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Final Project: Joel Salatin, A Local Hero

Joel Salatin is a farmer at the forefront of the trend toward local food and grass-fed meat. Many people first became familiar with Salatin’s complex and eco-minded approach to farming when he was featured in Michael Pollan’s bestselling book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. But Salatin is also well known within pasture-based farming and libertarian circles. He’s especially vocal about government regulations that make life difficult for the small farmer. Why Salatin? Because with Pollan’s Book and films like Fresh and Food Inc. he’s become one of the most recognizable faces in the battle for healthier, more sustainable and, yes, tastier American food. His family’s Shenandoah Valley farm, Polyface, is the lead-by-example core of Salatin’s campaign to promote what he calls the “emotional, spiritual, soul-level satisfaction” of local food. The farm services more than 5,000 families, 10 retail outlets, and 50 restaurants through on-farm sales and metropolitan buying clubs with salad bar beef, pastured poultry, eggmobile eggs, pigaerator pork, forage-based rabbits, pastured turkey and forestry products using relationship marketing.

How does Joel do all of this without government subsidies or aid like big agribusiness? Simple, he runs the farm like a business instead of a welfare recipient and adheres to historically-validated patterns. For example, instead of buying petroleum fertilizer, he uses self-generated fertilizer with his own carbon and manures through large scale composting, which get turned with pigs (pigaerators as Joel calls them) rather than machinery. Letting the animals do the work takes the capital-intensive depreciable infrastructure out of the equation and creates profitability that is size-neutral. Joel practice’s an integrated system rather than segregated. Animals are near their foodstuffs so that the manures can fertilize the plants that grew the food. The numbers are kept low enough for the farm’s ecology to metabolize the manure and compost rather than it becoming a toxic problem due to over-abundance. The farm runs on real time solar energy via photosynthetic activity that creates decomposable biomass. Perennials rather than annuals form the basis of this program. Perennials build soil; annuals deplete soil. Currently American agriculture policy only subsidizes annuals, and thus is promoting soil depletion.

Another facet of this is that Joel control’s health and pathogenicity by complex multi-speciated relationships through symbiosis and synergy. Portable shelters for livestock, along with electric fencing, insure hygienic and sanitary housing and lounging areas, not to mention clean air, sunshine, and exercise. Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations are always mono-speciated, filled with fecal particulate, and deny sunshine and exercise. Finally, Polyface direct markets its products, becoming the notorious middle man that makes all the profits. Joel is the brand name, marketer, graphics artist, distributor, processor, warehouse, and all the businesses that skim off portions of the consumer dollar. As a result, Joel has become a price maker rather than price taker.

Joel has proven that it is not only possible to build and sustain a farm without government aid, but that his way of farming can feed his community. In fact Joel is an advocate when it comes to keeping government out of our food systems. He has been a leader in speaking out against bills and legislation that would make it harder for small farmers like him to make a living. Joel’s basic point is that there is a wide set of solutions that are possible to implement today, at scale, which according to him can have an enormously restorative impact on our ecology without sacrificing crop production yields. Some of these involve returning to practices common in past generations before modern factory farming, others arise from new innovative thinking and technologies. The only obstacle to implementing these solutions is our own government. Our current politics and economy are deeply wed to the heavily depleting and input-dependent practices of modern mega-farms. So there are big interests concerned with protecting the status quo, even though it is simply not sustainable in the long term. This is why Joel is a big believer in action at the individual level. The more households and local communities begin implementing these sustainable solutions, more momentum will build to change perception and thinking at the state and national level.

When it comes down to it Joel Salatine is a man who saw the current food system and where it would lead and decided to change it. While his ideas about farming and the “correct way” to do things are criticized, these same ideas are how we farmed for centuries. When it comes down to it Joel Salatine is practicing the most natural system of farming we currently can. Given a choice between his concept of a natural system, and the status quo, Joel’s concept is far more preferable to big agribusiness. The fact is that his system works and works very well, and in reality Joel has taken the current concept and turned it on its head. Granted he is not getting rich or making millions of dollars each year but what he is cultivating is a healthy way of life, that is not only sustainable but also eco-friendly. In the end Joel Salatine is a self-proclaimed soil farmer who just happens to have one of the best working concepts of how a natural food systems should be organized and run.

Literature Review:

             This project was a little bit different in that we needed to talk about a person who could be considered a local food hero. Since it didn’t say just how local this person had to be I decided to talk about Joel Salatin. I have a great deal of respect for Joel, and his methods of farming, and I am very pleased with just how vocal he has been about farming policy and practices. With all of this in mind I went looking for articles about Joel and his views on farming. What I wound up finding was a lot of interviews that he has done with different organizations. These interviews actually allowed me to get inside his head and think about his ideas behind farming based on his own thoughts. Some of the articles went to show how different he really is in his methods; while the others went to show his thoughts about the current system and its failures. While not all of the articles may have provided the most detailed information they all proved to be very interesting reads and helped to give me an idea of where to take this paper.

Works Cited:

“Creating Sustainable Agriculture Without Government Subsidies.” Reason.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Mar. 2013.

“Everything He Wants to Do Is Illegal.” Mother Earth News. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Mar. 2013.

“Joel Salatin Responds to New York Times: Myth of Sustainable Meat.” Grist. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Mar. 2013.

“Joel’s Bio | Polyface, Inc.” Polyface Inc. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Mar. 2013.

“Shareable.” Greener Pastures with Lunatic Farmer Joel Salatin. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Mar. 2013.


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