Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Joe Salatin: the caretaker of Creation

If you have watched Food Inc., then you know who Joel Salatin is. 
If you don't recall, then let me refresh your memory: The pigness of the pig!! 

He's a professional
He's an intellectual
He's an author
He believes in allowing the pig to do her job. 

He's a Farmer. 

Joel is the owner and face of Polyface farms Inc. in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. When his parents purchased the farm in 1961 it was the most depleted and eroded farm in the area and today is is the most productive and lush in the county. They did this by following natures patterns to heal the land:

Disregarding conventional wisdom, the Salatins planted trees, built huge compost piles, dug ponds, moved cows daily with portable electric fencing, and invented portable sheltering systems to produce all their animals on perennial prairie polycultures. 

Joel spoke at the Bell Museum of Natural History on the University of Minnesota Campus, in conjunction with FRESH the Movie. His lecture was titled " The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer", it is also the title of his next book.  

When I came in the lobby, there were many booths about sustainable farming and Community supported Agriculture! I received a lot of great information! I want to be as informed as I can and support the farmers who are working the land the best way for us and for animals! 


His radical notions about land, farming, sustainability and food production are actually just the opposite, they are the most natural way to operate, allowing each animal, plant and species in the ecosystem to play it's vital part in what he calls a delicate dance, a ballet.  

Polyface works with a portable infrastructure, meaning this. When you drive past a farm, how do you know it's a farm? The big red barn? The sheds, the concrete buildings? 

Polyface uses the natural surroundings of the shade trees in the field to be the pig house, they move their cattle daily and trail the cattle with the chickens because of the natural cycle it creates. 

Cattle graze and take in food that doesn't have to be shipped. The Chickens who follow them, pick at and aerate the soil and dung, naturally fertilizing and naturally bringing life back to the soil.  So waste doesn't have to be shipped out, it simply goes back into the earth for the next cycle. 

Healthy soil = healthy food. 
Sounds about right to me! 

Not only that, but they view their animals as co-workers, not just products! When the pig helps to aerate and turn manure into compost, it plays a vital role in the farm production. If Joel or the other farmers start to view the pigs as simply bacon and not as a co-worker, then what is stopping them from viewing people or people groups with the same disrespectful mentality. (which happens over and over in the world) The pig has a role to play and a job to do, it's the pigness of the pig that helps the farm go round

Click HERE for more information and to read about PolyFace Farm's production standards. 

I was pretty close! 

He went through a number of points that are in his upcoming book, so I won't give them away, but I do want to highlight a few other wonderful things he said.  

Farmers are professionals. 

So many times we assume farmers are hillbillies, rednecks or D students. Parent's don't dream about their children being farmers the way they do them becoming Doctors, Lawyers and CEO's. Yet, the farmer is SO vital to our country. 

There are twice as many people in prison as there are farmers and the USDA stated that we can gauge our agricultural success by how few farmers we have. HOW backwards is that? Farmers have to understand so much detailed and scientific information to do their job right and yield the kind of harvests we need. I would rather have all the A students growing and supplying my food the right and natural way than I would B and C students in a lab cooking up food that doesn't ROT. 

Yep, he's kind of my hero at the moment, I was thrilled to be able to say hello and get this picture. 
Here is something profound that he said, in his very unique and charismatic way: 

"Eating is a conscious act, there is a moral thread that runs from the field to the fork. "

He wants customers to have an intimate relationship with their food and with their local farms. For the first time in 50 years, we can sit in our homes, using energy we don't know where it comes from , eating food we don't know where it came from  and disposing of trash that we don't know where it ends up. 

To lift the veil on the food aspect of this: to show where our food came from and to create a relationship, farm to face, sweetens the deal for farmers like Joel and his family. They want us as their consumers to be involved with our food. To know how it's raised, to demand the kind of quality they can deliver. 

Meaning we make the choices, we call the shots. We can buy local and organic (when we can), we can stop demanding processed food, we can start demanding that our governments and stores and neighbors stop cutting corners and we can start treating each other and our food with the dignity it deserves. We can start living like Joel says, in ministry, healing and sacredness. 

 Is it a huge undertaking? Yeah, of course it is, change always is, and like Joel told one farmer at the lecture, "It's not always easy, but it's always worth it. Our Mission is to bring beauty and healing in our spirit of influence." 

Who can you influence today for the better? What small changes in your eating/thinking/buying can make a big difference?

Thank you to the Bell Museum, the UofM,  Polyface Farm, to Ana Sofia Joanes and all the folks putting on FRESHthemovie.com which is in theaters NOW and in which Joel appears and to Joel Salatin himself for making his great ideas and antics available to us in his speaking tour! 

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