Salatin, who's been dubbed the “high priest of the pasture” and “Virginia's most multifaceted agrarian since Thomas Jefferson,” by The New York Times, would rather organic pasture farmers like him were as common as, well, dirt.KALAMAZOO, MI – Joel Salatin regards his fame as a tragedy.
“I tell people the tragedy of this whole deal about my life is: We should be common. The fact there are so few profitable, ecological, transparent, soil-building farms should give us pause,” said the owner of Polyface Farms in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, where he lives with four generations of his family. “It's not something to celebrate, it's something to repent in sackcloth and ashes about. We have twice as many people incarcerated in prison as we do growing our food. The fact that we call this an abundantly successful civilization is frightening.”
The self-described “Christian libertarian environmentalist capitalist lunatic” farmer, who was featured in the documentary “Food, Inc.” and Michael Pollan's bestselling “The Omnivore's Dilemma,” will be the speaker Saturday, Oct. 6, at the finale of thePeople's Food Co-op's Read and Seed program.
Salatin's talk, at 6:30 p.m. at Chenery auditorium, is thanks to a partnership between the Co-op and the Kalamazoo Nature Center. Tickets are $7 for PFC owners and KNC members and $10 for the public.
Salatin, the author of eight books including “Folks, This Ain't Normal,” “The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer,” and “Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal: War Stories from the Local Food Front,” spoke with the Kalamazoo Gazette by phone from his farm.
The man who said he “likes to play around with words,” speaks with the fervor of an evangelist about compost, home-cooking and backyard chickens. During the conversation, he waxed eloquent on everything from co-ops – “they are the backbone of what I call the local food tsunami" – to the carbon cycle.
Salatin said he is frequently questioned about whether organic food is only for elites and that critics often say, “Well, that sounds nice, but can it feed the world?”
“Not only can this feed the world, it's the only system that can,” said Salatin, whose parents bought Polyface in 1961, when it was “a worn out, gullied weedpatch that couldn’t even pay a salary to one,” according to the website. Today, it employs 10 people with more than $1 million in sales.
Citing statistics that show there are 40 million acres of lawn in the U.S. and 36 million acres growing feed for recreational horses, Salatin said, “That's 76 million acres. That's enough to feed the entire country without a single farm.”
He believes our culture has “come off-balance.”
“We're the first civilization in the world that throws out 50 percent of its human-edible food,” said Salatin. “We have no trouble spending a day shopping for $100 jeans that already have holes in the knees. But if you say, 'Let's cook a meal from scratch,' that takes too much time.”
Salatin said he's concerned about a culture that eats “food that won't rot, food you can't pronounce” and spends less time thinking about preparing the food it eats than, according to him, almost anything else.
“We're the first civilization that has felt immune to nature's profit and loss statements. That's a dangerous psyche to be in,” said Salatin. “We're the first in Michigan to eat tomatoes from Peru in February. It gives us a sense of being impregnable from ecology.
“My message is: We will live a life of more integrity if we choose to embrace, with visceral participation, this nest. Rather than view it as this anachronistic, Neanderthal, dirty thing.
Salatin said he hopes people will take away three steps from his talk on Saturday.
“First of all, get in your kitchen. Treat the supermarket like it's some sort of drug addiction,” said Salatin, who advocates a return to scratch cooking, preserving, drying and putting up food. “Rebuild your larder.”
The second step, he said, would be to take a portion of time and money spent on entertainment and use it to “locate one of our farm treasures,” many of which are struggling backyard farms.
Finally, he said, look around your own home and see what you can do to participate: whether it's a beehive on the roof, a compost pile, a potted garden or a couple of chickens in the backyard.
“I think that is an incredibly reasonable and commonsensical approach to life,” said Salatin. “It will help you to stay balanced and reasonable as a human being.”
Yvonne Zipp is a reporter for the Kalamazoo Gazette. You can reach her at [log in to unmask] or 269-365-8639.