Xeriscape Conference Part 2–Meet Joel Salatin

Joel Salatin is a third generation alternative farmer in the Shenandoah Valley who attracted national attention after being featured in Michael Pollan’s book, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.”

The second day of the 15th Annual Water Conservation and Xeriscape Conference in Albuquerque was not only enlightening, uplifting and educational–it was a lot of fun.

The day started off with two keynote presentations, one by Dr. Robert Glennon, the Morris K. Udall Professor of Law and Public Policy at the University of Arizona and the other by Will Swope, the Vice President and General Manager of Corporate Sustainability at Intel. I plan to recap their talks, and others from the conference in future blogs, but tonight I wanted to write about Joel Salatin’s presentation and “A Sustainable Farmer’s Point of View.”

Joel calls himself a “grass farmer” on his family’s farm called Polyface or the Farm of Many Faces. He’s also an engaging¬† speaker and author of several books with titles like “You Can Farm,” “Family Friendly Farming,” and “Everything I want to do is illegal: War Stories from the Local Food Front.”

Joel talked about his farm being an interconnected whole that includes open land, forest land and riparian land and how it takes all three to balance the ecosystem. Everything Joel does on the farm honors the ecosystem or the animals that are part of it.

One of the problems of conventional farming is that “We’ve treated soil like dirt and manure like waste.” But that’s not how it’s done at Polyface. At his farm, chipped wood from the forest is used to create a “carbonaceous diaper” for the cows in the barn, then the anerobic bedding pack is turned into aerobic compost with help from the pigs.

“It honors the pigness of the pig,” he said.

Cows, pigs and chickens are allowed to roam on the farm in a carefully choreographed dance that massages the land, much the way buffalo once did on the grasslands. There is no tilling, no waste, no use of chemical fertilizers.

Instead of a large farming operation, his farm creates a beautiful landscape and puts “the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker” back in the neighborhood.

The farm services more than 1500 families, 10 retail outlets, and 30 restaurants through on-farm sales and buying clubs with “salad bar beef, pastured poultry, eggmobile eggs, pigaerator pork, forage-based rabbits, pastured turkey and forest products using relationship marketing.”

This is reinvigorated farming from a past generation and Joel says what he’s doing at his farm is re-establishing the “culture” in “agriculture.” It’s small scale and collaborative.

For those in the audience wanting to know “What can I do?” he recommended a few things, first, find the kitchen and learn the difference between a real chicken and chicken nuggets, start a system to catch and use rainwater and look for food treasures in your neighborhood.


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Excellent post. Quote, we treat the soil like dirt, really holds true. It is amazing that the farm will feed 1500 people plus businesses. Eat locally. Matti

Nice to hear from you, Matt–and thanks for the comment. You’re so right that we need to take better care of our soils. In addition to “eat locally,” good advice is to stop using synthetic chemicals in the landscape and work to build healthy soil with organic methods.

I’d love to hear Joel Salatin speak! I’ve been in awe of him ever since I read Omnivore’s Dilemma. He really is a hero.

Thanks for your comment, Kristin. I hope you’ll get to hear Joel speak sometime–he has a great sense of humor and his rapid-fire delivery is a lot of fun. I wish more farmers would follow his lead.

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