It’s “EAT LOCAL WEEK” in Boulder county Colorado this week. All kinds of events going on that people can attend, lectures, workshops and bicycle tours of local farms that grow and raise sustainable food. So after checking out the roster of events, I saw much to my delight, that charismatic and well read farmer Joel Salatin, the most famous sustainable farmer in the nation, was doing a lecture on eating locally. I bought my ticket and last Monday I took in 2 hours of sheer delight, listening to Joe make fun of the USDA, Monsanto, our food system and food producers that destroy our environment, raise junk and disrespect the very animals that feed us.
The first time I had ever heard of Joel Salatin was when I rented the movie Food Inc. Joel is interviewed and featured in a good portion of the film, on location, from his place at Polyface Farm in Swoope, Virginia. Standing there with a live chicken tucked under his arm as he talked, it was obvious to me then that he is the kind of man that would be a hoot to drink a beer with and someone I could learn a whole lot, of a lot from. It’s no wonder the man was also one of the key people covered in the book, “Omnivore’s Dilemma” as well as the documentary “Fresh”. This is a man who lives, breathes and does, everything that he preaches, on his own farm. Raising livestock organically and on grassy open spaces he likes to refer to as “salad bars” out in fresh air and sunshine. He uses the no bar code theory and does no advertising, no selling at whole sale price, no shipping to customers or selling to grocery stores. People have to buy from him and off of his farm directly and they know about him by word of mouth and word of mouth alone. He will not sell to anyone who is further than 4 hours away from his farm. He believes that people should form relationships with local food farmers in their own area, get to know them, support them and buy from them directly. He has no desire to expand his farm beyond where it currently is which is about 550 acres of grassy land across the Shenandoah Valley and is confident in the message he sends and teaches.
The Messiah of truly fresh food, I took my chair in the theatre the night amongst 1000 other people and waited for Joel to open his food bible to preach. I expected him to come out wearing the same cowboy hat that he wore in Food Inc. and with perhaps even a pair of suspenders holding his pants up, but that is not the man who walked onto the stage. Dressed in a polo shirt, khaki pants, tennis shoes and no cowboy hat, he ambled up to the podium and greeted the audience. It was obvious within the first minute of his opening statement that as ordinary as he looked, his speech that night was going to be anything, but that. Hopping around the stage, and waving his arms up in the air in an almost floating like motion, he imitated the disembodiment of people with their food as he likes to describe them, I laughed until I was sick. He pointed off into the air at nothing in particular as he spoke, about how little people know about their food and how they float around and assume that Washington will take care of it. A burst of laughter came from the audience, because as he said it, it really did sound ridiculous. He used words like chickeness and pigness to describe how we have removed these animals from what they do best and that is being a chicken or a pig, or a cow, or a rabbit or whatever. We keep them in big enclosed barns away from the fresh air and sunshine, crowded and in dirty conditions. They suck in the contaminated highly ammoniated air, day in and day out which causes lesions and open sores in their throats and larynx. These open wounds give a great opportunity and provide an opening for salmonella and E coli to enter the body of these animals and then travel on down through them and straight in to the very meat that we humans like to eat.
Joel talked about bully corporate companies like Monsanto, that somehow managed to put a Patent on a live seed and can and has sued small farmers when Monsanto’s seed blows onto someone else’s farm and gets mixed up with that farm’s seed. He likened it to an owner deliberately turning a male dog out into the neighborhood and having him impregnate the neighbor’s female dogs without permission or knowledge to that neighbor and then going back and suing that same neighbor when their dog has puppies, for their share of the royalties. He finds it humorous when people don’t know or acknowledge that food is in fact, a political issue, when politics has everything to do with our food system. At one point during the lecture, he glanced out at the audience and said “I think everybody here eats, don’t they?” As simple as it sounds, it was hilarious and that also got a roar out of the crowd. Why would something that each and every one of us needs to literally be able to live, be such a non interest to us as a society? According to Joel, these days people see food as a necessary pit stop to everything else we do in life. We have shoved it aside and know nothing about it. He stated that we should only eat food that was available before 1900 (and before processed foods came into the market) and then joked that we are safe, because hot dogs were made in Chicago back in the 1890’s.
Facts given by Joel Salatin:
The average food today travels 1500 miles to get to the consumer.
The average city has only 3 days worth of food in their main stream grocery stores. So if there was ever an emergency, or a city was cut off from the rest of the nation, you would have about 3 days worth of food to take care of everyone and then it would be gone. (Somehow Katrina came to mind when he made this fact known to the audience.) If truck drivers ever went on strike there would be a lot of hungry people.
Today, half of Polyface Farms own customers do not know that chickens even have bones. (The most chicken they have ever seen is the boneless breast in the supermarkets where they buy it)
Biological things can heal, but mechanical cannot. Our food system is mechanical. (Think GMO’s, genetically modified organisms, which Joel greatly opposes)
Nobody has died from drinking RAW milk in decades, but thousands of people will die from falling down the stairs in the next few years, maybe we should outlaw them. (When I looked it up personally, there is only 2 reported deaths for RAW milk from the years of 1998 to 2008, which are pretty good odds I think)
United States only utilizes 2 percent of local food that is grown, for the consumers of that same community.
We are a culture of guinea pigs
USDA Laws are not about safety, they are about market access and control.
He believes in secure community and that if a town wants to allow local farmers to sell directly to their local consumers, it is none of the governments business.
He believes that with localization of food, it would create jobs, unity amongst community and family and helps the earth to heal from the mess we have made on it.
The industrial economy had divorced us from our ecological womb
We think that localization is up to that guy (he points into the distance at no one in particular)
No questions were off guard that night at his lecture, I believe the man can hold his own with the best of them. He is an accomplished, farmer, author, philosopher and speaker. Well read in all aspects of horticulture, science, farming, market access, animal husbandry and overall general health of people and food, I have never listened to a more confident and well informed speaker as this. Receiving over a half a dozen standing ovations during the course of his lecture, I left their feeling more enlightened than I ever have before.
There were 3 things that Joel Salatin asked for the audience to do at the end of his lecture.
1. Rediscover your kitchen
2. Go on a food treasure hunt in your community, patronize your local food producers and try to fill your pantry and refrigerators with as much food that does not have a bar code as possible.
3. Grow something yourself. Even if it is only in pots. This gives you a humility to a design that is much bigger and grander than us ~ and that is a good thing.
In his closing statement for the night, Joel Salatin left Boulder Colorado with what he calls his final permaculture blessing:
May all your carrots grow long and straight
May the foxes be struck blind by your chickens
May your customers love cooking your food in their kitchens
May the rains be gentle on your pastures
May your fields grow with soil
May your earthworms dance with celebration
May the wind be always at your back
Your children rise up and call you blessed
And may we leave a better world than we found