Called “the high priest of the pasture” by The New York Times, Joel Salatin, author of Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal: War Stories from the Local Food Front, is a maverick farmer. He doesn’t believe in pesticides. He doesn’t buy into the authority of the USDA. And he cares if his animals are happy.
In this article from the Eugene, Oregon, Register-Guard, Joe McCully interviews Salatin to find out why he left journalism, why he won’t ship food to anyone outside of his “Bio Region,” and what the secret is behind eggs that “jump up and slap you in the face.”
This past summer, I drove through the Shenandoah Valley on my way to Staunton, Va., and Polyface Farm, made famous in Michael Pollan’s best-seller, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.”
Polyface Farm sits on 550 acres, of which 100 is open land, the rest wooded. The man in charge is Joel Salatin, self-described “lunatic farmer,” and arguably the most outspoken opponent of the government’s management and control of the food supply system in America.
I ask Salatin what kind of farmer he is.
“I’m a lunatic farmer, that’s my new catch phrase,” he says with a grin. “I have a Ph.D. That stands for Post Hole Digger.”
He explains that it means he does everything counter to industrial Wall Street and USDA structured stuff.
Salatin talks about his farm animals the same way someone would describe their pets.
“We like animals. We ask, ‘Can the cow display its cowness?’ ” he says. “To the government, livestock are just a pile of inanimate protoplasm. Some may call it sissy farming, thinking this kind of farming is effeminate. We actually care if the cows are happy. This kind of farming is very sensitive.”
As my interview with Salatin ends, I purchase a dozen eggs and ask where I can buy the chicken, since Polyface sells chickens only on Friday, after the birds are butchered. He gives us a list of local stores carrying his products and we depart to walk around the farm.
My son comments on the lack of insects, a sign of a well-maintained and clean farm. We spot the “eggmobile” in a distant, grassy field. The chickens become agitated as we approach, so we keep our distance. As each paddock becomes available, the portable chicken house is moved and the chickens revel in the new surroundings. The cattle departed days earlier but their manure has remained, giving the chickens the opportunity to eat the insect larvae and parasites left. The chickens enjoy the feast, providing the protein that makes their eggs unusually flavorful. A cycle of happy animals.
We discover the pigs, sunning themselves in the warm Virginia sun. They ignore us and we decide it’s time to head home.
Salatin boasted that when restaurant chefs try his eggs they always become customers, and I can see why. The eggs tasted fresher and creamier than any eggs I’ve ever eaten. Only fresh eggs from a friend’s farm on Lopez Island in Puget Sound came close to these in flavor. As Salatin says, “My eggs just jump up and slap you in the face.”
It’s easy to forget how wonderful local, fresh foods taste; easy to forget peaches are seasonal when we can purchase them year-round. Salatin may be labeled a character, a food preacher or even a lunatic farmer; however, he represents something much greater. The mission statement of Polyface Farm says it best: “To develop emotionally, economically, environmentally enhancing agricultural enterprises and facilitate their duplication throughout the world.”