Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Thought-provoking Joel Salatin

Monday night I had the honour of going to listen to Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm speak.  Joel is first and foremost a farmer, and a grass farmer at that.  But he is also an opinionated author, speaker and first class entertainer.

As I looked around in the auditorium at Daeman College, Buffalo, most folks had a big grin on their face.

The wit, the "Salatin-isms" were flying. We heard of the "pigerators", and repeated references to the US-duh (USDA).

His farm as he explained it is perfectly sustainable.  Every animal has a purpose and is allowed to do what they do naturally on his farm.  Pigs turn compost with their snouts, chickens eat parasites and disperse cow pies and rabbit droppings.  Everything is carefully thought out, and how things are done in nature is the blueprint for the operation of the farm.  Of course with a few modern tweaks that can make their job just a little bit easier.  But honestly, those are few and far between.

Chemicals, GMOs, Monsanto and government are not referred to in glowing terms.

He speaks rapidly and forcefully, making his points with words and phrases he has no doubt repeated over and over again.  But his enthusiasm never wavers.  He wants you to see that there is another way.  Organic farming can feed the world and in his opinion save the planet.

Joel Salatin
His optimism for the future of agriculture was based on the growing
interest in the local food movement, and the fact that farmers are interested in hearing what he says, that they are really listening.
"One person at a time, we can change things".

What he does on his 550 acre farm in Virginia is impressive and hard, hard work.  No animals graze an area of land more than once a year.
They are moved day after day and moveable electric fences to contain cattle and pigs, chicken and turkey mobiles and rabbit cages are moved too.

The farm is open to the folks that want to see how their food is grown. It is a place that is safe for children, unlike other operations that warn people off with biohazard signs.

Like when, for example, my daughter last year in Grade 3 came home with a permission form to tour a local chicken farm as a class trip.  My first reaction was disbelief-seriously?  Let's show kids the miserable life we give chickens who then become  food.  Did I let her go?  You guess.

Joel Salatin's management of his grass farm ensures that he will leave his soil and property better than when he took it over.  Few, few farmers can say that.

Of course I'm right with him on so many issues.  What I respect most is his forthright manner and willingness to speak his mind.  I appreciate his deep respect for the environment, his stance against what modern agriculture has become and disdain for the crap it produces and the damage it does.  His enthusiasm for his methods and his belief that he has the right to earn a good living are in your face.

As much though as he is a grass farmer he is also a meat farmer.  That is what he does.  As a vegetarian he loses me when he says "my animals have all wonderful days and one bad day".  That bad day is the last day of course.

My firm belief is that the world would be a much better place if we were all vegans, vegetarians or just simply ate less meat. I believe this for many reasons and won't go into it here. "Humane", "organic" or otherwise raised animals don't make me change my mind on this issue.

I also think that his methods would be difficult to duplicate. As I rode home with a friend from the venue, she pondered out loud why more farmers weren't following his lead.  I guess I would think that some farmers would, and no doubt many use some of his methods. But realistically here in Southern Ontario 550 acre farms don't abound.

If you farmed say 80-100 acres, and your flock could ideally only graze an area once a year, would you be able to make a living with the number of animals you raised?
Could young farmers do it, with the expense of land?  And of course the larger you are, the more work it is.  Hard physical work.  No shortcuts, big equipment or chemical companions.

I must say I was surprised by my friends next question.  "Why do people farm when they could do something easier to make money?"  When you get into this type of discussion it is like people who farm speak a different language than people who don't farm.

How do you explain this?  My dad was a farmer and a teacher. He was a farmer first.
He grew up on a farm.  He was happiest being his own boss, being outside and working physically.
He took pride in his crops.  I fondly remember watching him standing in his huge field of corn with a simple hoe, cutting out weeds.  Outstanding in his field.

I'm kinda like my dad.

There is a saying used by Canadian Blood Services- "It's in you to give."

I'll turn it around a bit to say "It's in you to farm."

Because I think it is.  People don't farm to make a lot of money, to be amongst the working poor or to solve world hunger.  They farm because it's in them.

Thanks, Mr Salatin for making folks think!

"We don't need a law against McDonald's or a law against slaughterhouse abuse--we ask for too much salvation by legislation. All we need to do is empower individuals with the right philosophy and the right information to opt out en masse."
— Joel Salatin


Alan said...

Couple thoughts from another grass farmer. 1) You can use the methods Joel uses (I won't call them his methods because most of them were perfected by others before he started using them...) at any scale. I managed a ranch in Wyoming for a few years. We ran beef cows on 80,000 acres using Management Intensive Grazing (MIG) like Joel uses. We raised certified natural (not "organic", it is hard to get a whole mountian certified...) prime beef. It cost less and worked better than the "conventional" approach. Now I farm 5 acres using the same methods. We have dairy goats, beef cows, chickens, rabbits, and raise a variety of vegetables. We aren't quite making a living on our 5 acres yet (there are some beauricratic hoops whe haven't jumped through...), but it is possible.

On the vegan thing, PLEASE read The Vegetarian Myth by lierre keith. I respect peoples choice about what they eat, but I think they should be informed about the consequences of their choices.


Linda said...

Hi Alan, Thanks for your input. If you've done MIG on smaller acreage that makes you more of an expert on the matter than me, so thanks for letting me know that.
As for the veg thing,well..not much would change that for me. I've been veg for nearly 40 years and it is a pretty important and well considered decision. We all make our own choices as you say!
all the best to you!

Tiffany said...

OK, I have to defend myself as the friend (good-naturedly of course and chuckling at myself for my naivete). When we were talking about why people don't farm the way Salatin does, several possibilities were mentioned, including the money some farmers make, which prompted me to say there's surely got to be an easier way than farming to make money.

I completely understand what you mean that it's in you to farm, like it's in me to write. But after all I've heard and seen of farming from my reporting days, I was just surprised by that. I think I've heard too many stories about tough times on the farm to think farmers made enough money to be motivated by it as a reason to farm. I always heard the same answers when I'd ask the question, why do you farm: I like being my own boss, it's all I've known, I couldn't survive in an office. So that was new to me — and you're always teaching me stuff, which is one of many reason why I like hanging out with you. Hence my goofy response that there would have to be something easier to do than farming if a person was motivated my money. (Keep in mind this is from someone who doesn't make her money doing physical labour). I have no doubt there are some wealthy farmers out there but hearing it, it was like it was totally new to me. Thank you for the perspective, as always.

Buttons said...

Hi Linda I agree with the "it is not for the money it is in your blood". I am like your Dad also. Good post.I like the Canadian Blood comparison. B

Linda said...

Thanks for the comments T, and Buttons.Hard to explain to people who don't farm what it is in you that compels you to do what you do.
And of course money doesn't motivate one to farm. But by the same token when I work very hard to produce food for people to enjoy, I deserve the respect of a decent pay. Canadians can't expect to live off the backs of farmers. It is in me to farm, but I'm not a fool!
It is sad really that farmers take off farm jobs to support what they may be a right of all , but should farmers be the ones ensuring people are fed?
Sounds like a whole other blog post.

Matt S said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matt S said...

Have you listened to CBC Ideas - Have your meat and Eat It. Interesting meat vs. veg debate.