Joel has been dubbed the “world’s most innovative farmer” by TIME Magazine and is known around the world for challenging the conventional farming model. He farms in a way that heals the land, heals the food, heals the economy, and heals the culture.
In Part 1 of the two-part feature we chatted about what regenerative farming is, how animals have a vital role to play in healing marginal land and why we should care about where our food comes from.
This week we continue the conversation and dive deep into the big question… is there a place for meat on the table when the world’s population reaches the predicted 10 billion people around the year 2050.
I was inundated with heaps of positive feedback from Part 1 and I have no doubt that you’ll find Part 2 just as entertaining and informative.
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You refer to yourself as a Christian libertarian environmentalist capitalist lunatic. What does this mean?
I said it years ago when I got tired of being pigeon-holed. So I created this moniker just for fun. Yes, I am Christian, I believe that ultimately God owns all this stuff and I’m simply a caretaker of it. I am just like any caretaker who is responsible for whether that stuff gets better, worse, lost or protected. I need to leave it in better shape than I found it.
The libertarian part is that I’m truly a liberty freedom lover and I think that most of our problems can be solved by more freedom rather than government interference. I’m not an anarchist but I do have a great deal of faith in the market’s ability to adjust when people have information. The reason my heart is so soft towards journalists is that I see all parts of journalism as being the ultimate path of wise decision making within a population. The powers-that-be they always have an agenda. There is nothing that happens in a seat of power that is not agenda driven, they always have a hidden deal going down. So I have a great deal of faith when people are responsible for their decision making. When they have responsibility, people tend to rise to the occasion, find the information and actually make a decent decision. When people are deprived of decision making ability this dis-empowers people to where they become lethargic. The problem is this always eventuates into tyranny and lack of knowledge among the people.
The environmentalist aspect is that I do think that we must embrace ecological integrity. You usually don’t see libertarian-ism and environmentalism put together. I use this juxtapose to help people understand while I am libertarian, environmentalism creates a boundary on my freedom. If we are free to do anything we want than we are like a train without a train track. That’s not good freedom as the train doesn’t function very well without a track.
I’m not a pure capitalist. I do believe that businesses need to make a profit, we should have lower taxes. Let people keep their money and accumulate capital so they can do projects and make investments etc. But capitalism is bounded by libertarian-ism. Much of our Western capitalism today is essentially capitalist by favours with government entities and bureaucrats to concessionise their businesses which is not libertarian.
Several years ago I toyed with the word lunatic because in the greater agriculture orthodox I’m considered a complete lunatic. This is because we don’t do anything the orthodoxy says we’re supposed to do. We’re supposed to build confinement houses to put the animals in, use vaccinations, and heal diseases with pharmaceuticals instead of genetic or production model changes. The very fact that we would even ask, can we make happy chickens, happy tomatoes, and happy pigs; that’s considered lunacy! The fact that we compost instead of buying chemical fertiliser; our neighbours they don’t even know the word compost, they say we’re putting mulch on our fields! We use the terms carbon centricity or multi-speciation and this does not even exist in the vocabulary of orthodox agriculture. We’ve created an entirely different language.
Do you believe there’s still a place for meat on our tables when the world’s population reaches the predicted 10 billion people around the year 2050? How can we do this without destroying our planet?
Remember at the beginning of the program I said there is no functional ecology that is animal-less. All functional ecologies, especially soil-building ecologies, are ripe with animals whether they’re domestic or wild. One of the reasons for domestic animals is that they’re easier to handle and control.
The first thing we need to address is whether or not the world is short of food. The truth is that never before in the history of civilisation have we thrown away more than 50% of our human edible food. Right now we throw away way more than we’ve ever thrown away before.
The reason is multi-faceted, it’s everything from long-term storage and sell-by dates going out, to long chains of custody through globalisation. We’re talking about tainted things like antibiotic residues in dairy products and how you have to throw away a whole tanker of milk because one farmer didn’t withdraw his cow with a mastitis outbreak in time. Some of it is infrastructure and war-lords who hold a path in Pakistan and won’t let a Red Cross truck through.
The point I’m making is we could increase the world’s population to 10 billion people tomorrow and we’d have plenty of food, the problem is distribution. You or I could suddenly snap our fingers and double the production of food in the world today, but not one single additional person would get food. The ability to feed is all about distribution, not about production. The reason that the industry and the orthodoxy loves to make people afraid about production is because they know that when people are fearful they will accept anything. They will accept all the chemicals and genetically modified organisms or any salvation the industry can offer.
You may have heard of or seen the documentary “Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret” which involves a strong push for veganism. Interestingly Italy is pushing legislation to outlaw veganism for children because there is such a big link between lack of brain function and a vegan diet. Brains need essential fatty acids especially those that come from animal and dairy products.
This documentary uses data points from what is the current agricultural orthodox. This would be a segregated factory farm, chemical-based, pillage-based, and soil-eroded with the view that manure and urine are liabilities rather than assets. They are non-carbon centric and mono-speciated. These are the data bases that “Cowspiracy” uses to make its case. The problem is that all of them are accurate. But you can’t measure what doesn’t exist. If you change the whole animal methodology than suddenly all the data points fall; you’re building soil, building water, and sequestering carbon.
The average cow days per acre (how many cows an acre will feed in a year) in our county is 80. On our farm we average more than 400 cow days per year; five times the county average. We haven’t bought a bag of chemical fertiliser or planted a seed in nearly 60 years. So what if our neighbour would do that, and his neighbour would do that? What if the whole county would do that? Suddenly production would be through the roof.
We should all pause to realise 500 years ago there was more nutrition produced in the United States (US), than there is today, even with the machinery, pillage, chemical fertilisers, pesticides, and chemical fertility products that came with the Green Revolution. This “revolution” was a tremendous charade with short-term pay offs which are now yielding more diseases, more erosion, and more dead zones the size of New Jersey and the Gulf of Mexico. The US now has 700 registered riparian dead zones, 500 years ago there were none, and these are a direct result of the kind of practices we are using. The beauty of what we have proven here on our farm is that we’ve gone from roughly a 40 cow day to a 400 cow day which is a ten-fold increase, without the use of chemical fertilisers, without planting seed, but simply by using these ancient modalities with modern infrastructure and techniques. What we’ve shown is that we can produce far more food than we can imagine.
To impugn the herbivore as bad for the environment is to deny all of the healing qualities of the herbivore in building soil and pruning the vegetation. The truth is there is no sustainable produce system that doesn’t somehow have an imported animal component to it. The animal component in the eco-system is not only essential, it’s the catalyst for everything else that happens. If you take those animals out of it, everything falls apart.
The point is we need to appreciate that as it is done now there is cause for concern but the remedy is not to eliminate animals, but to leverage them into their historic land-healing role and enjoy them.
How can we make better sustainable food choices?
The first thing is to get in your kitchen. Much of the problem with our food system is due to getting convenience processed food. Michael Pollan in his book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals” says if you’re going to shop at the supermarket at least shop the outside aisles not the inside aisles. Because that’s where all the fresh produce is plus the milk and the eggs. Use your kitchen for preparing, preserving, and packaging your raw foods. That deprives much of the industry and orthodoxy of its value-added and adulteration of stuff.
Once you’re in your kitchen you begin to handle food and you begin to build a skill level in your taste, smell, and feel. People don’t know what food tastes, looks, and feels like anymore. When you begin handling the real stuff, you develop your knowledge base which is really important. It’s a shame that we have become fearful of food. Food should not be feared; it should be something that we have a great deal of faith in.
Number two is to take all of your recreational and entertainment budget for one year, in time and money, and find your integrity food sources. You can’t keep living in a celebrity, entertainment, smart phone culture and assume that everything will fix itself.
The third thing is to do something yourself just to connect with the mystery and the awesomeness of the biological world. It might be as simple as a vermi-composting kit underneath your sink, a beehive on your roof, a hanging garden off your patio. You could collaborate with a community garden. But do something just to appreciate that food world in its most basic form. Instead of getting a dog or cat, get two chickens.
So they are the three things – get in your kitchen, find your tribe, and participate in something, no matter how small, with biology.
Where can we learn more about Polyface Farm and regenerative farming?
Well there you have it, that bring us to the end of our two-part interview with Joel Salatin from Polyface Farm. In this episode we’ve covered how important it is for us all to break up with factory farm meat and if you do want to continue to include meat in your diet, to really invest in quality, ethical, organic-raised meat on a farm that utilises regenerative farming techniques. I’m really keen to hear what you thought of this two-part feature with Joel Salatin and whether this is a topic that you would like to hear and learn more about.
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