Front man for the sustainable/regenerative farming movement, Joel Salatin, returns to the podcast this week.
Next month on April 23rd, he’ll be joining Adam, the folks from Singing Frogs Farm, permaculturalist Toby Hemenway, and Robb Wolf at a speaking event in northern California. He’ll be speaking on the power that’s in our hands to make much smarter choices regarding the food systems we depend on:
Joel Salatin: Farmers get beat up for a number of things: producing what they produce, the way they treat animals, they way they treat the land . I want to point out that the power is not in the farmers. From a voting standpoint, prisoners/inmates are a lot more powerful of a constituency block in the culture than farmers are. So let’s put this in perspective: the power is in the customer. And so if you want things to change on the landscape, if you want things to change regarding chemicals, pesticides, GMO – name your issue — if you want change, well, you’ve got to make a change.
I think that too often consumers take the convenient way out and say ‘Well, if farmers would just do things differently, everything would be better.’ The truth is that farmers have always followed the market. If people refuse to buy genetically modified organism food, farmers won’t produce it. It’s really that simple. It doesn’t take a government agent, a bureaucracy, a police state, a new law. I mean, all of this could be changed just by consumers taking a more active and aggressive role at financing what they say they believe in from the outset.
Chris Martenson: The part that I really love about what you are up to — that the whole regenerative movement is about, what permaculture is about — is this whole idea that people can choose do things better. That we can both farm and be regenerative at the same time. That we can be in symbiosis with the larger landscape. We see how industrial agriculture is the opposite of that with collapse in bees butterflies and other pollinators, butterflies, poisoned streams, disappearing soils — all of that. One of the critiques of sustainable farming that keeps popping up in the media is ‘That’s all nice and everything, but we really can’t feed the nation, let alone the world, with such farming practices.’ How do you respond to those charges?
Joel Salatin: At no other time in human civilization have we thrown away 50% of edible human food. We’re doing that right now. Nobody in the world goes hungry because there’s not enough food; they go hungry because they can’t get to the food. They can’t access it: they’re too far away, a bomb blew out a road, somebody held up a Red Cross truck with an AK47 — name your thing. But it’s socio-political stuff, logistical stuff, transportational stuff — it has nothing to do with the fact that there’s not enough food. There is absolutely plenty of food on the planet. That’s Nnumber One.
Number Two is that there’s a tremendous amount of unutilized or underutilized land. I mean just take the US: we have 35 million acres of lawn and 36 million acres used for housing and feeding recreational horses. That’s 71 million acres. That’s enough to feed the entire country. And I haven’t even gotten to golf courses yet. I’m not opposed to horses, I’m not opposed to lawns, I’m not opposed to golf courses. What I am suggesting is that any Chicken Little running around shouting ‘The sky is falling! We can’t feed the world!’ is simply not true. There’s a tremendous amount of available land that can be utilized.
Number Three: the land that we are using for farming, we’re using it in an extremely inefficient way. Monocrops/monocultures are extremely inefficient. What is efficient is what nature does using very intricate, complex, relational polycultures. The beginner’s backyard garden is more productive per square yard than the most elite monocrop industrial operation that just produces one crop. Why? Because even in a rudimentary backyard garden where you’re mixing plants and vegetables, there’s a symbiosis and a synergy and an increase in productive capacity that happens there. So we can grow a lot more than we are. And that’s especially true with how we raise our cattle. Our beef and diary raising is extremely inefficient because we aren’t managing our pastures in a choreograph the way bison and wolves evolved to float across the native American prairie. It should give us all pause to realize that, 500 years ago, there were more pounds of animals being produced in what would become the US than there are today — even with chemical fertilizers and John Deere tractors. There were way over 100 million head of bison, over a million wolves, 2 million beavers — the antelope, the elk, the prairie chickens, the pheasants, the turkeys, the water fowl, the prodigious amount of life on the landscape and waterscape was just far beyond anything we can imagine today. What we have done is we have taken all of this amazing life and we have relegated it to the fringes — trading it all for our nuked suburban lawn, a monoculture of nothingness.
The truth is we can be far, far more productive. On our farm, by moving the cows every day to a fresh paddock to model the animal movement in nature, we’re getting 5x the county average production per acre. That’s without planting a seed or buying a bag of chemical fertilizer in over 50 years. These principals work. Imagine if the neighbors all got 5x the county average, and then their neighbors got 5x, and then the whole state. My goodness, the truth is that we haven’t even scratched the surface on production. Not only can our system feed the world, ultimately it is the only system that actually can.
For more information about the speaking event Joel will be keynoting in Petaluma, CA on April 23, click here.
Click the play button below to listen to Chris’ interview with Joel Salatin (56m:49s)
Chris Martenson: Welcome to this Peak Prosperity podcast. I am your host, Chris Martenson. Today we have the pleasure of speaking once again with Joel Salatin one of the most visible and influential leaders in the organic food and sustainable farming movements. His family owns and manages Polyface Farms, which is featured prominently in such modern food movement masterworks as Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, the book, and in the documentaries: Fresh; Food, Inc.; American Meat and most recently, Polyfaces. And of course he has the blurb on the back of our latest book, Prosper. We last spoke to Joel in 2015 and that podcast was very well received, widely listened to, sparked numerous conversations. Look, I can’t wait to get started as the conversation is always lively, informative and sure to rouse both curiosity and maybe a slight whiff of alarm. I kid… No, not really. Joel, welcome back.
Joel Salatin: Thank you, Chris. It is wonderful to be with you.
Chris Martenson: Hey, let’s start with the new documentary, Polyfaces. Tell us about that.
Joel Salatin: Well it is a documentary put out by the Regrarians of Australia. This is a family that is – that has traveled the world for about 20 years setting up dynamic farm design programs. Kind of started out from a Permaculture perspective, but they have kind of developed their own permutation of that. They just wanted to showcase what we were doing here and decided it was a story worth telling. We had not had a documentary done just featuring the farm, you know. So that is what they did. And it is out there and I mean we don’t own it. They own it. They are distributing it. They are in charge, but we have certainly appreciated having the story out there to a wider audience.
Chris Martenson: Well, great. How did they do?
Joel Salatin: I’m sorry?
Chris Martenson: How did they do? How did the film come out?
Joel Salatin: Oh, pretty well. You know, everybody – film is a little bit artistic you know and certainly some subjectivity. They put in their time. There is some beautiful, probably some of the best videography done on the farm that has ever been done, but they were here for like 30 days over the course of four years. The neat things about the documentary are that it does go over such a long time that you actually see their children grow up, you see our grandchildren grow four years older. You see me lose some more hair and that sort of thing. The time element—you really get a sense watching it that there is a time element and that is kind of neat. So they were here for all different seasons. Captured a lot of different things that other video – other things that we have been in have not captured because they haven’t gone through all the different seasons.
I think that if there is a negative to it from my perspective it is a little choppy. It doesn’t flow as nicely as I’d like. I am a story teller. I like the continuity of a story and to take a theme through, and I feel like there is a bit of a choppiness to it where they don’t actually finish one story, they start another one and then they come back to the previous one, and it is a little bit of a choppiness to it. But the themes that run throughout and the videography, the cinematography is just is outstanding. I mean they capture a chicken actually picking a maggot out of a cow pie in slow-mo close up. It is amazing. A chicken picking a grasshopper off of a grass plant you know and just that – that violence of nature it is quite amazing.
Chris Martenson: That must be nice to have that captured in that loving detail like that. To have that as part of your record there is certainly wonderful. People who come over have a choice now, right? They can either go through your wedding album with you or watch the movie. Which is it going to be?
Joel Salatin: [Laughter] Sure. And personally for me it was especially neat to capture the ladies in the group, not just Daniel and me, but my wife, Teresa, my mother I mean she is the star of the show. She just takes it to another level. She is 92 and very, very sharp. Has a bit of a cheekiness to her the way she tells things. Our daughter Rachel is in it. None of the other videos, documentaries have captured the power behind the powers. It was really good to be able to have that. And of course now to have that as a legacy for our grandkids—we are not going to be around forever—to be able to have that captured and for them to refer back to it and show their kids at some future date “here is your great grandma.” Of course for our grandchildren she is already great grandma; this goes on to another generation. It is pretty cool.
Chris Martenson: That is really neat. I have been telling people for a while: Keep a journal. Because these are extraordinary times. We are all going to look back and say “what were we thinking?” That is going to be part of, I think, I hope at some point. But speaking of that story continuity – you had a great article out recently I wanted to take a little dive into. It was on ecological eating. If I could summarize—and tell me if I got this wrong – I think you made the point that consumers have been ducking their part in the dance of healthy eating. I would like to talk about that here. You made some really important points in that article.
Joel Salatin: Oh yes, thank you. That was carried in Mother Earth News I think it was or maybe it was Acres USA. It was Acres USA wasn’t it?
Chris Martenson: It was. Yes.
Joel Salatin: Acres USA. Yeah and I am not trying to point any fingers but I do kind of get a sense that farmers get beat up for whatever – for any number of things. Producing what they produce, treating animals the way they treat them, treating the land they way they treat them, and what I wanted to do in that article was just point out that the power – the power is not in the farmers. We are only half the prison population. From a voting standpoint, you know, prisoners or inmates are a lot more powerful constituency block in the culture than farmers are. So let’s put this in perspective. The power is in the customer, the consumer. If you want things to change on the landscape, if you want things to change regarding chemicals, pesticides, GMO, name your issue that you are about—if you want it to change, well, you have got to make a change.
I think that too often consumers take the kind of the cop out, the convenient way out and say “well if those farmers would just do better or do differently everything would be better,” and the truth is that farmers have always followed the market. If people refused to buy genetically modified organism food, farmers won’t produce it. It is really that simple. It doesn’t take a government agent, a bureaucracy, a police state, a new law, nothing. I mean all of this could be changed just by consumers taking a more active and aggressive role at financing what they say they believe in from the outset.
Chris Martenson: I guess the article – what your article really goes into in that is that people do have a sense that if there is something in the system, when the system changes I will be there. And you are saying wait a minute, that is ignoring your role, you know, we do vote with our dollars, as it were. But you went through some really important things. There were five “S”s that you organized that around. The first was “Safe”, right? So Chipotle tried to buy local sourced organic or locally sourced farmed foods and then they ended up with this e-coli—mysterious, in fact a series of mysterious outbreaks in their chain. Doesn’t that sort of speak to the idea that we need big regulated agri-business to keep us all safe? How do you respond to that?
Joel Salatin: Well, first of all very specifically on Chipotle, we service two of their restaurants so I have had some conversations with pretty high up people – we are friendly with some of them. We have been with them a long time. They are not ruling out sabotage. This is one of the first times that an outbreak has not been able to identify a smoking gun. That is highly unprecedented. You have got to realize Chipotle has angered a lot in the industrial food movement with their cartoons and their jabs at the industrial food system. They have really taken on a pretty big tiger there, a tiger that doesn’t always play nice. And so it would not surprise me at all if there is some sort of a sabotage involved with that particular thing.
But beyond that, what is interesting is while all that with Chipotle was going on—which actually didn’t hospitalize anybody—nine people died of tainted cucumbers, but that wasn’t even reported in the media. Which again gives a sense of collusion within the media and big business to gang up on Chipotle and give it an unfair spotlight and make the story bigger than it was.
The truth is that the recalls and the pathogenicity, the toxicity in the food system are not coming from backyard operators. They are coming from large, sanctioned, agri-industrial complexes that are scrutinized and are compliant with government requirements. And so if you really want safe food, the food that has a much less risk of the kinds of things that you are concerned about, you will actually get it from your neighborhood source rather than the big industrial complex.
Chris Martenson: It is interesting, all the time we are learning more and more about how we are actually functioning as organisms here on this planet. And now they are starting to begrudgingly admit things like “hey maybe antibacterial soaps aren’t so hot for reasons XYX” and on down the list. And that maybe children actually should be exposed to a wide variety of environmental factors that even they are saying now maybe if you don’t have exposure to peanuts, you are really going to maybe have a bad peanut allergy later, or something like that. So we are starting to say that yes, being exposed to the normal things that are out there in the world that are important.
But I think the point you are making here is that, quite often, because of the way industrial agriculture is run, it has this amazing ability to really concentrate and do some astonishing outbreaks. You are right, I don’t think they get a huge amount of play. Certainly not the amount of play – I read about there was some cantaloupes last summer. A lot of people got sick and a number of them died. And if that had been a guy with a gun on the DC beltway we would have heard about it endlessly.
Joel Salatin: Oh, point well taken. And you know in the article I just made the point I kind of asked these kind of rhetorical questions – do you feel safer in a crowd or at home? Do you trust what you know more than what you don’t know? And the truth is that the more opaque and centralized and unknown food in the food system becomes, the less trustworthy it is and the more liable it is to actually engage in risky behavior because there is less accountability. So intuitively it makes sense to understand that if you get your food from people you know rather than from strangers, it is going to have a better chance of integrity.
Chris Martenson: A better chance of integrity and a known quantity. In fact, yeah sort of a “know your farmer” sort of a program which makes sense there. Of course, and that gets to a question I want to get to in a while. But let’s keep on this track. The second “S” was “Suitable”. What do you mean by “suitable” in this case?
Joel Salatin: Well what this means is: Does the food actually fit in your eco system? In your net? Every region—you wouldn’t Eskimos to eat squash in Eskimo land [laughter]. Who needs salmon in Denver? Clam chowder in Kansas City? The point is that when you are in a place, think about what suits that place. Look when I go to Hawaii, I live on pineapple, papaya, passion fruit and bananas. If I go to a cherry festival I eat cherries. The consumer—this is part of eating with conscious thinking. Michael Pollan in some of his work has written often that most eating is done without thought. It is done thoughtlessly. And so this is just trying to bring up the idea that the food that you are eating, by and large, should be available locally, it should suit the environment that you live in.
Chris Martenson: That is an interesting thought because more and more we understand how our gut biome really speaks to us, talks to us, and is intimately involved in our overall construction, sense of health, even mental wellbeing. A variety of things are now linked to that. And so that really speaks to having an established relationship with the microflora in us, which really comes mostly from the environment around us. What I am eluding to here is that as organisms we seem to have evolved into a place where we are supposed to be in rhythm with the things that are around us and in some sort of relationship with. What you are saying is that eating in season—not only does it make sense from ecological terms, energy terms, but it might make sense in other terms we don’t fully appreciate yet. Is that possible?
Joel Salatin: Absolutely. Anne Rigamore (sp), the founder of the Macrobiotic Diet, which is not as famous now as it was a few years back. A few years back it was as big as Paleo for a while. It preceded Paleo. As big as Paleo is now. One of the principals that she is about is resonance. Actual molecular resonance, that with the magnetic bands that run from the north and south poles on the planet anywhere from six inches to six feet below the planet’s surface, that these actually set up regional resonance and that when you eat more than – and these change significantly about every 40 to 50 miles. So if you are eating – whatever you are eating from beyond 40 or 50 miles, it actually has —you mentioned rhythm, but this is more molecular resonance. It has a different energy frequency than stuff that was grown 100 miles away, due to this kind of magnetic band and this frequency that is in each area.
So this was part of the macrobiotic idea. It speaks directly to this whole seasonal—and the suitability of a food to a place encompasses all of those nuances of that – Wendell Barry talks about being native to this place— or Wes Jackson—native to this place. And the same thing is true when we talk about food to this place, jobs to this place, work to this place. It is about being more within the parameters, boundaries, and frequencies of a place.
Chris Martenson: You know the older I get, the less things surprise me. Science and our understanding of things continuously proves to me that we still don’t really know a lot. We are learning more all the time. I used to be surprised by these things. I am less surprised these days. More open minded I guess. I don’t know. Am I going backwards? Shouldn’t I become more calcified over time? I should be more certain, but I am less. I don’t know.
Joel Salatin: [Laughter] You are supposed to be more callous with cynicism and contempt.
Chris Martenson: I got those, but I still have this curious part. Anyway, I guess all of that leads us right to “seasonal,” which is your third “S” in the story. Does that speak for itself or is there more to that one?
Joel Salatin: I think it does. Obviously it is pretty easy to understand, but I think the main thing is to understand that there are seasons. Our current industrial food system— the same supermarket in San Diego has the same stuff as the one in Portland, Maine, right? 24/7, 365. When you are asking for consumers to eat with the ecology, when you talk about – the whole thing is about ecological eating. One of the foundations of ecological eating is to just appreciate the cyclical and the seasonality of a given area. If we are going to eat ecologically, we are not going to eat fresh strawberries in Portland, Maine in February that are shipped air freight from Peru. If we want strawberries in Maine in Portland, you eat it in strawberry jam that you made from the previous – or frozen strawberries or dehydrated or something like that.
Celebrating seasonality is something that is festive. It is not enslavement. Don’t think of it as something negative, think of it as something anticipatory that we have something to look forward to. “Oh the first strawberry,” “the first green bean,” whatever. These are exciting times to celebrate and it adds a zest to cycles of life, as opposed to just same old, same old.
Chris Martenson: I love that. That makes a lot of sense. It is not about scarcity and “oh my gosh I have deprived myself of a fresh strawberry in Portland in February.” But it is about this idea of saying that there is a magic to being in relationship to the seasons, to nature, to the rhythm of it all. Yes, that first peach in August is an amazing thing. It really is. Oh I like that. Thanks for building that out.
Fourth “S”—”symbiotic”. What do you mean by “symbiotic”?
Joel Salatin: Well “symbiotic” is about the relationships, you know, the way nature works. You need to understand that the food that we eat should actually be working positively on the ecology, not negatively on the ecology. Typically, feed and waste streams and things like that should be enhancing our nest rather than harming the nest. And of course a concentrated animal feeding operation, for example, overruns the ecology; there is no symbiosis there. It is a complete cross purpose to the ecology.
So when we are eating, we are trying to think of “okay, what is actually acting as an ecological benefit, an ecological asset,” and what I am eating today—is it acting symbiotically with the ecology in the region? That is pretty cool.
Chris Martenson: This is the part that I really love about what you are up to, what the whole regenerative movement is about, what Permaculture is about, is this idea that people can do the right things and prove that we can both farm and be regenerative at the same time—that we can be in symbiosis with the larger landscape. Of course we see how industrial agriculture is the opposite of that with collapse in bee and pollinator, butterflies, you know poison streams, disappearing soils, all of that.
One of the critiques that keeps popping up in the media is “oh yeah that is all nice and everything but we really can’t feed the nation let alone the world with such farming practices” How do you respond to those charges, if I can even call them that?
Joel Salatin: It is probably the single biggest most common question that I get. I have numerous answers. I do a one hour presentation just on that question. I won’t do that right now but I will hit a couple of high points. First of all, we are overproducing what the world needs right now at the rate of 50%. No time in human civilization have we thrown away 50% of edible human food. We are doing that right now. So the point is that we can increase the world population right now by 50%, still have enough food, or we can say right now we are over producing by 50%. Nobody in the world goes hungry because there is not enough food. They go hungry because they can’t get to the food, they can’t access it, they are too far away, a bomb blew out a road, somebody held up a Red Cross truck with an AK-47. Name your thing, but it is sociopolitical stuff, logistical stuff, transportational stuff; it has nothing to do with the fact that there is not enough food. There is absolutely plenty of food on the planet. That is number one.
Number two is that there is a tremendous amount of unutilized or underutilized land. I mean just take the US: We have 35 million acres of lawn and 36 million acres growing and housing and feeding recreational horses. That is 71 million acres. That is enough to feed the entire country without a single farm or ranch. So when you start – and I haven’t even gotten to golf courses yet [laughter]. And I’m not opposed to horses, I am not opposed to lawns, I am not opposed to the golf courses.
What I am suggesting is this henny penney, running around, “the sky is falling,” “we can’t feed the world and we are already over populated,” is simply not true. There is a tremendous amount of available land that can be utilized.
Number three: The land that we are using for farming—we are using it in an extremely inefficient way. Monocrops, monocultures are extremely inefficient. What is efficient and what nature does, of course, are very intricate, complex, relational polycultures. Even the most rudimentary backyard garden—I mean the beginner’s backyard garden is more productive per square yard than the most elite monocrop industrial operation that just produces one crop. Why? Because even in a rudimentary backyard garden where we are mixing plants, mixing vegetables, and there is a symbiosis and a synergy and an increase in productive capacity that happens there. So we can grow a lot more than we are.
And if I can just add one more little tidbit, that is that especially our cattle – our beef and dairy are being extremely inefficient because we are not managing our pastures in a choreograph that mimics the way bison and wolves float across the native American prairies. It should give us all pause to realize that 500 years ago there were more pounds of animals being produced in what would become the US than there are today, even with chemical fertilizers, John Deere tractors, and hybrids seeds. Audubon sat under a tree and said he couldn’t see the sun for three days from the flock of passenger pigeons that flew over. I don’t know about you but I haven’t seen the sun blocked out with a flock of birds for three days ever. Herds of bison that were in the millions— there were way over 100 million head of bison, over a million wolves, 2 million beavers. The antelope, the elk, the prairie chickens, the pheasants, the turkeys, the water fowl, the prodigious amount of life on the landscape and waterscape was just far beyond anything we can imagine today. What we have done is we have taken all of this amazing life and we have relegated it to some fringes and little tiny places from concentrated animal feeding operations to the fringes of our azaleas in the city off our nuked suburban lawn that is a moonoculture of nothingness.
The truth is, we can be far, far more productive. On our farm, by moving the cows every day to a fresh paddock using high tech electric fencing to model after the model of the animal movement in nature, we are getting five times the county average production per acre. That is without planting a seed or buying a bag of chemical fertilizer in 50 years. These principals work. Imagine if the neighbors all got five times the county average and then their neighbors got five times and the whole state… I mean my goodness, the truth is that we haven’t even scratched the surface on production. Not only can our system feed the world, ultimately it is the only system that actually can.
Chris Martenson: And over the long-term I assume it is the only one that makes sense to me and I think anybody who rationally looks at this. You can’t look at mining your soils and losing your soils and treating your soils until it becomes dirt and blows away without saying “wow that is probably not a sustainable way to go about this.” But as far as I can tell, the whole mainstream media, Wall Street, the financial crowd, they are all there trying to tell me every day—I will speak for myself—that everything is okay. I have just got to ignore any warning bells I’m seeing, I have got to keep on buying, borrowing, I have got to consume a little bit more. I go down that path. What you are really saying here is that, first, industrial farming just doesn’t have a future at some point, but that we already know how to begin going about doing things in a correct way or more relational way or even more sustainable way, in a true sense of that word. But we are not doing that. Why is that generally?
Joel Salatin: That is the million dollar question and I tell people when they come to visit the farm and they say, “wow, intuitively—I am not a farmer, but of course this is the way it ought to be done. Why doesn’t everybody do it?” My answer is that if this model became the new orthodoxy, it would completely invert the power, position, prestige and profits of the entire world’s feed and farming system. Not only is that a big ship to turn around, but that is a lot of egos, a lot of life investment to have impugned if that were abandoned. Every orthodoxy, every status quo system takes a defensive posture, circles the wagons when it is under assault. Whether it is taxi drivers that are being taken out by Uber or whatever, there is a defensive position that says “we have got to protect this at all costs.” Gandhi used to say that what happens when innovation of thought comes to a political arena: First they ignore you, and then they laugh at you, and then they fight you, and then you win. And that was his kind of four-step progression for the way societal evolution moves. And I think that is right.
I think first of all that the system does all it can to ignore us, and then they began laughing at us, and now they are fighting us. They are saying things like outdoor animals are more pathogenic. They are saying things like compost piles are unsafe. “There is sex going on in them there piles! We got to have sterile 10-10-10 to put out there, not have a bunch of bacteria and microbes.” And this universal sterilization idea. We need to sanitize and sterilize everything when actually you and I have three trillion bacteria inside of us. We are far, far from sterile.
We have these ideas proliferating in our culture and they engender fear. They engender fear among people. Of course when people are fearful, then they are ready to accept government approved security. As Ben Franklin said, when you are willing to give up freedom for security you get and deserve neither.
Chris Martenson: We are certainly far down that path and I have a question I think pokes at that one towards the end. I want to finish this – your fifth “S” which was “Seamless” in this article. I think you got to that with this idea of wanting to see the same things in San Jose as they do in Bangor in the grocery stores. What did you mean by “seamless” in this case?
Joel Salatin: “Seamless”— a lot of people don’t realize all of the chains that have to be in place in order to supply non seasonality and industrial food. I mean from longshoremen that aren’t on strike to the cheap flow of energy to transport to whatever favored nation status to diplomatic relations. Then logistics getting it into a warehouse and having it keep shelf life, all those sorts of things. There are a lot of pieces of that. Whereas when you buy something from a local producer, you look the farmer in the eye, that is a very seamless chain of custody there. It’s directly from field to fork, if you will. That seamlessness has far more accountability. There is less risk there of something going awry and tearing apart the system when it is a much tighter seam.
So it is all about localization and having a local centric idea. Ultimately, eating ecologically is not going down and getting organic certified from New Zealand.It is going – it is coming clear outside the established food system and investing in finding your good sources and making food decisions based on knowledge, information and the skill that comes with participation. So many times we want something different – people complain about the way things are and want something different, but they want somebody else to make – “Those people over there, if they’d just do this, everything would be okay.” What you find out is you start down that road, there isn’t “them” and “us”; it is all us. So if we want to have a different situation well, you know, we have to make that situation for ourselves by deciding to make changes in our own lives.
Chris Martenson: Absolutely. Change begins with each of us first and that is really the summation of that article you wrote, which is “look, people, if you want different results you are going to have to have different actions on your own end.” If the consumer is not there demanding— and the consumer is not just the individual; it could be universities, it could be restaurant chains, it could be supermarkets, but if the consumer isn’t demanding… I think demand proceeds supply. You get the demand and the supply will show up. You turn those golf courses and horse ranches into organic pepper farms if we have to, if the demand is there.
Joel Salatin: No question. No question at all. So to assume that we are doomed or we can’t meet our needs is simply coming at it from both ignorance and paranoia. When ignorance combines with paranoia you got a double whammy.
Chris Martenson: I thought of some names, but that is okay. Double whammy is good [laughter]. Well what you are talking about here is social change, culture change, and you have dragged out that wonderful Gandhi quote which says, look, there is a process to this. I am interested in that process and I would like your firsthand experience with this. You must have seen a lot of people come through Polyface Farm to take the tour, to observe. What sort of shifts and trends have you noticed in the types and maybe composition of people who are showing up to?
Joel Salatin: It is very interesting. 30 years ago pretty much all of our visitors were what I call kind of liberal earth muffins, you know, kind of left over hippies. And then we started to see about 15, 20 years ago some pretty major shifts, and many, many more kind of conservatives. I think that many of them were home schoolers. We are now seeing a huge interest in visitors from the home schooling community.
I think what happened there was that people decided to get out of the institutional public education system and embrace this home schooling thing and found it very satisfying, and then they woke up one morning and said “wow, that was fun to express a rebellious streak in that. I wonder if it would be just as satisfying to opt out of conventional thinking in medicine or food or investment or recreation or whatever,” and next thing you know, this thing that started educationally now morphs into a milk cow out back and a hand operated grain mill in the kitchen. That is the natural morphing.
What I call the “opt out mentality” the opt out of orthodoxy—as that gains status, excitement and actually brings solutions to life, to struggles, when you actually have solutions to struggles, man it is a snowball. It is the snow ball that you say “well that one worked, what is next? What is the next one?” That is what we see among people, that they are on a journey. Everyone has an “aha” moment. Maybe it was a disease, maybe it was something they read, something they saw, something they heard, but there is this kind of conversion “aha” moment where the light went on and they said for the first time, “hm, I wonder if the government lies to me.” [Laughter]
It is like that is the first light that goes on, you know. Maybe every government scientist, report, expert, whatever is not the gospel. As soon as they are willing to posit a bit of incredulity to the official speak… You mentioned Wall Street says “everything is great; it is all super—” as soon as that official speak becomes suspect in your mind—wow. All sorts of assumptions begin to fall because you begin to research. It is like your eyes are open and you suddenly realize a lot of this orthodox assumption is a house of cards.
Chris Martenson: I absolutely agree. That was my own process. There were a number of things that caused me to really began to question. As soon as you go down that rabbit hole, there is no end to it. Of course we are all raised to believe, have faith in authority and get out the big foam finger “we are number one” and all of that. You scratch at things and go wait a minute, there are lots of ways to do things and there is good and bad and you know, right ways and wrong ways and all of this. It is not as black and white I guess as when I was raised. Maybe a little grayer as I get into this zone now.
What I am tapping into here is this idea that this social change—it really feels like that is in the air. Maybe it is because we have this super contentious political presidential cycle underway. But it seems like people are saying in increasing numbers, “I don’t know exactly what is wrong but the narrative seems off. I want it to be different.” I think that is a first step in this process. It is just fun. It is fun for me to watch the mainstream media do everything it can to either ignore it or reshape it or reframe it. The truth is that more and more people are waking up to the idea that the way we are doing things is not how they would like them to be done. That becomes political change at its heart. So you are really doing something political at heart aren’t you?
Joel Salatin: Well, yes. Again I go back to the power, position, prestige and profitability of the entire food and farming system would be turned on its head if what we believed and what we did became practice by even 20% because we don’t buy the same things, we don’t believe the same things, we don’t patronize the same businesses. It is a complete upside-down view of things. We like to ask “How small can it be?” They like to ask “How big can it be?” We like to ask “How can we do this with animals that appreciate?” They want to ask “How can we do this with machinery that depreciates?” We want to figure out how we can get more people on the farm. They want to say “how few people we can have on the farm?” They want to see how cheap food can be. We want to ask how good food can be. The most basic foundational questions are just opposite. They are just completely opposite.
I agree with you. I think that societal pendulums—they never hang in a balance. They are always off to one side or the other and what happens is the pendulum has to swing far enough to one side before it finally stops and then starts coming back. And that distance of how far it has to swing before it comes back is actually frustratingly far. The profits, as soon as it comes off balance, they start warning “hey we got to change, got to change” and it just keeps on going and going.
Finally, hopefully before civilizations collapse—but often not before civilizations collapse or go through a complete–weather it is the Bolshevik Revolution or whether it is Hitler or whatever it is that there is some major, major change. What happens is typically the pendulum swings past balance and goes completely to overcorrection on the other side and then you have something else. That is typically what happens.
But yeah, I agree. I think that as more and more people become frustrated and disenfranchised with their personal health, their personal life, their family’s dysfunction, the lack of community stability in local solutions to local problems. The overreaching regulatory environment the centralization of power in our country so that localities can’t innovate things because they always got to be looking over their shoulder and see what the feds have to say about it and the grant proposals and the ___[00:46:05] and what strings are attached to this and find their hands tied to be able to innovate policy changes within their community. All of those kind of things add up to incendiary rage and frustration. I think both the Bernie Sanders and the Trump phenomena are opposite sides of the same coin. The same coin is just what you said. People realize that something is really wrong. The ones that are predisposed to want centralized solutions look to Bernie and the people that just want to be angry or whatever go for Trump. They are both disenfranchised, disempowered and grasping for solutions.
Chris Martenson: In that pendulum model you have got there is probably an uncomfortable sense of weightlessness at that shift point, right? As the pendulum reaches the apex of its swing like “oh I’m floating here.” I really think there is that—I have the sense that the social mood is… And there is a very important shift there in the public mood around a lot of things. It is wonderful to be talking to somebody at the forefront of that, that gets to see the liberal earth muffins turn into the conservative people. By the way, my own financial advisors have come and toured your farm, so just to put that all in context.
Joel Salatin: Oh cool.
Chris Martenson: You have got a new book coming out I understand in just a month or two. Would you be willing to tell us about it?
Joel Salatin: I would be delighted to. This is my 10th book. I call it my coming out book. Those who know me well know I have taken this voluntary moniker: Christian Libertarian Environmentalist Capitalist Lunatic Farmer and I did the start of this several years ago in order to dispel the stereotypes that this organic farmer walks into a room and everybody assumes that I love unions and I love abortion and I’m for bigger taxes and bigger government and blah, blah, blah. Just to try dispel that pigeon hole, that stereotype that we are all prone to – we want to get people in our boxes and we don’t like people that don’t fit a box. So I basically came up with a Christian Libertarian Environmentalist Capitalist Lunatic Farmer to just say, look, one minute you will think I am a communist; the next minute you will think I’m a libertarian. The next minute you will think I’m a raving environmentalist. The next moment you will think I am a complete Adam Smith capitalist. Whatever. And so it was a nice humorous way to do that.
So this book, number 10, is my coming out book and the title is The Marvelous Pigness of Pigs, Nurturing and Caring for all God’s Creation. And it is overtly Christian. It is keyed to the 34% of Americans who consider themselves part of the faith community. But it is also written for people not of faith to appreciate that—don’t blame the faith community for what unfortunately the faith community tends to say. Realize that the biblical Judeo-Christian biblical basis has been misapplied, misunderstood by the faith community.
So the thesis of the book is that all of physical creation is an object lesson of spiritual truth. So the things that we embrace in the faith community—faith, forgiveness, long range view, whosoever will, neighborliness, all of these great truths that we embrace from the pew—what do they look like on the menu. I have a book shelf full of books written about stewardship from a theological academic standpoint, but nothing really tells me: What does this look like on the plate? What does this look like on a farm? What does this look like in a food system? So it is a very visceral, dirt-under-the-fingernails approach to identifying how these spiritual principals appear in the physical world around us. Does forgiveness farming look more like a Tyson or more like a Polyface, for example.
My little half a second sound bite from the book is: This is Rachel Carson for Christians. I think because I am one, I have a lot of experience, I know the language, I know the lingo, I know the strengths and the weaknesses and so I can speak to my people, if you will, from a place of credibility and veritas rather than just be out here as a non-member finger pointing and saying “if you guys would just do this and that and the other.” You could write a similar book for any sector of the society but I really feel like there is a hunger and a yearning in the faith community and among churches just like you said. They are starting to think, “Wow, I wonder if God cares whether my refrigerator is full of Coca Cola and Velveeta cheese? Is that something that matters? And does it have an effect on the landscape? If God owns all this, well, does he have a say in this? How do I then make sure that God gets a return on his investment of creation and if ___[00:52:36].
These are questions that are just beginning to surface and it has been – I have enjoyed doing several pastoral retreats and stuff. I am just hearing people wrestle with these issues like I have never heard before. I think partly because the congregants are sick, they are old, they are desperate for how do we create messaging that is so exciting and future-valid that it attracts young people back to our congregation, back to the faith, and gives us something to get our teeth into to embrace. It is not just theoretical focus group stuff. And so this is the book and I am very excited it is going to be released May 7th under the Faith Words imprint. The cover is already on Amazon.com. I don’t know if they are taking pre-orders or not but it is very, very close.
Chris Martenson: The Marvelous Pigness of Pigs. I can’t wait for that to come out. I am going to read it because you are speaking to a topic that is near and dear to my heart. I take a slightly different orientation on it, but the common ground here is that this life we have created for ourselves is in many ways unfulfilling; it is deeply unfulfilling. I don’t know a lot of people who found their spiritual faith in Facebook, or however you want to look at that. There is just a questioning of: There has got to be more to this, right? Because let’s face it a consumer lifestyle is really not a fulfilling lifestyle. It has got a little dopamine burst when you first get the big brown truck of happiness dropping off your new purchase; it goes away in a couple of hours, right? And then you got to do it again. It really is not lasting, it is not fulfilling. So there is this deeper question that people are looking for. So thank you for daring to come out and go there for the people you can speak to.
Speaking of which, speaking to people—last thing—you have got an upcoming event in Sonoma County California, I understand, at some place called Tara Firma Farms, April 23rd. I guess that is going to be in Petaluma. What can you tell us about that?
Joel Salatin: This is at Tara Firma Farms in Petaluma and they are just doing a great job there with pastured livestock, direct marketing, working with other local farmers as part of a significant element in this local environmental food system. In a climate, I may add, that has its problems. I mean every climate has its problems, but the Mediterranean climate with the wet season and the dry season does present problems, as well as terrain. Part of California has a lot of steep terrain so it does create some issues. There is a lot of assets as well. They are definitely trying to capitalize on that. We will be doing a farm walk and a presentation there and I will be doing a public presentation there at the farm. Always delightful to spend time with the folks there at Tara Firma Farms.
Chris Martenson: Absolutely. I understand Paul Kaiser of Singing Frogs Farm will be there. Toby Hemingway, the Permaculture writer. Robb Wolf—I understand he is planning on coming too, he of the Paleo movement.
Joel Salatin: Really? Sounds like you have more information than I do.
Chris Martenson: I know Robb. He is so excited that he would get to meet you there. So anyway, we will include a link to that in the write up that accompanies this podcast so folks can learn more about how to attend that event. And also your book as well. We just want more people to know about what you are doing and why you are doing it and how you are doing it, and so we will make that as easy as possible. Thank you so much for your time today, Joel. As always, a huge pleasure. Very informative and thought provoking.
Joel Salatin: Thank you, Chris. My pleasure.
Photo credit: The Polyface Farm website
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