Howard W. Hewitt - Joel Salatin gave a fast-paced, no-nonsense, and humorous presentation Friday night in a packed Salter Hall that made a passionate case for a return to farm and family basics.
His Polyface farm in Virginia uses a non-industrial, renewable approach to farming providing meat and produce 1,500 families, 10 retail outlets, and 25 restaurants. Or as he put it Friday night, "we let the pigs be pigs."
The oversimplied description represents how Salatin rotates cattle, hogs and chickens on the farm property daily. He allows the animals to eat and follow their instincts which provides a non-industrialized farming operation very unqiue in agriculture. For example, the chickens follow the cattle from pasture to pasture. The chickens will eat the bugs from the cow waste and leave the pasture ready to grow again and continue the cycle.
"Chickens are part of our sanitation crew and not only do we not have to pay them, but they pay us," he said, drawing hearty guffaws from the crowd. "All it is really is a big dance and I’m the choreographer."
He noted that terms like e-coli and salmonella and a long list of others are words that were not in our vocabulary 20 years ago. "And that is nature begging us – enough," he shouted. "Nature is begging for relief and the question is who will listen."
He railed against corporate farms and confined livestock operations and the seeming desire to drive farmers from the farm. "We’ve been so good at elminating people on farms that we have twice as many people in prisons as we do on farms in this country."
His operation is labor intensive but profitable by the sustained cycle illustrated by the chickens. Those chickens that help clean the field lay eggs – providing another source of income.
And when he says sustainable, he means it. They follow a strict management of the land by nature’s succession. "We’re not planting any seed and we’re not tilling anything," he said.
Salatin spoke to a near-capacity crowd in Salter noticably packed with community members and area farmers.
A self-described "Christian-libertarian-environmentalist-lunatic-farmer," Salatin earned his B.A. in English before returning to the family farm and is the author of six books, including Family Friendly Farming, Holy Cows and Hog Heaven, and Everything I Do is Illegal: War Stories from the Local Food Front.
His presentation was sponsored by the College’s Students for Sustainability. Learn more about Salatin and Polyface Farm at www.polyfacefarms.com