Sunday, July 15, 2012

Meet my hero, Joel Salatin

My initial reaction to Joel Salatin was "Good grief, that man is a nutcase."  John and I were watching  "Food Inc." (the movie that changed our lives forever, as I explained here )  and when the movie featured Salatin's farm, Polyface Farm, I immediately fell in love with the farm, but not so sure how I felt about that crazy guy who ran it.  He seemed terribly opinionated and just a little too "out there" for me.  After all, he is a self- professed "lunatic farmer".

However, in my researching of sustainable farming and eco-agriculture (even before we sold our house and moved to the country, I dreamed about running a small farm), I kept running into his books, along with countless magazine and Internet articles about this man and his amazing farm.  Many people praised Joel Salatin and some even dubbed him "The High Priest of the Pasture".  Ok, well, if he's that great, I suppose I should give this guy a second chance. 

So I did.  And for the first time in my life, I have a hero.  His creativity, his ingenuity, his ability to grasp the larger picture, his integrity, his compassion for living things, his thoughtful stewardship of land and animals - all these things and more have made him a man I admire deeply. 

John and I were able to meet Joel at a book signing in 2012 and talk to him for a few minutes about our new farm (can you tell I was super excited?!? My hero!  In person!  *Swoon* I think people thought we were a bit nuts asking to have our photo taken with him).  When we asked for advice on what kind of animal would make us the most money on 3 acres, he jokingly (not really) suggested escargot.  Next best option, he said, would be meat rabbits, then meat chickens or laying hens.  Perhaps we'll have a rabbit operation someday???

I have been fortunate to hear Joel speak while he was visiting Michigan.  The first time I heard him
was at Hope College in the fall of 2010.  My husband and I were in the process of selling our home in the city and purchasing our farm.  The timing could not have been more perfect.  Joel's presentation, "Ballet in the Pasture"  showed John and I how to manage a farm according to the natural, seasonal rhythms and how to be the best stewards of our land and animals as possible.  It was exciting, challenging and inspiring.  I could feel God shaping and equipping us, preparing us for our new life at Third Day Farms. 

The second time I heard him speak was January of 2012, when he was invited as a presenter at the Calvin College January Series .  His theme this time,  "Dancing with Dinner", focused on our interactions (or lack of interactions) with our food and how America desperately needs to move towards a more sustainable food system.  Around this time, Joel had also published his latest book "Folks, this ain't normal" and his talk covered many of the themes and ideas presented in this fabulous book (here  is the link to the January Series lecture, if you have an hour to spare and want to be enlightened - it's well worth the time).

My autographed copy of "Folks, this aint't normal".  You can borrow it and read it if you like, but I want it back!!!!  Read more about how this book changed my life (and made me feel normal) here.

I found "Ballet in the Pasture" to be incredibly entertaining, educating and informative.  Even people who have no interest in animals or farming would be fascinated to hear how Polyface Farm is run.  "Dancing with Dinner" was more philosophical and thought provoking, exploring the themes of broken food systems and cultural issues, as well as farming.  He talked about how historically, we have had an intimate relationship with our food - eating required personal participation as one had to grow, hunt, harvest, cook and preserve their own food.  Everyone knew exactly where their food came from.  These days, hardly anyone knows where their food comes from... or cares.  This is not normal. 

Oh, I could go on and on... I took extensive notes both times I heard him speak and I want to share what I learned with everyone... but I know not everyone is as geeked about sustainable farming as I am.  At the end of "Ballet in the Pasture", Joel had some moving statements that brought me to tears. I could hardly see my pen and paper, I was so overwhelmed by emotion, but he said something like this: "Farms should be land redemption facilities, not land destroying facilities.  God created us to be loving, caring stewards.  To display God's goodness and beauty.  To live in communion with the earth."  This statement shows just how lost we are - we've forgotten the command (command, not a suggestion!) in Genesis 1 to be caretakers and stewards of creation.  Conventional farming these days is the exact opposite of what Joel described.  Conventional farming destroys land and soil structure.  Instead of goodness and beauty, it produces ugliness, death and disease.  Instead of loving, caring and communing with the earth, it seeks to take whatever it can from the earth, with no intention to give back.  People, we cannot continue to farm this way - it simply is not sustainable.  We cannot continue to live this way.  We cannot afford to not care how our food was raised and where it came from.

Again, I'm not saying we need to change our lives overnight.  Nobody can make the right decisions all the time.  The important thing is that we are aware and seeking change.  It's important for us to put our money where our mouth (or heart) is.  Support what you believe in, as much as possible.

I leave you with this interview of Joel Salatin on Inner Compass, produced by Calvin College, called "Creative Farming".  It is about 25 minutes long and will give you a brief look into Joel's world and his farming philosophy.  He answers some tough rebuttals, such as "You are an elitist.  Only rich people can afford to eat organic" and "But we need conventional farming to feed the world.  Without it, we would all starve."  Watch it.  Good stuff. 

"Creative Farming" with Joel Salatin
Inner Compass, by Calvin College

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