There were two keynote speakers for the conference. One was Mr. Brian Oldrieve of Zimbabwe, Africa. (Imagine that, a guy from Africa, coming to America to tell Americans in general and specifically American Christians how to farm. I would love to tell you this amazing story of Brian and his organization - Foundations for Farming - but it is a little to long and involved for this blog. If you would like to learn more about his story and God's work of transforming the land and the people of Africa through farming you can "google/youtube" his and his organizations name. It's a fascinating story, I'm sorry I don't have time for it here.
The other keynote speaker was a man by the name of Joel Salatin from Virginia. Joel is a farmer through and through but his son now runs this amazing farm (Polyface Farm - you can "google/youtube" it as well, you will not be disappointed) while he travels the country speaking about a kind of agriculture that is foreign to the average American farm of today. The kind of agriculture that Joel practices and speaks of is an agriculture that honors God and God's creation all while being an economically viable farm in today's world.
What makes his farm so different? Glad you asked. Let's take a look.
If I could summerize Joel's philosophy that governs his approach to farming in one sentence it would be this: mimic nature and the laws of nature as close as you possibly can. That philosophy expresses itself in the following ways on his farm.
1. The foundation of the farm and the diet primarily consumed by all animals on the farm is grass, not grain. Yes, most animals grow faster on grain but. . . they grow healthier on grass. Cattle and sheep in particular are ruminants, that means their stomachs are designed more for grass than for grain. The fact that Joel's cattle harvest their own feed (grass) means that Joel does not have to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in tillage machinery, spray poisionous chemicals to control weeds or spend even more money for harvesting equipement and machinery. The fact that Joel's cattle receive no antibotics, growth hormones or other chemical medications means that his cattle are healthier than the industry standard.
2. All animals (beef cattle, hogs, chickens and rabbits) live outdoors on fresh pasture as nature intended. In so doing all animals are allowed to express their God-given uniqueness. Cattle move about and graze, hogs dig and root in fields and forests, chickens peck and scratch in fertile soil and rabbits nibble on fresh grass. All of this seems so obvious and natural but it is the exact opposite of what the agricultural elites will tell you to do. Their game plan is to confine animals to a very small area, have them walk on concrete all day and eat a diet that is not natural to them. And then stuff them an endless array of medications to try and remedy all their ills.
3. Animals and crops are raised on the same farm. Livestock need healthy feed in order to be healthy themselves and crops need healthy soil in order to be healthy feed for the livestock. Healthy crops are best produced by plenty of organic matter and naturally produced biological processes not chemicals injected into the soil. Again, this all seems like common sense. But to the USDA and friends it is old-fashion and outmoded. The "progressive" (efficient) way is to have any one farm do only one thing - either raise crops or raise animals, not both (hence the rise of corn and soybean farms where the only animal to be found is a dog in the barnyard and a cat in the house. Hence the rise of "feedlots", where multiple thounsands of cattle congregate on concrete slabs the size of a few football fields.) So instead of having a farm based on a symbiotic relationship between plants and animals on the same farm we now have extremely large areas of land that on one hand are devoid of the natural fertilizer that nature intended and on the other hand are drowning in manure from to many animals in to small of a space. Not so on Joel's farm. These two are in perfect balance.
4. Polyface face does not invest a lot of money in traditional agricultural infrastructure. That means they do not spend money on bringing the crops to the animals but they spend their money (and a LOT less of it) on bringing the stock to the crops. That means they invest on moveable shelters, moveable fencing and moveable watering systems all for the purpose of continually rotating the stock on fresh grass daily.
5. Another important aspect to Joel's farm is that all the finished product (beef, pork, chicken, eggs and rabbit) are sold directly to the customer. That means that they are selling retail instead of wholesale. That means that the farm is not subject to the volital up's and down's of the global commodities market. Yes they may loose a few customers from time to time but more than likely they are replaced by more customers than they loose. There is no denying this has not been easy because the USDA and state health departments have specific regulations that favor the mega processor and either prohibit or severly hamper the small, hometown or on-farm processing facility. For example: at one point the VA Health Dept. came to the Salatin farm to "shut them down" for not complying with state health regulations. The law they were not in complience with was the law that required "screens" in the windows of the processing facility. The reason the Salatins were not in compliance was not because they were trying to be obstinate but because they do not have any windows in the processing facility to put screens in. Their processing facility is simply a roof with all open sides (seeing that they only use it in moderate temperatures). Eventually this situation got resolved but only after a lot of headaches and a lot of wrangling with the "powers that be". Unfortunately, this is only one of the stories that could be told about this kind of government harassment. In fact Joel has written a whole book about his run-ins with goverment intrusion on the farm. The title of his book is "Everything I Want to Do is Illegal". It's next to criminal that our government does just about everything in it's power to disparage and discourage honest, hardworking farms and farmers like Joel, all the while greasing the skids and tilting the playing field in favor of "agribusiness" and the multi-national agri conglomerates.
These (and a few other) principles have made the Salatin farm unique - but not as unique as it once was. For the winds or agrarian change have been blowing for a few years now and many similar farms are sprouting across this wonderful land.
Stay warm my friends,