Joel Salatin

Salad Bar Beef

Jolie Vue Farms – A salad bar of weeds.

Jolie Vue Farms – A salad bar of weeds.

Joel Salatin invented the description “Salad Bar Beef” to describe the menu of the wide diversity of grasses and flora found in native pastures and upon which our cattle make “grass-fat” beef. We have now raised our count to 16 of those native grasses at JVF. But you must understand that the salad bar that Salatin refers to includes more than grass. It includes what many of us would generically call “weeds”. But here’s the story on weeds – our soil protectors.

Weeds have a number of beneficial functions. This year has been alternating between very wet and cool to very hot and dry. The latter cycle causes weed-pop. Why is that? Weeds shade the soil to keep the surface from getting too hot; grass will not grow at surface temperatures of 95 and above. Drop the air temperature from 95 to 85 and it encourages grass, and that’s one beneficial function. Grass grows under the shade of the weed canopy. The second benefit relates to the “how” of weed-pop. Weeds in dry weather have an ability to reach deeper for moisture in the sub-soil than grass does. In the deeper soil the weeds also intersect more minerals and when they do, they bring those minerals up to the grass roots level, enriching the soil and adding fresh stores of minerals to the grasses. Third benefit? Weeds can be palatable to cattle and pigs, high in protein and minerals. Not all, but many. So weeds are forage despite the effort of conventional farmers to spray them to death. When you spray them with herbicides, you are killing a friend and poisoning your soil.

Long live the weeds in the salad bar of a native pasture! 

The Guru of Grass

Have you heard of Joel Salatin? Salatin of the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia? Joel is the Guru of Grass.

We count Joel as a friend and a teacher. After reading his book, Salad Bar Beef, we signed up for a weekend at his farm where he taught us everything we needed to know about poly-cultural livestock farming. Joel is the modern father of the grass-fed movement, rotating beef, chicken, turkeys, rabbits and pork on the farm he inherited from his parents and a frequent contributor to related publications.

Joel writes in the recent edition of Acres USA about what he calls the “working landscape”. His thrust is that while overworking our parks, ranches and farms is devastating, abandoning them is just as bad. I agree. Our soil needs to be in an exercise/rest cycle at all times, and the only trick is how much of each, not whether one is preferred over the other. Joel’s best example is pruning - if you prune your peach tree, it doesn’t hinder but instead stimulates growth. The same thing happens when a cow grazes grass.

Don’t turn our greatest resource into a couch potato.

Joel also comments on the criticism that grass-fed beeves emit methane and contribute to global warming. For that matter, so do humans, right? Doesn’t mean that humans and beeves need be removed from the planet. Here’s Joel’s response: The accusation doesn’t mention that a fertile grass pasture traps and converts more carbon per acre than a similarly situated old or new-wood forest. And 95% of the planet’s natural methane emissions come not from ruminant animals but from wetlands. Want to drain the wetlands? I doubt it. Is methane emission a new burden on the planet? Of course not. The buffalo population alone far outnumbered the largest cattle numbers ever grazed in the U.S. And that doesn’t count the deer, the elk, the moose, and the smaller critters that emit methane and always have.

The things people say...and think they can get away with!

The Editorial

"You, as a food buyer, have the distinct privilege of proactively participating in shaping the world your children will inherit."

— Joel Salatin

Salatin is right, you can re-shape the world.

As we become more informed on the subject of how food is produced, we see people steadily opting out of the conventional food production system. Industrial agriculture has had to get on board, albeit by using the adulterated dictionary of the USDA’s government-speak language where “natural” means “minimally processed” and “free range” means a poor dying chicken is given the choice to go outdoors, a place they have never been and will never go. Be careful of those words in the grocery store, but embrace them in the sustainable farming community.

Be pro-active in shaping the world you and your children will inherit. Pay the true value of real food. Heritage farmers are not trying to get rich, they’re just trying to avoid getting poor while they fight the shameless claims of the their own government, agricultural colleges and Big Food. The fact that they have survived and thrived is a testament to the value of what they are doing. Support them and you will change the planet and its creatures for the better. Not just a little bit, but a lot. 

Quote for the Month

"A farm includes the passion of the farmer's heart, the interest of the farm's customers, the biological activity in the soil, the pleasantness of the air about the farm — it's everything touching, emanating from, and supplying that piece of landscape.   A farm is virtually a living organism.”
– Joel Salatin, Polyface Farm, Va.

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!