I wrote this post almost two years ago and in an effort to get it “just right,” I ended up leaving it in my drafts until now! What a shame… progress, not perfection, right?!
So, here it is–a short, imperfect summary of our trip to Polyface in June 2015.
This past weekend, we had the incredible opportunity to visit Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farms in Swoope, Virginia. I wrote briefly about Joel in this post. For those of you who are not familiar with Joel, you should definitely look into his operation.
I’ll be honest — I was probably a little too excited to meet Joel. I think the accurate term would be star-struck. Joel has written
nine ten books, has been featured in documentaries, and is truly a pioneer in sustainable farming.
Living where we do in North Carolina, sustainable farming is a popular notion, but most people only have one or two parts of the whole puzzle. I used to think that truth was all or nothing. Truth is absolute, but it’s also discoverable. So, this means that just because someone doesn’t acknowledge Creator God, it doesn’t mean that they can’t encounter true principles of His order as they go throughout life. Understanding this principle has helped me find common ground with people who are different from me. I’ve found that most, if not all, ideologies understand truth in part.
I say all this to say, Joel is truly unique in that he recognizes the need to heal the land through sustainable farming, and is a believer in Jesus Christ and God our Maker. Why is this so rare in the USA? It is usually one or the other.
This makes Joel truly an inspiration to our family. I know that there are others who share his worldview and I hope that there will be even more in coming years.
The first stop on the lunatic tour was the pastured broiler chickens. Here, Joel demonstrated how the mobile shelters can be moved manually, without the use of mechanical equipment, such as a tractor, cutting down on petroleum usage.
He shared with us three Ms: mobile, modular, and management intensive.
Mobile: The chicken coops can be moved anywhere on the farm, or even to a new farm.
Modular: It can be scaled up or down, making this type of farming accessible to folks with limited or limitless resources.
Management intensive: In this farming model, you substitute labor for capital.
Unlike large government-regulated poultry corporations, where you have to invest $500,000 just to get your foot in the door, you can start with just one pastured broiler shelter or 50.
Next, we visited the pastured pork. During this portion of this tour, Joel shared with us that hundreds of years ago, there were stories of a person not seeing the sun for three days because of birds and a herd of more than seven million buffalo roaming the land. The ecosystem is meant to have copious animals as part of its design.
There is a need for a “disturbance-rest” cycle in order to maintain a healthy land. He told us of the cathedral-like forests of the Native Americans, because they would periodically burn.
He uses the pigs and electric fencing to mimic this “disturbance-rest” cycle in the forest on his land by rotating the pigs every few days.
He finished the tour by offering a blessing:
May all your carrots grow long and straight
May the foxes be struck blind by your chickens
May your customers love cooking your food in their kitchens
May the rains be gentle on your pastures
May your fields grow with soil
May your earthworms dance with celebration
May the wind be always at your back
Your children rise up and call you blessed
And may we leave a better world than we found
After the tour, Joel took the time to answer questions, sign books, and take photos. Chris purchased his fifth Salatin-authored book while we were there, Pastured Poultry Profits, and asked Joel to sign it. While he was signing it, Chris asked him for one piece of advice for an aspiring farmer looking to get started. He thought about it for a minute and said, “Stay out of debt and start small.” Joel proceeded to tell us about his humble beginnings, living off $300 a month, when he and his wife first got started.
This isn’t the best lighting, but as I told Chris, “You don’t tell Joel Salatin to move!”
If I learned anything from our trip to Polyface, it was this: We can do this! It is attainable! It is possible! Joel has a major farming operation, but as he said during the tour, an attribute of truth is that it is true at any scale… big or small. To share all that he has accomplished and for folks to be able to walk away feeling encouraged rather than overwhelmed is an amazing thing.