Where We Were, Where We Are and Where We're Going

On the reflective side of October, there is probably no better visit than to Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm in the Shenandoah Valley, the Guru Of Grass and Sustainable Farming. We and the Theecks actually visited Joel for a weekend in 2002, after reading everything he had written. I daresay you will not find a sustainable farmer who does not know Joel. He leads the way for us all.  Joel has the whole package. He was raised and has lived in agriculture everyday of his life.  He is a student of the science of soil and everything that lives in and above it as well as that which survives on it, every member of the food chain from microbes to humans. He is a historian as well, self-studied in the development, improvement and trends of agriculture.

Joel wrote a column for Acres USA recently, addressing the criticism that sustainable farming will not replace conventional, industrial farming because it cannot produce enough food to feed its population. “Hogwash,” Joel says. If Joel says so, you can take it to the bank. Here is a synopsis of Joel’s answer to the naysayers:

Sustainable farming has fed its population somewhere in the world since agriculture began. It was only in the industrializing countries that farming turned to chemical applications, and it was done to fill the labor gap caused by the migration of labor to the cities’ factories and offices. Farmers had to move to less labor intensive methods such as cheap (at the time) synthetic fertilizers, which lead to more severe chemicals in the herbicide and pesticide category as the soil died and could not protect itself. That was all easier and required much less labor than building and spreading compost by hand, rotational grazing and planting, and all the rest that became unachievable with the industrialization of farming. In a pretty short period of time, a farmer could grow, tend and harvest 1200 acres of corn by himself - production line techniques became the mantra (see e.g., Michael Pollan’s, In Defense of Food).

So what has filled that labor gap in today’s world of sustainable farming? Some of it is labor returning to a more desired lifestyle, but much of the gap was filled by equipment; tractors and their specialized implements. Front end loaders to gather and stack compost, manure spreaders to distribute it, seed drills for no-till planting, electric fence and solar chargers to control grazing, balers so that we can more easily store grasses for the winter, and so on. Joel proves his point
daily, growing more food per acre than his conventional competitors.
His will be done!