Saturday, February 21, 2009

21: replenish

I suddenly want to be a farmer.

I have been reading The Omnivore's Dilemma, Michael Pollan's fascinating exploration of our nation's industrial food system and some possible alternatives. Representing the alternative in food production, Joel Salatin attained something akin to rockstar status once he was featured in Pollan's book in 2006.

Mr. Salatin spoke at Stanford on Thursday evening. Several hundred people turned out to hear him, and he did not disappoint. Certainly no country bumpkin, he is clearly a very intelligent man who is entirely devoted to (a stance which includes motivation by love) his farming by smart and unconventional (oddly, most conventional methods in this country are simply counterintuitive) methods. Plus, he is a thoroughly entertaining speaker (not to mention inspirational, even though that sounds kind of cheesy).

A self-described "Christian libertarian capitalist environmentalist lunatic," Salatin is the owner of Polyface Farms in rural Swoope (pronounced swope, with a long o), Virginia. His "beyond organic" farm is grass-based and thrives on naturally-evolved interspecies relationships. He calls it allowing chickens to express their chickenness, pigs to express their pigness, and so on. As descriptors of Polyface, words like holistic, circular, and sustainable join the ranks of idyllic, pastoral, and communal.

As a Christian, Salatin believes that his mission is to be a steward of the land and to return it to its Garden of Eden state. 

There are plenty of good reasons why people of faith ought to be conscientious of the way they treat the earth and all its inhabitants, including humans of course, but also all other forms of life. I remember attending an excellent lecture with Julie in our freshman year of college. Professor George Handley spoke about LDS perspectives on environmental stewardship. I don't remember any specifics now, but I do remember getting a general impression that I might articulate as "Duh, why don't more people see how much sense this makes? The gospel + environmentalism = resonance." I really ought to write more about this another day; I think it's just one facet of how the gospel can be applied, as we like to say, to everyday life, and with eternal consequence for good. (I just discovered this LDS Earth Stewardship website; will be checking it out and likely reporting on it here later.)

Mr. Salatin reports that, based on the demographics of current U.S. farm owners, about 50% of the nation's farms will change hands in the next 10-15 years. Somehow I find that really exciting. Without too much imagination, I can see myself in a decade or so farming a nice green patch of land in the central valley, perhaps. Maybe you'd like to purchase the farm adjacent and we can be neighbors as we return to our agricultural heritage and commune with the land and its creatures?

(photo: turkeys at Polyface, by Spicy Bear)


chrome3d said...

Good luck with your farm.

FoxyJ said...

I felt the same way after reading that book and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. If I could afford to buy responsibly-raised meat, I'd start eating it occasionally. Of course, we're hypocrites since we don't buy meat but we still eat hamburgers when we go out. Oh well-every little bit helps, right?

Anyways, you could look into some sort of farm-share or produce delivery. I don't know if the company I use delivers that far south, but they have a lot of options and you can even get delivery every other week. Supporting local farms is great, and we've discovered that fresh-picked broccoli and carrots taste so much better than the stuff at the store.

Mac said...

If you're interested, BYU published a book of essays on this subject:

I can't remember if you grew up on a farm or have had any experience with working on one but if you haven't you should probably know that farming hurts. This is one reason why farms change hands (in addition to the flux in prices, weather, etc.). This all said, I too hope to have some sort of agrarian lifestyle one day. I probably will shoot for something on a more 'self-sufficient' scale though.