Christian-libertarian-environmentalist-capitalist-lunatic farmer and “high priest of the pasture” (New York Times Magazine) Joel Salatin has been farming sustainably for decades. His fiery oratorical style and verbal dexterity has earned him legions of fans and followers. Now, after a glowing profile in Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma and a couple of star turns in some big documentaries on food safety, most notably Food, Inc. and Fresh, people are really starting to sit up and take notice.
For instance, The Hook just named Salatin their Person of the Year. From ReadtheHook.com:
It’s been quite a year for Joel Salatin. The Shenandoah Valley farmer starred as himself in two popular food documentary films and received a $100,000 award from the Heinz Family Foundation for his creative, eco-friendly practices.
“The big corporate farms can no longer tell us that pollution will always come with farming,” said Foundation leader Teresa Heinz. “Mr. Salatin’s work shows us that is not true, because on his lands, farming is no longer part of the problem; it is part of the solution to a better environment.”
While Salatin’s solutions have long been known in Central Virginia, he received a bumper crop of publicity in Michael Pollan’s 2006 best seller, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. In turn, the producers of the documentaries Food, Inc. and Fresh helped make him America’s most famous farmer since George Washington Carver.
“I first experienced him in the 1980s when he premiered his idea of an ‘eggmobile’ at the first [Virginia Association for Biological Farming] conference,” says Tanya Denckla Cobb, associate director of UVA’s Institute for Environmental Negotiation. “He was a firebrand and electrified the crowd, receiving a standing ovation. Nobody had ever seen the likes of him. Now the rest of the world is starting to catch up.”
46 restaurants and stores
Since Salatin declines to ship his food and discourages everyone else from buying food from sources more than 100 miles from home, his success has become Central Virginia’s good fortune.
Of the 46 restaurants and food stores in Virginia where Salatin’s salad bar beef, pork, chickens, turkeys, and rabbits are available, half are in the Charlottesville area. Last year, gourmet burrito chain Chipotle, which has 900 locations in the U.S. and Canada, chose its Charlottesville store to begin sourcing local pork because of its proximity to Salatin’s Polyface Farms. Today, 100 percent of the Charlottesville Chipotle’s pork is supplied by Polyface.
According to the 53-year-old Salatin, it all started with his late father. William Salatin, an accountant, had tried to start a sustainable farm in Venezuela in the 1950s but lost the land amid that nation’s turmoil as it transitioned from a dictatorship to a democracy. The family then returned to the United States and started over, buying some dirt-cheap land in Swoope.
Photo: Dave McNair/The Hook