Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Are you with me?

This is one of the catch phrases I will probably remember from a seminar I went to on Monday. I was lucky enough to spend the whole day listening to and learning from Joel Salatin from Polyface farms in the US. What an inspiring day, and just what I needed in the middle of winter to get revved up to do "better" in the garden and with the land next year. Are you with me seemed to be a favourite phrase to make sure we were all keeping up with where he was heading... as he often headed off on many tangents before tying them all together for the "aha" moment.

My head is still buzzing with everything I saw and heard, but in particular I was really inspired by the way they used and re-used everything, and how they stacked and layered animals on the farm to reduce pathogens, and make the most of every input and output they have. I learned a lot about soils too, and making the most of any microclimates you have around.

Joel has a particularly pragmatic approach to farming in my view - he declares himself a capitalist (among other things) and made no apologies for wanting to make money from his farming, and get the best return from any investments he makes in infrastructure. Another phrase that made me laugh in this respect was "It's easier to pick a man's pocket when you're hugging him" - used when illustrating the point that he doens't mind if the "dot-com boomers" come in and buy their "land yachts" as he called them and then want to buy chickens - he's happy to raise and sell them to them.

What is refreshing though is that none of this capitalism comes at the cost of animals - all the animals get to express their innate traits, and more than once he referred to them as co-labourers - using pigs to plough and help regenerate pastureland as well as aerating compost, rabbits and chickens and turkeys as lawnmowers etc.  It is a highly managed system - cows are moved daily - but just looking at the quality of his grasslands (which were the worst farmlands around 50 years ago), and the fast regeneration once animals are moved, it clearly works. His farm also generates enough income to employ 1 person per 25 acres. I suspect many farmers would be pretty happy with that kind of return. Even more inspiring is all of this he's done in a  climate that has more extreme temperatures then I have here (+40 to -20), and less average rainfall.

Of course there was a lot more in the days talks and Q&A sessions, like
  • all about herbivores (well, he is a cow man!)
  • how to beat the "food police"
  • how to develop an enterprise that's easy to scale up and scale down
  • how to get into farming with no capital and no debt / raising the next generation of farmers
  • the importance of diversity in creating a stable ecosystem
  • a very entertaining introduction about how we all feel we're worse of than everyone else / how it "won't work for me"
I was, however most inspired by his obvious enthusiasm and passion - particularly as he had been in Australia for 7 days and this was his 6th seminar. However it certainly didn't show - there was no sense that he was jaded / tired or just rattling off "the same old story". He was lively, witty, funny, engaging and passionate. And not a blind passion either, but an informed passion, as he clearly reads widely and is able to draw on many sources for information.  He'd definitely make the guest list of my fantasy dinner party, and I really hope I have the chance to see him again next time he comes out. If I was 20 years younger I'd be tempted to try and get an internship on the farm, just for the experience! I don't necessarily agree with everything he said, and I'm still thinking about some things, but I can't argue that he is the most morally/ethically grounded capitalist I've ever come across :-) , and I guess that was the real core appeal for me about him. His system is on that satisfies me on both an ethical and a 'real world' level.

If you're interested in learning more about his methods you can visit the website, and there are some clips on YouTube - and I also recommend another blog I read - Throwback at Trapper Creek, where you can read about and see many of his ideas in action - not to mention some very fine recipes for pies and muffins!


Anne said...

Lucky you, I've been hearing a lot about this man and hope to put some of his ideas into practice. I just ordered two of his books.

dixiebelle said...

I am a Joel Salatin fan, and was so lucky to see him when he talked in Canberra last November, inspirational, educational and entertaining!

Dmarie said...

thanks so much for sharing...will definitely checking out your suggestions!

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