Joel Salatin advocates a better way to raise food
Farmer/lecturer Joel Salatin champions 'moral farming' as a better way to raise food. 'What is a moral way to raise a chicken?' he asks.
(Page 3 of 3)
While farmers are often quick to grasp Salatin’s agricultural practices, persuading them to adopt the marketing portion of his program is much more difficult.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
“They assume they can just sit out on the tractor seat and till the crop and not have to deal with the people,” says Galen Bontrager, a former apprentice at Polyface Farms who now runs a small, Salatin-inspired farm in Iowa.
Moreover, Mr. Bontrager says, farmers have become so used to relying on those outside agriculture for guidance on their farms that they’ve lost their initiative.
This is part of the reason Salatin spends nearly half his time preaching his agricultural evangelism from coast to coast. By all accounts, his presentations are barnburners.
“Hearing him talk is like going to a revival meeting,” says Jo Robinson, a journalist and founder of eatwild.com, a clearinghouse for information on pasture-raised animals.
People come away from his meetings, saying, “ ‘I’m going to do everything he’s doing!’ ” she adds. “He takes people who have never been farmers and inspires them to become farmers.”
But the big question is, Can this sort of small-scale, environmentally sustainable farming really feed the world?
Salatin answers with a resounding yes, even though ecoconscious farming currently accounts for less than 5 percent of American food production. And that’s after what he estimates is a quadrupling of the number of environmentally friendly farms in the past five years.
“Not only can we feed the world, we’re the only system that can feed the world,” Salatin declares. “What’s happening is that the current industrial system is beginning to break down.”
Still, Polyface Farms faces an ethical limit when it comes to producing food: By promising personal connections with the purchasers of Polyface products, the business can grow only so large.
“His model is not scalable in terms of getting bigger and bigger. That defeats what he’s doing,” Ms. Robinson says. “It can be multiplied – there can be many people that do what he does. There are people who are scaling up so that they can sell to restaurant chains and Whole Foods, and he’s not a part of that.”
If Salatin’s model is going to be more than a footnote to American agricultural history, many more farmers will need to attempt his delicate balance: growing big and savvy enough to make a decent profit while staying small enough to remain part of the community. Until then, Salatin and his devotees hope to find converts in more and more farmers’ markets, local restaurants, and buying clubs.
“We know that the best-tasting stuff and the most integrity is found by buying right from the farmer you know,” Evans says. “It doesn’t get any better than that.”
Editor’s note: For more articles about the environment, see the Monitor’s main environment page, which offers information on many environment topics. Also, check out our Bright Green blog archive and our RSS feed.