For a few years now I’ve wanted to see Joel Salatin speak (see endnote for bio). I always assumed it would be in an auditorium and very impersonal. The best I could hope for was maybe one day I’d be able to go to Polyface Farm and have a tour and maybe I’d be lucky enough that he would actually be there and I could glean a little wisdom. I never ever thought I’d get to hear him speak while standing just twenty feet away.
Monday he came to Kilpatrick Family Farm, and although I had to wake up at 5:30 to make it out there in time, I was pumped. I hopped in the car, coffee in hand, and made that hour-long drive while contemplating how the morning would play out. Would I get to talk to him, and if so, what would I say? How many people would be there, and what questions were they going to ask? I was so excited, the whole idea of it was surreal.
I showed up and quickly went down near the washing shed where the attendees and the crew were gathered. Michael was showing Joel around the buildings near the washing shed. Joel was so nicely dressed, and without his iconic straw hat, it almost seemed odd. I’ve only ever seen him dressed in his work gear before. They checked out the cooler where the winter crops get stored and then moved to a clearing where everyone could stand for the Q & A.
The sun was climbing in the sky and the air was crisp but you could tell everyone was excited. Joel’s specialty is raising animals and also bringing derelict soil back to fertility so a lot of the discussion revolved around that. As someone who wants a farm in the not-too-distant future, I’m glad the conversation went this way. Growing vegetables doesn’t scare me nearly as much as raising animals so I was trying to absorb every word.
He spoke a lot on rejuvenating forests on the edge of a pasture with animals, especially pigs. My husband wants to raise pigs for charcuterie so I found this especially interesting. He explained that often well-intentioned people who pasture their animals leave them in one section for too long. He spoke on how to assess the proper grazing time, and good ways to divide up your land for the most ideal grazing schedule.
He also mentioned the importance of deep-winter bedding for animals and how it creates rich compost for springtime planting. It was interesting to listen to him speak on biomass and the natural cycle of animals distributing perennials and how plants and animals can work together to bring new life to seriously depleted soils.
He talked about how he gets his food to the public and he made some really great points, especially about things I really never thought about before. I could almost hear the gears click-clicking along in Michael’s head during this section. I wouldn’t be surprised if he implemented some of these same things in the next five years either. It was great getting to hear these ideas when I’m at a point where I’m not selling any of my own stuff yet (but thankfully I don’t think my time is too far off though!). Currently Joel sells on his farm at their farm store, and also to restaurants and metropolitan buying groups no more than a 4-hour drive from the farm.
The buying groups are sort of like a renegade club of people who place orders at specific times and then their products get trucked in one day where everyone meets up to get their goods (Joel likes to compare it to a late night drug deal :)). Salatin has teamed up with some local farms to offer their goods on his truck for a small delivery surcharge which pays for gas. This is an obvious win-win for both the producers and consumers, and he said it keeps prices lower than housing all of these products on the shelves of a retail outlet.
The whole thing made me excited and even more impatient to finally have land of my own. The conversation and what I learned from it all seemed very hopeful. Plus, being amidst a crowd of people (many younger than myself) who are actively farming made me feel like there really is a chance for us to return to proper, sustainable agriculture. It was great to be in the company of so many who truly care about food from its source.
Also, I got to see Joel walk around doing an impression of a lean, arthritic pig (true story) and say funny things such as this:
“It’s ok to be weird, you just can’t be too weird. I mean, you can be a Buddhist and you can be a nudist, but if you are a nudist Buddhist…that’s just too weird!”
If you can tell from just that, Salatin is exuberant and charismatic and this is why people flock to him. He makes you feel like what he does and the food he produces are really accessible. You feel like you could actually figure it out for yourself and be successful too. He makes you feel excited and hopeful and you just want to keep listening to him more and more. In the afternoon and evening he did a few more talks at other venues in the area and I really would’ve gone to all of them if I could.
It also made me very proud to be a part of Kilpatrick Family Farm as well. Although the farm has accomplished a lot, I know there are so many great things to come. I also think it’s inspiring to hear a person like Salatin talk at a farm like KFF because you get to see firsthand that a small group of really dedicated people can make very important changes in how people view their food.
It was also very cool that Josh from West Wind Acres was standing near me during the event. The work that he and his wife are doing at their farm is both stunning and important. I liked getting to chat with him, even if it was brief. I’m glad that I know many local farmers and that I get opportunities to meet people I admire through my work. I’m also glad that there are great people who work in agriculture who are willing to pass along their knowledge to the next generation.
Many thanks to Kris of RAFFL and to the Kilpatrick family for hosting the exciting event.
About Joel Salatin: Joel Salatin’s 550-acre farm, Polyface Farm, was featured prominently in Michael Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma (2006) and the documentary films, Food, Inc. and Fresh. He is the author of many books including his most recent: Folks, This Ain’t Normal: A Farmer’s Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World (2011), Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal: War Stories From the Local Food Front. (2007), and 6 other books dating back to 1996.
From Wikipedia: “His unconventional farming practices have drawn attention from the alternative agriculture community especially those interested in sustainable livestock management. For example, Pollan became interested in Salatin because of his refusal to send food to locations not within a four-hour drive of his farm, i.e. outside his local “foodshed.” “We want [prospective customers] to find farms in their areas and keep the money in their own community,” said Salatin. “We think there is strength in decentralization and spreading out rather than in being concentrated and centralized.”
Salatin’s philosophy of farming emphasizes healthy grass on which animals can thrive in a symbiotic cycle of feeding. Cows are moved from one pasture to another rather than being centrally corn fed. Then chickens in portable coops are moved in behind them, where they dig through the cow dung to eat protein-rich fly larvae while further fertilizing the field with their droppings.“