Updated: Aug 29, 2020
Series 2: Farming During COVID, Episode 4
No one likes to go to the supermarket and find key items -- from toilet paper and hand sanitizers to vegetables, flour and meat -- out of stock or rationed. You are used to abundance, options, plenty. But during COVID, a new reality rules. Even if you are getting by, you know that our food systems are shaken. Farms are essential operators. You learned this in Episode 6. And you are navigating new territory to get the food you want. Many of you are joining farm CSAs. Some of you have new chickens in your back yards, if you were lucky enough to get them early. And even more of you are starting gardens in hopes of having summer vegetables. You and folks like you are like-minded and walking a few steps in a farmer's shoes (Episode 7). Now we are diving deeper. How did we get here? Why do we have these problems? And what the heck can we do about it?
Farmer Joel Salatin, a livestock farmer from Swoope, Virginia -- who has long been the poster child for sustainable farming -- tells all... about his farm -- Polyface Farm -- and the innovations they are implementing during COVID. He talks about what's wrong with some farms and the food supply chain. If you want things to be better, Joel has some thoughts on how you might shift your mindset and your practices to ensure your own food security and to fortify the farming landscape. Tune in and take note!
IN THIS EPISODE
One guest this week. None other than Joel Salatin. Some Zoom distortion here and there, but not too bad. Next time I will go and interview him in person. But I loved sitting with him and talking, his back to a big library of books while a pesky housefly persisted. He wore suspenders over a gas-station style shirt and had a ton to say. My only regret is not to have had more time with him. Thoroughly engaging, thought provoking, warm and funny.
Joel Salatin, Farmer, Polyface Farm, Swoope, Virginia
Musings from The Lunatic Farmer -- Joel Salatin's blog
All of the photos were provided by Polyface Farm, except the one of Joel in the brown jacket. That lovely photo was provided with permission by photographer Michaelann Bresica (michaelannbresicaphotography.com)
All of the music in this episode is by Lobo Loco. All Night Long (ID 774) and Spencer Bluegrass (ID 1230) Creative Commons License (by-nc-nd)
Always thank you to the amazing farmers and farm supporters who said "Yes!" to an interview. Joel, thanks. It was a pleasure. Looking forward to another conversation soon.
For those of you who cannot listen to the podcast or prefer to read it, here's a full transcript. Please forgive any typos.
Talk Farm to Me, Season 1, Episode 8
Food Security or Insecurity? Joel Salatin Dishes on What You Can Do
Joel Salatin (00:00):
So when people started going to the supermarket saying, "Where's the the food?" Well, we local farmers, we had it. We had it in our stockpile, our inventory, because that's just the way we live. That's the way we run our business. And so, we were the ones that were able to step in and be nimble enough. So I think that's part of what's dawning on people, is they're realizing, "Where was the food?" Well, the food was in my community in these local farms.
Farm Girl (00:39):
Today on Talk Farm to M we meet a Virginia livestock farmer, who is considered the gold standard in sustainable agriculture by organic farmers around the world. Farmer, author, and lecturer Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm in Swoope, Virginia, is a prolific writer and thought leader. He likes to stir the pot to get you thinking, even if you don't agree. Today, Salatin dishes on three major issues with farming and our food system that the COVID pandemic has made more obvious, and he has some solutions too. Most of them involve you.
Farm Girl (01:29):
Welcome to Talk Farm to Me. I'm your host, Farm Girl. On Talk Farm to Me, the farmer takes center stage and we find out what they do and how they do it. And no matter how you spend your time, I'm pretty sure you have more in common with farmers than you think. So sit back and relax and I'll bring a farmer, and maybe a cow or two, right into your living room for a chat.
Farm Girl (02:03):
On 550 acres, Polyface Farm is where farmer Joel Salatin raises cows, pigs and chicken. Salatin has been known to call the meat he raises "Beyond Organic." Salatin has authored no less than 15 books, and writes and lectures prolifically across the globe. Polyface Farm is located in rural Virginia between Washington DC and Richmond. Salatin and Polyface Farm featured prominently in author Michael Pollan's 2006 New York Times bestseller, Omnivore's Dilemma, a Natural History in Four Meals. Salatin famously refused to ship Pollan any of his prized meat because Pollan lived in the Bay area. Salatin, an authentic promoter of organic local food, considered that to be too far to be within the farm's natural food shed radius. Salatin describes himself as a Christian, libertarian, environmentalist, capitalist, lunatic farmer, and is known to have some controversial opinions.
Farm Girl (03:28):
It's Spring time at Polyface Farm and Salatin and his team are immersed in the seasonal duties of running a farm. Calves and piglets are being born, chicks are hatching, they are planting the garden, repairing fences and getting everything ready for the spring season. All of the day-to-day work has put Salatin and his team in a bit of a bubble.
Joel Salatin (03:53):
The cows don't know about the Coronavirus, the chickens certainly don't, the tomato plants don't, the compost doesn't. And so, when people come into the farm store, it's hard for us to shift gears to sit in their shoes where they've been cloistered in their apartment for a month, and listening to 24/7 stream of media about, "We're all going to die."
Farm Girl (04:21):
Salatin is busy doing his work and living on a farm. He has never been more grateful to be where he is.
Joel Salatin (04:29):
If there's ever been something that makes rural living look appealing this is it. This has really brought out the difference between rural and urban. Of course, we service our urban customers, and so the stories coming in from our delivery driver are just... We can hardly imagine the hysteria, but it's real, it's there, and we're glad we're here.
Farm Girl (05:02):
Salatin recently found out that a friend of his has the Coronavirus. This makes the pandemic feel a lot closer to his farm and his home. But even before that, Polyface Farm had lost 30% of its business as its restaurant clientele shuttered their doors.
Joel Salatin (05:20):
Well, our restaurants are basically out. They're kaput. But it has been more than compensated for by the explosion in the retail.
Farm Girl (05:31):
Like many farms across the United States that had a big restaurant business, Polyface Farm is now selling what it would have sold to restaurants direct to consumers instead.
Joel Salatin (05:41):
I mean, financially this is the best thing that ever could have happened to us. We're having the best financial Spring we've ever had. There are a lot of people who are getting acquainted with, and thinking about authentic local food, who have not been in this space before.
Farm Girl (06:06):
The Coronavirus crisis has impacted daily lives across the globe in innumerable ways, with its rate of infections, hospitalizations and deaths. With some people in lockdown down at home, and other essential workers, including doctors, nurses, farmers, and others risking their lives and working around the clock, the crisis has also made more obvious some preexisting problems in the world of farming and food supply chains.
Joel Salatin (06:40):
So they say that crises don't make new trends, they simply expose trends that are already there that may not have been as obvious as they may have been otherwise.
Farm Girl (06:52):
Even before the COVID crisis hit, Salatin saw cracks in big business farming, cracks in the food supply chain, and even some cracks in how the government is handling things, one of Salatin's favorite topics. First, farming. Salatin sees some big cracks in big business farming, many of which are exacerbated and getting more attention under COVID.
Joel Salatin (07:20):
There's a big difference between farmers that are in this wholesale treadmill, like a Tyson chicken farmer or a Smithfield pig farmer, or goodness, somebody who's growing corn for Cargill. I don't want to see anybody fail, but I think, and I'll make a lot of people mad here by saying this, but as you know, anybody that knows me knows that I don't back down from saying, "There's good farming and bad farming." And I think that if we fail to make that differentiation, that there can be good farming and there can be bad farming, I think we don't make progress. We don't get anywhere if we fail to make that differentiate... If we're all farmers, this "one for all, all for one," that doesn't help us solve problems and make progress.
Farm Girl (08:22):
Commodity farmers, those who grow products in bulk, like wheat, dairy, corn, even meat, and send their products to wholesalers for distribution to consumers, are stressed. Many of them readily seek advice from Salatin. They want to be successful, and they are working so hard with so little return.
Joel Salatin (08:47):
Last year, the median income of American farms was minus $1048. The median net income was a negative number.
Farm Girl (08:59):
I know this sounds impossible, but it's true. According to the USDA, in 2020 it's supposed to be even worse, and that was pre-COVID. Many farmers have to take jobs off the farm just to stay afloat. We heard about this firsthand from former dairy farmer Peter Mauer in episode one. He counted pills on the night shift in a pharmaceutical company for 11 years to try to save his farm. But 24/7 farm work combined with a negative income is stressful.
Joel Salatin (09:34):
I mean, farmer suicides are up.
Farm Girl (09:36):
Salatin is right about farmer suicide rates. A combination of rising debt and tariffs, plunging prices for commodity crops, farming problems caused by climate issues, and the pressure to continue a family farming legacy amid modern farming challenges all contribute to farmer stresses. On a larger scale, the problems can feel, well, bigger.