For more than 15 years I’ve known about Joel Salatin . Without exaggeration, he IS the cutting edge of the food freedom movement, the family farm’s rebirth, and the New Agriculture, holistic farming that works with nature instead of wrestling her to death with chemicals. On his own Polyface farm in Swoope, Va., he has developed techniques for raising animals that require very low inputs but return very high profits, overthrowing industrial agricultural orthodoxy. Through his books – Pastured Poultry Profits, Holy Cows & Hog Heaven, Salad Bar Beef, Family Friendly Farming — and innumerable columns and articles in “Acres, USA,” “Stockman Grass Farmer,” and other publications he has also taught his techniques to a new generation of farm families.
In September and October 2006 I published an interview with Joel, one of the first times I ever had to run an interview in two parts, and, in the opinion of my children, who are never wrong, the best Moneychanger interview ever up to that time. Everything we discussed was so enlightening that I couldn’t cut it down. Besides, our phone conversation was like 440 volt lines arcing: Joel Salatin is just plain fun. Introducing that interview, I wrote: “You know it’s going to be a great interview when you call and the interviewee’s wife says, ‘He’s out delivering a load of firewood right now, but he’ll be back soon.’ Reminded me of Cato the Elder (234 B.C – 149 B.C.). Ambassadors eager to bribe him found him in his farm house, boiling turnips. When they offered him gold, he responded, ‘Do you think a man who is satisfied with a supper like this could be tempted with gold?’”
If Joel’s influence were limited to agriculture, you might question why I would interview him. However, as important as agriculture is, he represents something far more important: a colossal shift from the industrial to the household economy. Thousands, perhaps millions – of families across America are turning to the household economy to recover their freedom. This constitutes a pervasive sea change away from industrial economy and its inhumane social relations to a more efficient, self-examined, pleasurable, and humane society.
As the old ways die and the new bloom this struggle will rage viciously, roiling economy and society for the next 50 to 100 years. Eventually, Mr. Salatin and the innovators will triumph. In 2008 I interviewed Joel again about his book, Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal: War Stories from the Local Food Front. In it Mr. Salatin recounts his confrontations with bureaucrats and bureaucracy that prevent serving his customers.
At first glance you might snort, “Well, that’s about farming! What does that have to do with the rest of us?” Simply this: small farming is only a particular case of the general American disease. Under cover of promoting public health and safety, over the past 100 years government has built up regulatory bureaucracies that effectively block all competition with existing businesses, which translates, “corporations.”
Worse still, rights at common law, from farming to barbering to butchering to tailoring, are suppressed under zoning, licensing, and taxing laws, not to mention laws and regulations for health and safety. Not only does this legal quicksand rob us of our rights as workers and consumers, but it also blocks us from competing in the market – forever.
The so-called American dream – hardworking, starry- eyed boy becomes wealthy after a lifetime of faithful work – has become a bitter delusion under Big Brother’s dead hand, working hand in dead hand with giant corporations.
So I am offering you this interview with Joel Salatin, dear readers, not for the particulars of hardships facing farmers alone, but as an example of the roadblocks facing any entrepreneur and innovator doing business in the American economy. Until we remove these roadblocks we are all – producers and consumers – simply slaves to government and their ruler, corporations.
Recently Joel has published his latest opus, Folks, This Ain’t Normal. Face it: most social critics are gloomy downers. After three minutes listening to them you want to go hide your head in a whiskey bottle. Not Joel Salatin. He is so sane, so normal, so well-grounded, so earnest, so common-sensical, and so cheerfully funny that you don’t want to put his book down. He refers to himself as a “Christian-libertarian- environmentalist-lunatic farmer.”
Y’all can visit Mr. Salatin’s website, www.polyfacefarms. com, and order his books there. Mr. Salatin kindly made time for this interview on 11 November 2011. Without hesitation or reservation, I heartily recommend you read all of Joel Salatin’s books, but especially Folks, This Ain’t Normal. — F. Sanders.
First civilization to have no larder
Moneychanger You called your new book, Folks, This Ain’t Normal. What’s not normal?
Salatin So many things today aren’t normal. Just a quick sound bite would include, “We’re the first civilization in history that routinely eats food that you can’t pronounce.” [Laughter] Also the first civilization that eats food that you can’t make in your kitchen. Ever tried to make high fructose corn syrup or monosodium glutamate? We’re the first civilization that views children as a liability. Rather than viewing children as an asset, we talk about the cost of raising children, partly because we’re the first civilization that ever raised chore-less children.
We’re the first civilization that has no larder. In the past, if you wanted to see the food in a village or a town or a teepee, the food was nearby, secured in the ‘larder’ around the home. Today, our larder exists in some Costco warehouse 100 miles away or farther. Our own cities, even our large cities, don’t have any more than a three-day food supply.
Moneychanger Wait, Joel, I’ve heard that statistic often, but, three days? Are you sure?
Salatin Three days, three days. This is an amazingly abhorrent society we live in. We’re the first society that’s tried concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). The first one in which most food is not produced in multi-speciated, diversified, symbiotic, relationally-oriented systems, but rather in mono-species, simple systems where you have to walk through sheep dip and put on a hazardous material suit cause before you get near the animal because you might infect him. [Laughter]
Finally, we’re the first civilization with a government food police bureaucracy to tell the citizenry that eating Twinkies, Cocoa Puffs, and Mountain Dew is safe but raw milk, compost grown tomatoes, and Aunt Matilda’s Homemade Pickles are hazardous substances.
Moneychanger You’ve been in the forefront of fighting to get government out of the food business, i.e., to secure Food Freedom for farmers and consumers, so that people can eat what they want, farmers can grow what they want, and they can do business together. When I cast my mind back through history before 1906, none of that control or interference appears. No one in his right mind would have dared challenge the axiom that every farmer and every consumer has a common law right to do business together as they see fit.
Food at heart of personal autonomy
Salatin That’s right. We’re reaching back to the Magna Carta and the common law – due process and the right to contract. Our communist/socialist government has routinely pierced that, although we have a right to do business with each other, as long as we are not coerced. That’s none of the government’s business.
This goes to the very heart of the individual’s personhood, his personal autonomy, and his ownership of his own person. We have the freedom to worship, to speak, to assemble, to own guns. What good are those without the freedom to choose the fuel that becomes flesh of our flesh and bone of our bones and gives energy to go shoot, pray, and preach?
Moneychanger No good at all. If they control the food you eat, they control you.
Salatin Absolutely. And, if we admit that the government owns your physical person, can ownership in other areas be far behind?
Moneychanger Of course not. The most disgusting thing about watching this tragedy is the smarmy self-righteousness that government controllers wrap themselves in. After all, they know better than stupid farmers and consumers what they should eat.
Salatin It’s unbelievable elitism, but ironically they routinely accuse my side, the local integrity ecology friendly food movement, of elitism. “Your prices are high, only the wealthy can afford it, blah, blah, blah.” Who are the real elitists? Government agents and Monsanto types who arrogantly believe that they have the right to determine what you and I ingest.
Moneychanger They always play the same trump card, “This is for your own health and safety. It’s dangerous to eat that food.”
Salatin Always. They absolutely, sincerely believe that if you and I had the freedom to make these food choices, that in Indiana Jones’ words, “We will choose poorly.” [Laughter]
I see huge similarities between Food Freedom right now and homeschooling 30 years ago. The government attack on Food Freedom is identical. The issues are identical. The verbiage is identical to 30 years ago, when parents were routinely carted off to jail and children put in foster care for harboring such a negligent and violently anti-social notion as homeschooling.
Credentialed academic elitists peppered the front pages with predictions that we wouldn’t be able to build enough jails for this new generation of homeschooled miscreants, or enough insane asylums for these non-socialized children. Fortunately our culture recognized, over time and through the work of true heroes, that educational choice actually enriches diversity and thinking ability.
Food freedom fight traces steps homeschoolers’ took
Moneychanger Those experts keep awfully quiet now that homeschoolers are winning the National Spelling Bee and placing first in college entrance exams.
Salatin Today even naysayers wouldn’t argue that criminalizing homeschooling would have made our culture richer. So, for now at least, freedom has essentially won that educational choice. Rhe question then was, “Who owns the child?” We won that one. Our culture came out on that issue’s right side. The question today is, Who owns the person and freedom of choice in food?
Today the credentialed experts are saying, “Raw milk will kill you. We can’t allow people to have this choice. They will patronize dirty farmers. We’ll have to build hundreds of hospitals to handle all the people poisoned by contaminated food.” [Laughter] So I see the two issues as identical.
Moneychanger You realize the food freedom movement, which most people don’t even know about yet, is the salient, the wedge, the sharp point of turning back to freedom that will overthrow the dictatorship imposed on this country over the last 146 years?
Salatin Yes, you’re right. If we allowed true food freedom in this country –where any farmer could produce and process his own food and sell it to anybody anywhere and anybody that wanted to could come and get it –it would unleash the current stigmatized, marginalized, demonized, and criminalized but latent entrepreneurial food cottage industry farm-to-marketplace, and would absolutely turn the whole food system on its head.
F$1,800 a year — a lot for your local economy
Moneychanger Joel, I have turned blue in the face telling people, “Listen, you want to create jobs? Here’s how: restore your local economy and begin with agriculture.” According to the almighty USDA (and you know you can trust a government agency, right?), every man, woman, and child spends about F$1,800 a year on food.
Multiply F$1,800 by your county’s population; that cash flow is enormous, plenty big enough to build an economy around. Right now all that cash flow is being drained away from your county to buy food somewhere else and to pay people somewhere else to raise food when folks in your own county – your neighbors — can do it better, fresher, and more nutritiously.
Salatin People can’t swallow the economics of this because they look around and see fields brimming with cattle and berries and corn and beans and say, “Where will this economic development come from?” They don’t understand that on average only five percent of the food consumed in that county is produced there. The food they see being produced is exported to some other county, far away.
So trucks and shipping containers are passing in the night. If that food stayed at home and
was grown, processed, marketed, advertised, distributed where it’s produced, the current jobs in huge mega-processing facilities and cities and the subsidized distribution network would come to your county – including the jobs for soldiers the US sends to Iraq to make sure we get fuel. I know that’s a very aggressive statement.
Moneychanger It’s a true statement, though. It’s accurate.
Salatin Not to mention all the other subsidies needed to keep the present food system afloat. Every morsel of food travels 1,500 miles from field to fork. How much does that cost? How efficient is that? If all that money were, instead, captured by your local community, the rural and local community would have demand and money aplenty to work with. A lot of that money would be taken away from the uses and abuses that the Tea Party and the Occupy Wall Street movement don’t like. Those are the very things in the global elitism agenda leave that so many of us feeling
utterly disenfranchised and disempowered. Local economic renewal and local agriculture would take money that’s currently cycling up there in that global imperial banking community and bring it home to local community pockets.
Moneychanger And keep it home.
Promises of New Agriculture
Salatin Absolutely. That’s where that money comes from to build local economies.
Moneychanger I call your kind of farming the New Agriculture because it will replace the old agriculture within 25 years or less. One of the strongest criticisms raised against the New Agriculture is health and safety: “Oh, you’ll kill yourself eating that stuff.”
The second objection is that the New Agriculture is inefficient: small farmers are inefficient compared to a “factory in the field” that plows 40 rows at a time with gigantic machinery, yak, yak, yak. How do you answer that?
Salatin It’s simply not true. There are different ways to measure efficiency. First of all, the large mega-farms employ the most soil-destructive paradigm ever invented in humankind’s history.
Moneychanger Wait, do you mean that we ought to include in their economic cost the destruction they leave in their wake, not just their direct dollar and cents costs?
Salatin Yes, absolutely. No civilization can be any wealthier or more economically stable than its soil fertility. History is riddled with civilizations that rose and fell on their soil’s fertility and their own internal food security.
Moneychanger Babylon and Greece come quickly to mind.
Salatin Absolutely. Rome, too. That’s the cycle. Goodness, look at the Old Testament and Israelites cycle. Look at the promises of the gift of good land, flowing with milk and honey. If you will do this, the land will prosper and if you don’t do this, the land won’t prosper. The intricate tie between taxation and agrarian default and abusing the land runs throughout the Bible and history.
Moneychanger The Bible’s jubilee system would keep as many people as possible on the land and spread ownership among the most owners possible. The jubilee also prevents a debt burden growing so large that it squeezes people into poverty. All debts are limited to seven years, then written off. Every fiftieth (7 x 7) year, all the land returns to the original family owners.
Efficiencies of scale don’t work in farming
Salatin My point is that the current supposedly “efficient” economy doesn’t account for soil loss. But even if you view efficiency only as production per square yard, then a small, better cared-for, diversified, multi-speciated, relationally oriented, complex, diverse system out-produces any mono-species, mono-culture production model. Take the aggregate production from that 10,000 acre farm in Nebraska with giant tractors and combines and break it into 1,000 one-hundred-acre farms with diversified livestock and diversified feed, and shift from producing annuals to perennials. The aggregate production would be substantially greater. Per square foot, a backyard garden is always way more productive than a square mile of industrial tomatoes in California’s San Joaquin Valley.
Moneychanger Anybody who ever tried to eat all the stuff pouring out of his summer garden knows that. Before he passed away, I used to talk fairly often Charlie Walters, editor and founder of Acres USA. He used to repeat to me most adamantly (and I soon learned that when Charlie told you that a rooster dips snuff you could look under his wing for the brush, because Charlie knew all his facts and never exaggerated) that small farmers are far more efficient than mega- farmers. Do you see that as a fruit of management?
Salatin Well, it is. That brings me to the third point. The critics of the New Agriculture are confusing efficiency with people.
Apply the same thinking we have in our food system to education. This teacher is really excellent, so we’re going to create economies of scale [laughter] in the classroom, by putting 500 students there. Forget this 20-student deal, we’ll put in 500 students and get some efficiency here. Does anyone think that will deliver the same educational punch with 500 students that it does with 20? In the same way, people look at farming and view more people involved as a sign of inefficiency when actually it’s a sign that better management increases productivity enough to pay for more people to be better managers. It’s a total different kind of economy.
Essentially, our culture has relegated farming to the dregs of society. Everybody assumes that it’s not profitable, it’s not fun, it’s smelly, and it’s a terrible occupation. So we want to entrust stewardship of our landscape to C-minus to F-plus students, but our best and brightest we encourage to become attorneys and bankers and accountants and engineers. No wonder that our landscape cries out for its greatest lost resource: true, entrepreneurial, and (what I call) “Jeffersonian” intellectual agrarians.
Please come back to Nooganomics.com for Part II of the Moneychanger interview with Joel Salatin.
From the November 2011 Moneychanger. Used by permission. Franklin Sanders is publisher of The Moneychanger, a privately circulated monthly newsletter that focuses on gold and silver and the application of Christianity to economics, culture and family life. We have subscribed to this newsletter for more than 20 years, and consider it a must read. F$99 a year. Franklin is an active trader in gold and silver (he’ll swap your green Federal Reserve rectangles and give you real money in return). He trades with savers and investors outside Tennessee. Subscribe to his daily price report and market commentary on the website. F. Sanders, The Moneychanger, P.O. Box 178, Westpoint, Tenn. 38486 Tel. 888-218-9226.