be able to make a difference? A lot of people are hoping so!
Funny you should ask. Actually, I write a bi-monthly column
for Flavor Magazine
(a regional food and
farming journal) titled "Rebel with a Cause." if I didn't
think I could make a difference, I would have quit speaking and writing
I think the message of food choice resonates with everyone. It's
one of the most reasonable requests citizens can make of their
"Let me choose what I eat." It seems like such a no-brainer request
that it's hard to believe that in developed countries like Australia
and the U.S., the powers that be summarily believe people should not be
able to choose what they eat.
The ultimate rationale for this notion centers on the answer to this
question: "Who owns me?" if I own me, I should be able to choose my
food, along with my education, my vocation, my retirement plan, my
religion, my friends. If I don't own myself, of course, the apparently
the government owns me and that is, indeed, a slippery slope toward
As I see it, the real challenge is not in getting people to understand
this issue; the challenge is in getting this issue to a table for
discussion . . . anywhere. With supermarkets full of re-packaged corn
and soybeans, obesity on the rise, and party chips in the pantry, it's
hard to sell the idea that we don't have food choice. The vast majority
of people are not interested in choosing raw milk, Aunt Matilda's
homemade pickles, or on-farm-processed meat and poultry.
Trying to create an interest in something people don't miss is
absolutely the hardest problem. It's hard to lobby for something people
don't want. And yet the people who want this freedom realize that
sooner or later many more will realize the deficiencies in the modern
mechanical food system and join them in asking for alternatives. We
have to win this because our children's future health depends on
something other than Monsanto's transgenic modified factory-farmed
amalgamated extruded reconstituted spam.
Question 2 to Joel Salatin
People have said that
farming practices are unique, that you are a leader not a follower in
sustainable farming. For those who don’t know about your farming
methods can you tell our readers what you do?
Our mission statement is simple: to develop environmentally,
emotionally, and economically enhancing agricultural prototypes and
facilitate their duplication throughout the world.
Ultimately, this means we're in the healing business: land, health, and
economy. We do this by trying, as closely as possible, to duplicate
nature's templates, or patterns. In nature, ecosystem exercise occurs
via disturbance and rest. Fire is both a destructive and regenerative
agent. A herd of buffalo or wildebeest is also a destructive and
regenerative agent. The disturbance-rest cycle freshens the ecology,
exercising it to greater diversity and ultimately, to more conversion
of solar energy into biomass. The biomass growth, harvest, and
decomposition cycle is what builds soil.
Natural systems rely primarily on fire, herbivores, and perennials to
maintain this carbon cycle. Nature doesn't till, except in rare
occasions like volcanoes or floods. Tillage should be a last resort.
The centerpiece of virtually all civilizations is the herbivore, both
for draft power as well as nutrient density because prior to cheap
energy and machinery, the herbivore could thrive on perennials. Until
extremely recent times, tillage was expensive and difficult.
In nature, animals move around. They don't stay in the same place. In
fact, this is the way nature moves fertility that naturally gravitates
from ridges and slopes into valleys; back up onto the high ground.
Predation pushes animals to sleep and lounge on high ground so the prey
can see their adversaries. This maintains the fertility cycle.
In nature, animals and plants have symbiotic relationships. You don't
see mono-cultures and mono-species in nature; everything has an
intricate relationship that stimulates health and ecological progress.
As a result of these patterns, on our farm, we minimize tillage to the
garden and keep everything in perennials. Although we buy grain from
neighbors, we utilize our perennials, both grasslands and forests, in a
way to make sure the omnivores (chickens, turkeys, and pigs) ingest as
much perennial as possible. Tillage destroys soil. The less we till,
the better. And yet our culture subsidizes six tillage species to
stimulate their cultivation--to the unprecedented detriment of our soil
We move the animals daily to new paddocks using high tech electric
fencing and lightweight portable shelters. This portable
infrastructure, invented only in recent decades, enables large
production, for the first time in human history, to be done in a more
hygienic, sanitary, animal friendly, and ecologically-enhancing way
than ever before. We live in marvelous times.
In the winter, chickens, pigs, and rabbits move into hoop houses (tall
tunnels) on mezzanine floors and deep bedding to stay warm. When they
come back out to pasture in the spring, these hoop houses are planted
in vegetables for season extension and space utilization.
We let animals do the work. Chickens follow the cows in egg-mobiles,
sanitizing the pastures, scratching through the dung, and converting
grasshoppers and crickets into the best eggs in the world. Pigaerators
convert deep winter bedding from hay-fed cows into wonderful aerobic
compost, which feeds the carbon cycle and supplies the farm's
Movement, carbon cycling, portability, rest, and periodic disturbance
(grazing) offer intricate bio-mimicry, higher production than average,
and a most fascinating life.
Question 3 to Joel Salatin
How is this different to
organic farmers and what caused you to look at farming differently?
Mainstream organics simply substitutes organic inputs for chemical
inputs. While this may be a step in the right direction, it doesn't
address the carbon cycle, energy requirements, or nutritive value.
Grain-fed feedlot beef, for example, has exactly the same
nutrient-deficient and incorrect ratios, whether it is organic or not.
And most organic beef is still grain fed in a feed lot. That is a
Just reducing chicken population numbers in a factory house so the
birds can be certified does nothing for the nutrient profile. It still
does not offer sunshine, green grass, and the ability of the chicken to
express its chicken-ness.
In all honesty, I think what caused our family to look at things
differently was economics. Ultimately, substituting inputs is not the
way to make a profit. If we are going to fundamentally change energy
requirements and tap into a solar-driven farm, we have to reduce the
inputs, localize the carbon cycle, reduce infrastructure, and
perennialize food production.
Question 4 to Joel Salatin
Can anyone do what you do
farm? Some people say they can't.
The only people who can duplicate what we've done are the ones who have
enough persistence, cleverness, character, integrity, and right
thinking to do it. That eliminates most people, which is a great fire
wall of sales protection. Ha!
I wish I had kept count over the years of all the people who showed me
their weed-enshrouded pasture poultry shelters that didn't work. They
were made out of heavy timbers, sheet metal, and weighed 500 pounds. Of
course it didn't work.
This is an art as well as a science. That means no cookie-cutter
formula exists. These principles have to be adapted to your
neighborhood, climate, family resources, etc. And remember, a
successful farm is a business, not a hobby and not just a hole to throw
money into. We don't have a horse at Polyface (Farm) because we haven't
figured out how to make one pay.
I'm a proponent of low living expenses. Live in a trailer if necessary.
Lots of people buy a farm and then build a $200,000 house, then claim
they can't make it work. The creativity people have to louse up
something this simple is truly amazing. If you call me for advice, and
I start giving you some, and each time I take a breath you jump in with
a, "That won't work here!" Then I have one answer: "Of course you won't
If it has been done, then it can be done. I wrote "You can Farm" to
explain all the
processes and thinking that went into our success. Some people say,
"That's a hard book." Well, this is not lolly-gagging around sipping
coffee at 10 a.m. waiting for the day to start. Unfortunately, too many
people don't realize the truth of Pa Ingalls, in "The Little House on the Prairie"
books, who said: "What most people think of as luck is really just hard
work." Amen, Pa.
Question 5 to Joel Salatin
What is your biggest hope
within current farming practices today and why?
My biggest hope for change is in the local food movement and the
entrepreneurial innovators that are creating this new food model. This
includes Shannon Hayes' "Radical
Homemakers" who are entering their kitchens again,
domestic culinary arts, and opting out of the processed food system.
The local food movement brings together many aspects. In order to sell
locally, a farm must be aesthetically and aromatically sensually
romantic. Local patrons won't abide a factory farm. The transparency,
accountability, and integrity inherent in a close chain of custody, or
a community-embedded food system, creates its own checks and balances
on abuse. Word gets around pretty quickly who the good farmer/food
processors are and who the charlatans are.
Localization, in all its many forms, is the antidote for the things
that trouble us, from toxicity, to pathogenicity, to just plain feeling
that nothing i do can make a difference. It does. The reason things are
the way they are is because too many people allowed their decisions to
abdicate responsibility toward our ecological umbilical. Once more of
us begin taking that responsibility seriously, the culture will reflect
the cumulative effect of those individual decisions expressed on our
landscape. And that can heal what is unwell. And that, my friends, is a
legacy we should all aspire to leave.
Joel, many thanks for
your time and
effort in spreading the word on organic farming and sustainable living.
JOEL SALATIN RESOURCES: - BOOKS, VIDEOS AND A WEBSITE
If you would like to advertise
your farm in Europe for free because you
need some help on the farm to pick those crops, or whatever, see our
section on farming
jobs worldwide. Or, if you want to advertise
produce, farm accommodation or a farm service look at our section
Advertise your Farm. Please feel free to contact us
for any further inquiries.
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heal yourself I am inspired by what Joel is doing for humanity. Unltimately he is not only healing the land and producing the most nutritous food. He is allowing us …
Joel Salatin Keep it up! Not rated yet Thank you for the Jole Salatin interview. I am in the middle of reading Joel's book, "You Can Farm", and I can't wait to learn more about his concepts …