I first “met” Joel Salatin through Michael Pollan’s book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.” Pollan uses Salatin’s Virginia farm, Polyface, as an example of small-scale farm that strives to understand the ecological systems on his farm. Polyface Farm also makes an appearance in the documentary, “Food, Inc.”
Salatin describes his farm as “a tightly choreographed ballet.” Cows become lawn mowers for pasture, cutting down the grass and restarting its “growth engine” — much like pruning. Chickens follow behind the cows, pecking through their waste (read: poop) for larvae and other goodies — because cow manure contains seven essential enzymes necessary for bird digestion. And so on.
“Folks, that’s normal,” Salatin might say.
Not so normal? Confined animal feeding operations of 2,000 or more cows housed inside and fed grain. Dumping animals’ waste into lagoons instead of using it as fertilizer for the soil. America’s obsession with cheap foods. The struggles of a small-scale farm in getting their products certified organic and sold in local stores. Government’s overreaching hand.
Salatin goes on, touching on everything from child-rearing to the proposed tax on soda. To generalize, Salatin argues that a lot of our “improvements” that arose over the last century have not been improvements at all. Instead, we’ve wandered so far from normal that we’re struggling to even find our way back.
It’s a hefty, 354-page read, and it covers an incredibly broad range of agriculture-related topics. Salatin describes himself as a “Christian libertarian environmentalist capitalist lunatic,” and his opinions do indeed cover all bases.
And at the risk of sounding abrupt, it was a great read… for the first 150 pages or so. But as he dove deeper into the role of government and the struggles of regulation and strayed further from actual food and farming, his writing became less compelling for me. I try to avoid political extremes, and I bristled at the political opinion that creept in toward the end.
True, it was eye-opening to read of the bureaucracy that a smaller farm struggles with. And for someone who is a farmer, knows one, or is interested in becoming one, this might be a great read the full way through. Some may even argue it’s an important read for every food consumer. But I, for one, wish it had focused more on the food and less on the government red tape.