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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.


Tips on No-Till Farming and Cover Crops

In the below Q&A, author and permaculture designer Shawn Jadrnicek answers questions about no-till farming and the use of cover crops from two readers (one from North Carolina, and the other from Nova Scotia). In his groundbreaking book, The Bio-Integrated Farm, Jadrnicek provides in-depth information on water flow management along with projects that use the free forces of nature—gravity, […] Read More

Reimagining Restoration as a Radical Act

Finding ways to manage “invasive” species as we’ve come to know them has sparked a vigorous debate within conservation and restoration communities, as well as farmers, gardeners, and permaculturalists.In her thought-provoking book Beyond the War on Invasive Species, author Tao Orion urges us to rethink and reimagine restoration as a way to break out of […] Read More

What Can Wisteria Do For Your Forest Garden?

Jerome Osentowski, founder of the Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute (CRMPI) in Basalt, Colorado, is one of North America’s most accomplished permaculture designers and author of the new groundbreaking book, The Forest Garden Greenhouse. Part case-study of CRMPI’s innovative greenhouses and part how-to primer, Osentowski’s book shows that bringing the forest garden indoors is possible, even on […] Read More

Tips on Perennial Crops with Eric Toensmeier

Eric Toensmeier is the award-winning author of Perennial Vegetables, Paradise Lot, and most recently The Carbon Farming Solution—a groundbreaking new book that treats agriculture as an important part of the climate change solution, rather than a global contributor to the problem. As part of our “Ask the Expert” series going on throughout the month of May to celebrate […] Read More

How to Design Swales for Optimum Water Flow

May has arrived! The birds are chirping, flowers are budding, and it’s time to officially celebrate Permaculture Month.Throughout the next few weeks, we are putting our pioneering permaculture authors to work for you in our “Ask the Experts” series. If you are looking to become a better permaculturalist, there’s still time to participate. Submit your questions here.Today’s topic is […] Read More
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