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Joel Salatin On The Future of Food

Joel Salatin is a self-described environmentalist capitalist lunatic farmer, or as the New York Times calls him, “the high priest of the pasture.” You may remember him from The Omnivore’s Dilemma, in which he was profiled at length by Michael Pollan. Salatin’s innovative farming system—where the animals live according to their “ness,” the earth is used for symbiosis, and happiness and health is key—has gained attention from around the country, and he travels in the winter giving lectures and demonstrations. He is the author of a number of books including Holy Cows and Hog Heaven, Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal, You Can Farm, Pastured Poultry Profit$, and Family Friendly Farming. I talked to Joel Salatin about how he got started farming, his appearance in the new film Food, Inc., the government’s role in farm politics, and his ideas on the future of food. Suffice it to say, it’s not as simple as conventional vs. organic. Makenna Goodman: How did you go from being a farmer in Swoope, Virginia, to a public figure in the food movement? You have written many books on this topic, so feel free to give the short version! Joel Salatin: From my earliest memories, I loved the farm. My grandfather was a charter subscriber to Rodale‘s Organic Gardening and Farming Magazine and had a huge, well kept garden with an octagonal chicken house in the corner. My great uncle raised chickens commercially and some of my fondest childhood memories are of seeing his thousands of chickens out on the field. He began building confinement houses too, and those were stinky. Dad had the same farming bug, but he was an incredible innovator and right when he was poised to be a successful farmer in Venezuela, it was snatched away from him during political upheavals and I don’t think he ever really recovered, since he was 40 at the time. But he and Mom returned to the states with their little children (I was 4) and started over. As an accountant, Dad saw the vicious treadmill farmers were on, even in 1961, with chemicals and practices that encouraged disease. He immediately found grass farming, controlled grazing, composting, portable structures, and all the basic principles that undergird our farm today. I am only an extension of having gone down a very different path than most farmers, and I thank my roots for that. So I don’t have a modern conversion story–I’m as lunatic as Dad was, except he and Mom gave Teresa and I a head start with raw land, good philosophy, and a can-do spirit in a fairly politically stable environment. I inherited Mom’s verbal skills, and participated in forensics and essay contests in elementary school–and won every essay contest I ever entered. I would write stories for fun and had a theatrical flare–played lead in the high school drama presentations. The point is that combining my dramatic and verbal charisma with completely innovative farming practices (at least innovative to what was practiced at the time) created a highly marketable product surrounded by a warm, fuzzy story. Throughout high school I peddled my eggs, had a vendor stand at the local curb market, precursor to today’s farmers’ markets, and competed in 4-H contests and interscholastic debate. All I wanted to do was farm, but like so many aspiring wanna-be young farmers, I couldn’t see how to make a living on the farm–at least enough to support a family and live more than at a subsistence level. The only real way in, it appeared, was to milk a few cows and sell the milk, but that was illegal. And I don’t think I’ve forgiven the government yet for denying me that early farming entry point. But as it turned out, Teresa’s frugality and my tenacity (or foolhardiness) created a way to be on the farm full time for one year. I quit the off farm newspaper reporter job and came home Sept. 24, 1982, fully expecting to go back off-farm for another cash accumulation stint, but I never had to. It was tight, but wonderful. My marketing savvy (which is really another name for theatrical skills) paid off as we began selling direct to consumers, bypassing the middleman and getting retail sales prices. The grass-based, portable infrastructure, compost nutrient cycling, and Aha! dining experiences worked. Within four years we knew we could make it. Within seven years, journalists began to discover us. And the rest is history. I have been incredibly blessed to be able to combine this love of calloused hands with dramatic and verbal skills. And that is why I promote direct marketing. Too often parents whose children express an interest in farming squelch it because they envision dirt, dust, poverty, and hermit living. But great stories come out of great farming. […] Read the entire article from TreeHugger.com here.


The Miracle of Farming: Toward a Bio-Abundant Future

Charles and Perrine Hervé-Gruyer’s Le Ferme du Bec Hellouin is a celebrated model of innovative, ecological agriculture in Europe, connected to national and international organizations addressing food security, heralded by celebrity chefs as well as the Slow Food movement, and featured in the inspiring César and COLCOA award-winning documentary film, Demain (Tomorrow).In this excerpt from their […] Read More

Sow Seeds: Stop Walking Around Doing Nothing

“In the last one hundred years, 94 percent of seed varieties available at the turn of the century in America and considered a part of the human commons have been lost.”That’s one of the key takeaways in award-winning author and activist Janisse Ray’s book, The Seed Underground: A Growing Revolution to Save Food. In her book, Ray […] Read More

True or false? Figs contain dead wasps

They are trees of life and trees of knowledge. They are wish-fulfillers … rainforest royalty … more precious than gold. They are the fig trees, and they have affected humanity in profound but little-known ways. Gods, Wasps and Stranglers tells their amazing story.Fig trees fed our pre-human ancestors, influenced diverse cultures and played key roles […] Read More

Imagination, Purpose & Flexibility: Creating an Independent Farmstead – Q&A (part 1)

Twenty years ago, the land that authors Shawn and Beth Dougherty purchased and have come to name the Sow’s Ear was deemed “not suitable for agriculture” by the state of Ohio. Today, their family raises and grows 90% of their own food.Such self-sufficiency is largely the result of basing their farming practices around intensive pasture […] Read More

Eight Seed-Saving Myths

You don’t have to move to Svalbard, Norway in order to have access to a seed bank.Author and plant breeder Carol Deppe believes that every gardener should have her own seed bank. Even if you aren’t a seed saver, you should have your own seed bank. Even if you never experience any disaster beyond the […] Read More
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