Lunatic farmer Joel Salatin in B.C.

From Randy Shore at the Vancouver Sun:

Farmer Joel Salatin spoke to a Vancouver audience last month. Photo via Vancouver Sun.

While the world reels from global oil shock and rising food prices, the time is ripe to revolutionize the way we produce food and local food systems, according to evangelizing farmer Joel Salatin.

Dubbed the High Priest of the Pasture by the New York Times, Salatin says the notion that local food is the sole province of foodies and the rich is outdated and possibly dangerous to our survival.

“We are in the midst of a local food tsunami and the integrity of our food systems is in question,” said Salatin, a disgruntled former newspaper reporter and now author and highly sought-after public speaker. “It’s time to capitalize on the renewed interest in food and many, many farmers are already doing that.”

The rise of farmers’ markets, growing support for local sustainable food systems and a resurgence of interest in small-scale market farming is evidence that the first breath of revolution has already come to B.C.

The necessary infrastructure is on the way.

Vancouver Farmers’ Markets and a local consortium called Local Food First are raising funds to build a local food hub called the New City Market, a multi-purpose building that is envisioned to house indoor and outdoor farmers’ markets, local food processing, warehouse space and retail.

Salatin will bring his once-considered-radical message to this weekend’s food security conference hosted by the B.C. Association of Farmers’ Markets and the Richmond Food Security Society.

“This is a moment in history in which we can change the way we farm to be transparent and sustainable, creating nutrient-dense, ecologically friendly food,” he said in an interview. Salatin touts the decentralization of food systems from the global and continental scale to what he calls “local food sheds.”

Up to half of all the food grown in North America is lost to spoilage due to processing, packaging, storage and shipping, all products of a food system that is overly centralized, he said.

“By creating local food sheds, with a smaller geographical footprint, what we will end up with is a symbiotic, integrated, collaborative relationship between food systems, the people and the place we live,” he said. Boulevards and yards are spaces that could grow food, space that you seldom see wasted on lawns in countries such as Italy where land is scarce and precious.

“In the U.S. we have 35 billion acres of lawn,” he laughed, but not too hard.

Reliance on food from abroad and food produced with huge petroleum energy inputs leaves communities at the mercy of world events that are beyond our control.

It also ignores an essential truth about farming.

Food production is at its heart a biological and not an industrial process.

Salatin thinks about the small processes and dreams them bigger.

“You can’t transfer an industrial food system into an urban setting. You can’t move an intensive battery chicken barn into the city, but if there are chickens outside the kitchen window, they can eat the scraps, produce eggs that go back into the kitchen and none of the food scraps had to be transported anywhere,” he said. “Eggs are actually part of the recycling system.”

Expand that kind of closed-system thinking to a commercial scale.

“By growing food in a diverse, multi-species environment you can raise way more product per square yard than a mono-crop farm, what we typically think of as a farm,” Salatin said.

Salatin’s Polyface farm in Swoope, Va., produces beef, pork, poultry and eggs without the use of chemical fertilizers. His free-ranging beef cattle graze on pasture that is a blend of 40 different plants, nutritionally dense and soil enriching, the polar opposite of industrial-scale fertilizer-dependent monoculture. When the cows move on, the poultry follows in a perpetual ballet of feeding, digesting and fertilizing, the old-fashioned way. Except that Salatin is anything but old-fashioned in his approach….”

Read the whole Vancouver Sun story here.

Another report on the event from Tamara Leigh, in “Country Life in B.C.”:

Local food evangelist inspires the choir — Visionary Joel Salatin speaks in Richmond British Columbia

Joel Salatin is probably the most influential farmer of the modern day. Making headlines from the New York Times to the Stockman Grass Farmer, he is articulate, passionate, controversial and entertaining. He was recently in B. C. where the B. C. Association of Farmers’ Markets teamed up with the Richmond Food Security Society for a conference called “Working Together to Strengthen Our Local Food System”

Stepping up to the microphone in Steveston, the high priest of the local food movement was all business. The trademark straw hat and suspenders, replaced by a blue blazer and tie, he was there to “inspire the choir” and share lessons learned over nearly 30 years of alternative farming, direct marketing and local food advocacy.

Salatin kicked off the day with a marketing lesson for farmers interested in using farmers’ markets as the front line of a local food revolution.

“We are fundamentally different than the supermarket,” says Salatin. “What it can’t do is direct human contact.”

Profitability and building your customer base is a function of relationship marketing. It’s about educating, entertaining and creating a safe and inviting space for the customer to engage in.

“We have a tremendous amount of culinary ignorance,” says Salatin. “We need to create an environment of edu-tainment at markets. People need recipes. They need to learn what to do with the food they buy.”
He encourages farmers to do everything they can to differentiate the products that they sell at the market from “industrial food”. Present local food as safer, demonstrate the value of whole food over processed food and ultimately turn the consumer into an ambassador for a local food movement.

“It’s our responsibility to make sure these people at the farmer’s markets are scared to death to go into the supermarkets.” says Salatin, referring to what he terms this “inherent pathogenicity of industrial food”.

“It’s education by confrontation,” he says. “We have to confront them with their ignorance.”

Salatin described a 10-point scale of consumer food awareness, ranging from the Walmart shopper to someone who was harvesting their edible landscape. The dedicated farmers’ market shopper was about a 7.

Leveling a challenge to the farmers in the room, he declared : “It’s our responsibility to move people up a digit on the scale to penetrate the culture and move people.”
Moving people is something that Salatin knows how to do. He does 70-80 speaking engagements a year at colleges, universities, local food groups and slow food events. He has written six books, and was featured as the grass-roots farmer in Michael Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma. The family farm, Polyface Inc., has been featured in Smithsonian Magazine, National Geographic and Gourmet.

Salatin has come to embody the face of local food, recruiting the consumer public and urban foodies as advocates and missionaries for a growing local food movement. He’s not particularly interested in engaging the “world food juggernaut” that runs industrial agriculture.

Asked if there is an equivalent to his consumer scale of awareness for producers in large-scale agriculture, Salatin says no.  “I don’t see a way to have a CAFO ( Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) that’s acceptable,” he says. “These are two separate paradigms that are highly incompatible”.

“The industrial model views life from a mechanical paradigm. Our side views life from a biological paradigm,” says Salatin. “Do you see the world as interchangeable parts, or a whole that has integrity?”

Confident in the commercial productive success of his farming methods, Salatin focuses on “inspiring the choir”, rather than pushing his agenda against agro-industry.

We are not talking about a food system that localizes industrialization,” he says. “We are talking about local integration, a fundamentally different, integrated relational system”.   In the United States, less than one percent of the population is growing food for the population. In Canada, the farmer population hovers around two percent. It’s a situation without historical precedent, and one that Salatin feels needs to be addressed.

“It’s a macro-civilization question: Can a culture that has less than one percent of the population growing their food survive?” he says. “I say no, we can not survive that level of separation from our ecological umbilical. It’s going to require the participation of more people.”   The case for sustainable local food systems is often dismissed with the argument that they will never be able to feed the world. Salatin bristles.

“The most productive land is land with intensive, complex, relationships,” he says. “Synergistic, stackable systems are ‘way more productive than conventional agriculture. We need diversified farms, not single space monoculture.”
Salatin’s Polyface farm raises cattle, pigs and chickens, as well as garden vegetables. He runs the different species in a synergistic system that breaks the pathogen cycle. The animals do much of the heavy lifting on the farm – fertilizing and aerating the soil, and managing waste. It’s a system Salatin describes as being part of the ecological pattern.   “We want to allow every plant and animal to have a habitat that allows it to express its essence of being – the pigness of the pig, the cowness of the cow.”
To the critics who say there’s not enough land to sustain this model of agriculture, Salatin points to the 31 million acres of lawn in the United States, and another 36 million acres housing and feeding recreational horses. Under cultivation, those 71 million acres of land could provide enough food for the entire country.

“Farmers markets are the first steps a community takes when they start connecting the dots,” says Salatin
“It’s the fledgling recognition in a community that food, farming and the local economy are important.”
As the avant-garde of agriculture, the place where consumer meets farmer for the first time, farmers markets have an important role to play in building and sustaining local food systems. Having an integrated food network and regulatory environment that supports local-scale agricultural entrepreneurship are important factors for success.

“Innovation always happens with embryonic prototypes. If it’s too big, it won’t get birthed,” Salatin explains. “Hundreds of thousands of innovations in the U.S. And Canada are stillborn. That’s why we have such a lethargic local food system.”

Salatin calls on producers, processors, accountants, marketers, distributors and patrons to work together to re-localize the food system.

“Every one of us fits in there somewhere,” he says. “Let’s look for that place of ministry, and find the position that we can fill. Let’s reach for that re-localizing of our food system”


Country Life in BC April 2011 Vancouver British Columbia

The event announcement

Joel Salatin’s latest book is titled “The Sheer Ecstacy of being a Lunatic Farmer”.

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