Since covid-19 first emerged, one of our continued recommendations has been to “start a garden”.
The pandemic has exposed the fragility of our food supply chains, as well as the shortcomings of our global and national health authorities. So having more self-sufficiency when it comes to calories, as well as better nutrition to boost your immune system, just make good sense. Hence: start a garden.
In this week’s podcast, we welcome back Joel Salatin. Labeled by The Washington Post as “the most famous farmer in America”, Joel has spent his career advocating for sustainable farming practices and pioneering models that show how food can be grown and raised in ways that are regenerative to our topsoils, more humane to livestock, produce much healthier & tastier food, and contribute profitably to the local economy.
Fresh off huge demand for his farm’s output during the covid lockdown and from releasing two new books, Beyond Labels and Polyface Designs, Joel gives yet another heaping dose of common sense ways we can improve our ecology, economy, food production and wellness — starting with a healthier approach to dealing with the coronavirus:
There’s nothing fresher, more nutrient dense than growing your food yourself. You know exactly where it came from and what went into it. That’s a real viable way to ensure your own health.
The problem with the current pandemic is that everybody’s sitting around waiting for a vaccine. I’m waiting for the day when somebody pushes Dr. Fauci aside on the microphone and says, “Okay, America, tell you what: we’re going to spend one week working on our immune system. Let’s build our immune systems for a week.
So here’s what we’re going to do. We’re not going to drink any sugary soft drinks. No Cokes this week. We’re not going to go to McDonald’s. We’re going to cook from scratch in our kitchens and go to the farmer’s market and supplement your own stuff. And we’re going to cook from scratch, not going to eat processed stuff. Everything we eat, we’re going to be able to read the label. And then we’re going to get eight and a half hours of sleep every night. And we’re going to drink three liters of water a day so you get hydrated. And we’re going to exercise into at least a light sweat 20 minutes a day. We’re going to spend an hour a day out in the sunshine. And to top it off, we’re going to forgive everybody we hate.”
That’s about six simple things that if we did it as a nation, just imagine where our immune system would be. It would go through the roof.
Note that I didn’t even mention things like stopping smoking or not taking drugs. I’m not even going to. I’m just saying for the average person, this is a recipe for real immunological enhancement. And to me, that’s far more important long-term whether or not we develop a vaccine.
But I haven’t heard anybody at the high level talk about building an immune system — ever. It’s like it’s not even in the discussion. It makes you feel like it’s a conspiracy; but it’s not. It’s just a fraternity of ideas that overlooks the most obvious thing — which is what you can do for yourself rather than what you have to be dependent on from somebody else.
A vaccine makes you dependent on somebody else. But if you can build your immune system, then you can fix it yourself. And we live in a time and a national narrative that’s all about how to create additional dependency, not how to create additional independency.
Click the play button below to listen to Chris’ interview with Joel Salatin (59m:47s).
Chris Martenson: Welcome, everyone, to this Featured Voices podcast. I’m your host, Chris Martenson. And today, really, really pleased to have back with us today the poet laureate of modern farming, Joel Salatin. He’s here back with us again to share his wit and wisdom. I’m very excited because, as some of you may know, I bought a farm, or at least a rural piece of property that Evie and I are busy turning into a farm, and of course, we do that for action. So we’ve got goats and pigs and cows, chickens, and things like that and a gardena and we’re just working as hard as we can. So I thought we’d check in with Joel, maybe get some tips, and talk to him about what’s going on; can’t wait for this conversation. Joel, welcome back to the program.
Joel Salatin: Wow. Thank you, Chris. It’s always a delight to be with you.
Chris Martenson: Thanks. Thank you. By the way, my bible for this whole thing has been this one, You Can Farm. I like the optimistic title.
Joel Salatin: Yeah. That’s right. We’ve sold a pile of those. I’ll tell you, they’re all over the world.
Chris Martenson: Yeah. Well, it’s a great book. Really, it’s like if I had a dad who farmed or something or a grandfather or somebody who was going to pass their wisdom on, that’s what’s in there. But it just caught me, just the sense of place and just how much is involved. Every page there’s something in there.
But when you go through just, I think, four pages on woodlot, it’s just like there’s so much to know about how you measure wood and how you make the most of it and which sticks you leave and how you know that each little area is different and there’s shade and soil to consider, all that. And I get that sense of place that just must come from what I’m embarking in here eventually.
Joel Salatin: Yeah. That’s right. There’s a lot of context in decision making, that’s for sure.
Chris Martenson: Yeah. So who did you write this book for, do you think?
Joel Salatin: You.
Chris Martenson: Okay. Thank you. Much appreciated.
Joel Salatin: Well, how many times have you ever heard somebody who was dreaming about farming? How many times have you been...do they get told, oh, you can’t farm. It doesn’t make any money. It’s too hard. It’s too long. I mean, there’s every kind of reason to not, that it’s impossible. And so I wrote the book You Can Farm to encourage people.
This is a viable location just like any other, and it has parameters. It has rules to success. But yeah, it’s all about encouraging folks to embark on what I think is just a wonderful, arguably the oldest vocation in the world and to go ahead and embark on it.
I think it’s wonderful to be encouraged that you can farm. I’ve had people emphasize different words; You Can Farm, You Can Farm, or You Can Farm. It can be read any of those kind of ways.
Chris Martenson: Yep. So I think that we’re at the beginning of a very large back to the land movement. It’s going to eclipse the ‘60s. We’ve already seen COVID has accelerated that process. We’ve got people moving out of cities in droves. And people already have yards and things like that. So for those people who’re maybe not thinking of farming but would sure like to begin transforming what property they do have, what’s a good place for somebody to get started who’s literally just moved out of Brooklyn. They live in Ridgefield, Connecticut. They’ve got a couple acres now.
Joel Salatin: Well, in my view, the first thing is to start feeding yourself. Don’t even think about making money with it yet. Just start feeding yourself. What do you like to eat? What do you like to eat that can be grown locally? If you’re in New Jersey, you probably won’t grow bananas and coffee. But other things that you like to eat, berries and meat and vegetables and things like that, strawberries, the number of different things that can be grown in most regions is pretty large.
And so the idea is to feed yourself first because the money you save buying food is actually more than things you sell because if you replace expenses, you actually don’t have taxes on that. So you can start to...if you’re working a job, you can put more money in savings. You can invest it differently. But the point is that you can back off your living expenses, which are after tax dollars, and you can replace those with before tax dollars by feeding yourself. Every dollar you don’t have to spend is worth $1.30 because you don’t have to pay taxes on it; so feeding yourself first.
And of course, that also gets you familiar with what you’re growing. You’d be surprised how many people want to farm. They start growing something or producing something they’re not familiar with. They go out and try to sell it. They try to sell this thing and how many ways have you fixed squash? Well, I don’t know. I’ve never really...I don’t even really like squash but you should buy my squash. I mean, that’s crazy. So if you’re going to sell something, you’ve got to be familiar with it. How do you cook it? How do you can it? How do you freeze it? How do you dehydrate it? What do you do with it? And so feeding yourself and experimenting with your own recipes and food is a wonderful way to get familiar with the product that down the line will grow into a commercial enterprise.
Chris Martenson: So I completely agree. And as well, people have started to figure out, and we’ve talked about this before, that maybe the industrial food agriculture system isn’t delivering the highest quality products to them anymore. And I think one of the awarenesses has come up for people with all this illness going around is that what you put in your body matters, and eating healthy is a function of the quality of the food you’re putting in there. A lot of people are catching onto that right now. And I can’t think of a better way to eat high-quality food than to grow it yourself.
Joel Salatin: Right. There’s nothing fresher, more nutrient dense than to grown it yourself. You know exactly where it came from, what went into it, all those kinds of things. Not to say that there isn’t really high-quality stuff you can buy, but if you grow it yourself, if you’re familiar with really high-quality stuff, then that becomes standard by which you can compare what you’re growing. And if you’ve seen good quality stuff, well, my kale doesn’t look like that. Wonder how my kale can look like that. All right. Well, here’s how I can make my kale look like that. So yes, that’s a real viable way to ensure your own health.
I think with this whole pandemic thing, I mean, the problem is everybody’s sitting around waiting for a vaccine. And I’m waiting for the day when somebody pushes Dr. Fauci aside on the microphone and says, “Okay, America, tell you what, we’re going to spend one week working on our immune system. Let’s build our immune systems for a week. So here’s what we’re going to do. We’re not going to drink any soft drinks, sugary soft drinks, no Cokes this week. We’re not going to go to McDonald’s. We’re going to cook from scratch in our kitchens and go to the farmer’s market and supplement your own stuff. And we’re going to cook from scratch, not going to eat processed stuff. Everything we eat, we’re going to be able to read the label. And then we’re going to get eight and a half hours of sleep every night. And we’re going to drink three liters of water a day so you get hydrated. And we’re going to exercise into at least a light sweat 20 minutes a day. We’re going to spend an hour a day out in the sunshine. And to top it off, we’re going to forgive everybody we hate.” That’s about six simple things that if we did it as a nation, just imagine where our immune system would be. It would go through the roof.
I didn’t mention things like stopping smoking and things like that or not taking drugs. I’m not even going to. I’m just saying for the average person, this is a recipe for real immunological enhancement. And to me, that’s far more important long-term whether or not we develop a vaccine.
Chris Martenson: Yeah, I’ve been doing these YouTube videos on the whole pandemic and talking about science and all that. It’s been fun. But every single video, I end with two admonitions for people. One, plant a garden. You get the salutary effect of working outside and reconnecting with nature and all the good that comes from that and eating better food. And then the other thing is I tell people boost your immune system. And if you could just take a little vitamin D3, but you said get an hour in the sun. I’ll take either of those. Why don’t we have, do you think, some national czar...because there’s two tracks, right? You could say well, sit and wait for a vaccine, but while you’re doing that, we should also be...here’s the other stuff you can do. It’s simple, cheap, effective. I haven't heard anybody say that at the national level yet.
Joel Salatin: No. The word...the only thing close we hear is comorbidity, but I haven't heard anybody at the high level talk about building an immune system ever. It’s like it’s not even in the discussion, and that’s -- it makes you feel like it’s a conspiracy but it’s not a conspiracy. It’s just a fraternity of ideas that overlooks the most obvious thing which is what you can do for yourself rather than what you have to be dependent on from somebody else.
Vaccine makes you dependent on somebody else. But if you can build your immune system, then you can fix it yourself. And we live in a time and a national narrative that’s all about how to create additional dependency, not how to create additional independency.
Chris Martenson: I like the way you put that, a fraternity of ideas because we all know about fraternities. They might overlook things from time to time.
Joel Salatin: Yeah, they sure do. Well, fraternity of ideas is a lot more, whatever, diplomatic and plausible than conspiracy. If you were to say the word conspiracy, then all right, well, he’s a Rothchild Illuminati Mason and just he’s a nutcase. So I use fraternity of ideas in order to make a bridge that’s credible and doesn’t turn people away.
Chris Martenson: Well, in the scheme of attracting versus repelling people, how would you say the awareness of and attention on you, your farm, and everything you’re doing? Is there more, less? Where are we in your story?
Joel Salatin: Oh, there’s more. My goodness, I’ve never done more, whatever, podcasts, done more media. And our own food at our farm, we went into the year with our regular six to seven months of inventory in the freezers. We’re in the pastured meat business. And boy, I’ll tell you what, this thing hit and we were wiped out in, I don’t know, two weeks. When those store shelves went empty, we were literally wiped out in two weeks. And we’ve been struggling to regain ever since. We’re not completely caught up yet, and we’re still turning some customers away, some newbie folks. But boy, it was serious.
And last year, July 4th, we began a kind of gentle rollout of national shipping. We ship anywhere in the continental US. And it had been rocking along. It was doing fine. But boy, when this pandemic hit, I mean, it just exploded. And our joke here at Polyface is boy, if we’d have known a pandemic was this good a marketing strategy, we’d have ordered it up three years ago. It’s been unbelievable.
But I’ll tell you, it truly has stimulated a conversation about food quality and about immune function. People are coming into the farm store. They’re getting on our website. They’re saying...I’ve heard things like I’m never going to go back to the supermarket. I don’t trust the big food system. The food system let me down.
And it’s even leading to discussions...what’s fascinating to me is I’m having discussions, two kinds of discussion. One is with people that are...I call it Y2K on steroids, you know, the prepper movement. The prepper movement was launched at Y2K. And it’s still viable. But today there’s a lot of people that think the wheels are going to fall off economically or with our liberties, our ability to choose to go and come. And they start talking about you won’t be able to get on an airplane unless you have a certified yellow vaccine card. Those are...that’s a big deal. That’s a big deal. And so as the cities are burning with the racial unrest and the violence and all that stuff. So there are more and more people feeling like we might be heading into the...what I call the wheels falling off.
And they’re talking about survivalism, how do we survive. And in my view, there’s two ways to survive. One is to flee to the hills of Montana and live in a cave and be a hermit mountain man and trap your deer and make rope out of sinew and all that. The other is to build what I call an agrarian community bunker where you actually develop a local community that’s eclectic enough to have people who know how to build things, grow things, and fix things. If you’re surrounded by friends or collaborators who know how to grow things, fix things, and build things, you can do a lot if stuff...but neither of those, whether it’s the agrarian community bunker or the hermit mountain man, both of those require some preparation time. You can’t just wait until the wheels fall off and say okay. This is what we’re going to do. You’ve got to put some attention on it in the first place.
So we’re seeing this massive exodus from the city; incredible interest in buying a farmette, a couple of acres somewhere, this kind of can I get into a community. In fact, here with us, we’ve actually gotten calls from people who want to come and live near us because they feel like with our sustainable practices, we’ll at least be the last guy standing. And there is some comfort in being the last guy standing. You hope by the time you’re the last guy standing, some smart person has figured out how to fix whatever the big problem is.
The other thread that’s developing is just a concern among people that’s they’re going to get left out of the next food crisis. When those store shelves went empty, it was a wake up call to convenience America where the food’s always at the supermarket. I don’t ever have to worry about being...this is the United States. We’ve got food up the wazoo. And boy, when those store shelves went bare, we had calls from people that were panicking. And now what’s happening is some of those people are coming back. Okay. Now we’ve been able to service them and they’re saying okay, so how do I get on your first class team? Can I pay some sort of an extra price to get in your top internet profile so if this ever happens again, you’re goin to take care of us before you take care of anybody else? And that’s a fascinating conversation on the one hand, but it’s just...it’s the entertaining of a funny scheme that farmers haven't entertained.
The idea that I could designate 100 people who pay me $1000.00 a year for nothing more than the guarantee that they’re the 100 people I’m going to take care of no matter what. That’s a pretty neat way to make another $100,000.00 if you don’t do it fraudulently, which of course, I’m sure some farmers will do.
But anyway, those are two threads, the survival thread and the subscription thread. How do we make it through? B, how to make sure you care of us, that I’m on your short list, not your long list. Those are two threads of conversation that are brand new in the food farming sector in the last four months.
Chris Martenson: That’s fantastic. That’s fascinating. I’ve got a bunch of questions around that.
So if I could get some feedback and advice on our own strategy; Evie and I, we move into this brand new town. The town’s been wonderful, open arms, all this. we find out that the farms used to be 40 and 30 and 20 and now we’re down to like five. We’re the first people who added cows, not subtracted, in a long time.
So the local atrician up the hill, great guy, he’s running black Angus as well, too. And he had an old, old tractor for sale he was just dying to get rid of so we bought it because I felt like well, I’m making a connection with this guy. It’s an old Allis Chalmers 175 crop hustler probably born before I was and still works, all of that. He was just thrilled to be able to feel like there’s youngblood, and that’s weird calling me that, but he’s about 70. And I feel like it’s a pretty common story.
Joel Salatin: Yes.
Chris Martenson: But just knowing that we were not just talking about it but we just came in and we just did it. We just got cows and we just threw them in a field and we worked it out and we’re learning, making mistakes but at least we’re doing something. I felt like I...there’s a part in this book where you said they’re watching you. And this guy is watching. So while he was here redoing some of my electrical stuff, I made sure was working extra hard on those days. He was paying attention, I’m sure.
Joel Salatin: Right, right, right. Yeah, I’m sure.
Chris Martenson: Yeah. So it felt to me like if somebody is going to move into the community you got to know the people. People are checking your character out and they’re watching for not just how hard you work but how smart you work and all that. I think they’re really paying attention. But I found a piece of advice you had in the book is everybody loves being asked a question. If I don’t know something, I’m asking these guys what to do.
Joel Salatin: One of the best ways to create a bridge, a diplomatic bridge, is to ask a person what they think. People love to tell you what they think, and everybody loves to be asked. Everybody loves to be asked what do you think about this. You might have tons of ideas. You might disagree 100%. But just the idea of asking what do you think, that’s a bridge builder.
And boy, when you’re the new boy in town, regardless of your age, when you’re the new boy in town, you don’t want to burn bridges. You want to build bridges, even with people who might not agree with all the things you’re doing. You might not agree with all the things that they’re doing. But you don’t want your neighbors to be enemies. You want your neighbors to be friends.
Chris Martenson: Well, we’re busy trying to build those bridges. And I feel that same urgency you were talking about, though, with the people who are thinking gosh I would love to know where my food’s coming from. It’s got a little sort of survival tinge. I got the same vibe as everybody else, and for whatever reason, I feel like my job number one is to build soil as fast as I possibly can. And I’m doing everything I possibly can to think about how to do that. What’s...how would you go about fixing a field that needed quick amending?
Joel Salatin: Well, I’m not a big fan of soil amendments. I’m a big fan of biological ploughs. I’ll tell you, back years ago when we started, back 50 almost 60 years ago, we had soil tests done by a leading lab in organic agriculture. And we put on some amendments that they recommended. And we saw nothing. There was no change. I’ve put on different concoctions that people say this is the cat’s meow, whatever, and very seldom do I see a big difference. Why? Because you can’t mineralize your way into fertility.
The other half of that equation is biological activity. You’ve got to get soil life. You’ve got to get the actinomycetes and the mycelium and the gibberellins and the azotobacter. You’ve got to get all that soil life working. What does that soil life need? It needs decaying organic matter. It needs humus.
And so the way nature has built more soil on the planet...nature doesn’t put on bags of minerals. It doesn’t put on bags of fertilizer. It doesn’t put on this stuff. How does nature build soil? Nature builds soil with organic matter, and that organic matter is generally either manure from animals that have decayed the organic matter or organic matter or biomass that decays itself either by leaves falling off the trees. The main way is the roots...so the deepest soils on the planet are under prairies. They’re not under forests and they’re not under shrubs because forages, grasses, clovers, forbes, they have the fastest metabolism of solar energy in the biomass.
It's kind of counterintuitive because when you look at a forest, you say wow, look at all that carbon. That’s carbon that’s accumulated over 70, 80 years. If you took your lawn clippings from a square yard and you were able to put them in a bag and you could put them in a utility room and kept them for 80 years and then in 80 years, you brought all those bags from that square yard out and put them on that square yard, trust me, it’d make a believer out of you. You’d realize grass is much more efficient at converting solar energy in the biomass than trees are.
But the problem with grass is that it grows fast. It starts. It grows. And then it dies. It goes into senescence. So the reason for the herbivore...the reason the planet has so many herbivores on it - bison, prairie dogs, alpacas, llamas, wildebeests, giraffes, water buffalo, reindeer, caribou, I’m kind of going around the planet...the reason the planet has so many herbivores is as this grass reached senescence, to prune it back to go through this rapid juvenile metabolic time period. The problem is that if you keep it real short, it never gets out of first gear. And if you let it go into senescence, it turns brown and quits collecting solar energy.
So the fastest way to build fertility is to mimic the patters of herbivores in nature on perennials. So how did nature build soils? How did the Midwest get its fertile soils? It did it with perennials - not annuals, perennials - and herbivores that were moving. They didn’t stay in one place. They didn’t stay in a field. They moved.
So you’ve got 180 acres and you’ve got how many acres of pasture. Let’s say you’ve got 80 acres of pasture. Well, those 80 acres, the animals on there have to move on those 80 acres with pruning rest periods to simulate how herds of bison used to move across the American prairie being pushed by wolves, coyotes, and flies, and fire. And so they didn’t have fences so they could go all across the continent. And you’ve got fences.
So that’s why on our farm, we move the...we give the cows only one day’s paddock for a day and then we move them every day about four o’clock to another paddock using temporary, portable, electric fencing so that we define where they’re going to be. And that way, they’re only on one spot for one day and then it has a rest period until those plants regrow.
Now what’s interesting is that when the grass plant is allowed to get a head of steam on it and get some biomass accumulated, when it gets pruned, the plant goes into shock and prunes off - it sloughs off - root mass commensurate with what got pruned from above. In other words, if you could lie down and look across the soil horizon, straight across the soil horizon, there is bilateral symmetry of biomass between what’s above the ground and what’s below the ground. So whatever a plant has above the ground, there’s that much root underneath. So when the pruning occurs to the plant, it automatically sloughs off - it actually jettisons - root hairs and root mass to create bilateral symmetry with the top. And it takes the energy...the energy from those jettisoned root hairs go up into the core of that plant and are the savings account, the energy savings account, to send forth the new shoots until they get enough of a solar panel to start metabolizing solar energy again. That’s the cycle of the plant.
So the fastest way to build fertility and build soil is with perennials, herbivores, and strategic movement to prune across that landscape. That’s the cheapest, fastest way to build it. And that’s what we’ve done.
Now if you want to augment it with compost or if you really want the fastest way to build fertility, run chickens on it. Chicken manure will fix everything. And so running chickens on it, of course, is one of the fastest ways as well. There what you’re doing is you’re importing grain to feed the chickens to get the manure.
And this is not an anti-nature kind of thing. Realize that one of the reasons for animals in nature is to eat from the fertile valleys and then move to the ridgetops to lie down, ruminate, and defecate and actually transfer the gravitationally moving biomass, minerals, twigs, rock that moves into the fertile valley, to take that fertility and move it back up on the hilltop. That’s the only way nature has to defy gravity. So animals in the ecosystem, in a natural ecosystem, are perhaps the most democratized, egalitarian form of fertility on the landscape. Without the animals and without predation and without the movement patterns and the flying patterns of birds, without that, we would have completely denuded ridgetops and everything would be concentrated in the fertile valleys.
So when I say you’re bringing in grain for the chickens to boost your soil fertility and restart the biological activity, that is a very normal animal contribution to your landscape situation.
Chris Martenson: This has been...thank you for that and this has been, to me, one of the big eye-opening things that’s come over the last few decades is that mimicking of the natural movement of the herbivores and all of that. And so that’s what we’re trying here. We only have...we’ve got a ten acre field. Six is good. Four is pretty iffy, sensitive fern and poison ivy and stuff. We’ll see what we can do about that over time, but we’re basically putting them on to somewhere around a third of an acre per day and just shuffling them along.
Joel Salatin: Yeah, that’s fantastic. That’s exactly what I’m talking about. And what you’ll see is as you shuffle them along like that, whether it’s one day, two days, whatever, the more often...every time you move them, that’s a test. That’s a test. And so if you move them 30 times in a month, in one month, you have 30 self-audited tests. Guess what? Your learning curve goes straight up.
If you’re just putting them on a field and leaving them there, you never get a test. You don’t learn anything. But if you’re moving them, then you actually learn and you develop skill and expertise very, very rapidly. And that’s another great reason to go to the extra effort of moving them every day because you’re going to get very familiar with how much they eat; how much they need; what the recovering pasture looks like at this time of year, that time of year, this kind of care, this move, that rest period. All those things are going to go into your experience bank, and you can’t Google experience.
Chris Martenson: Every single part of the field is slightly different. And I found that the cows are lazy. You put them in a paddock and they really munch down that first spot they get into so you’ve got to push them to the back and then they’ll work forward naturally. There’s all this subtlety to it. But it’s a lot of fun.
Joel Salatin: Yeah, well, cows...animals always eat dessert first. They never eat their liver and onions first. They always eat dessert first.
Chris Martenson: Yeah, I had this fancy plan. I put the wire into the forest because I thought they like some cover and that’s fine. But I had this plan they were going to eat all the poison ivy on the edge. No, not really. I got some belties that are doing okay at that, but the other ones are like no. They’re too fussy. Fussy cows.
So I’m finding myself really enjoying it a lot. And I know this isn’t a solution for everybody, but I feel like more and more people...whether it’s chickens or goats, there’s lots of ways for people to interact with animals. But to me, it just felt like putting animals back on the land was exactly what the land wanted. Everything I’ve read but I can just feel it. It was depleted and it wanted hooves and it wanted manure and the grasses needed to be a little challenged. I can see it coming back, and I can just see it in two, three years. It's going to be a completely different arrangement.
Joel Salatin: Oh, absolutely. And the thing is, what people don’t realize, many people don’t realize, is that North America had way more pounds of animal...well, the world had way more pounds of animal on it 1000 years ago than it does today. If you take all the weight of the humans on the planet, all the weight of fig lot cattle, factory farm pigs, factory farm chickens, you take all that weight, the planet had more animal weight 1000 years ago than it does today. And that should give us all pause. That should help us to realize whoa, maybe we’re not as smart as we thought we were.
These natural principles of moving, mobbing, mowing, they are principles of abundance. They’re not principles of scarcity. They’re principles of abundance. The only reason people think that they’re principles of scarcity is because people aren’t mimicking that natural movement template. They throw them in a field and just leave them in this big acreage, continuous grazing all season long. Or they put them in a feed lot and feed them corn from Ogallala Aqui for irrigation water for monocultures. There’s a million ways that we humans are clever enough to mess it up.
We can have soil building, water building. We can increase the commons and feed ourselves at a commercial scale. But we have to fundamentally change the techniques that we use.
Chris Martenson: I was really taken with a presentation I just watched a couple weeks ago by Gabe Brown - I’m sure you know of him--
Joel Salatin: Right. Oh, yeah.
Chris Martenson: --doing his cover crop. And up there in South or North...one of the Dakotas, he’s got only 15 inches of moisture to work with a year. I couldn’t believe his pictures of his fields. It just completely changed my sense of...to me that’s dryland farming, 15 inches, my gosh. That’s nothing. And he’s working it out. And he’s working it scale, 3000 acres, I think, is his operation. So that tells me that we can do this stuff.
But fascinating, he showed pictures of this farmer who’s been right next door to him for 30 years watching his success hasn’t adopted it yet. What’s the barrier to adoption there?
Joel Salatin: Well, same thing here. Same thing _____ [00:39:27 - breaking up]. We get three times the production on our fields and our neighbors call us bioterrorists, Typhoid Mary, nuts. There are few things as threatening...there are few things as threatening, Chris, as a new paradigm. It threatens what you’ve been doing. It threatens what you believe. It threatens your credibility. A new paradigm threatens everything. And we know what we know.
Around here, I move the cows every day. Now when you move your cows every day, goodness, I don’t have to...it’s not a rodeo. I go out and call them. I call them and they come to me. I open the electric fence, they walk through, I close it. That’s moving the cows. But when I say move cows to my neighbors here - and they’re all wonderful people, wonderful people - the phrase “move cows” they’re thinking three four-wheelers, two pick-up trucks, all the aunts and uncles and cousins and a day stomping through the brush and they probably still didn’t get them all in. Moving cows is a horrendous, terrible thing. So the very notion of you move your cows every day, they can’t get past their perception and experience of that phrase. That’s what paradigms are like. That’s why they’re so powerful.
But yeah, Gabe, what he’s doing...realize his 15 inches of rainfall are equivalent to our 30 because he’s in the north and you don’t get the evaporation that you do here. It doesn’t get as hot and you get a longer winter. The northern soils are always more forgiving than there. And the other thing is to remember that in the Dakotas, they were more than 100 years...they have more than 100 years less European abuse than ours here in Virginia. We’re literally working on subsoils, depending on who you read, after anywhere from three to eight feet of topsoil washed out of the Shenandoah Valley since the Europeans came. Where Gabe is in the Dakotas, it hasn’t been nearly that...he’s still on soils that are more like what was there before the Europeans came. So that natural virginity to it makes it respond quicker and be more resilient. They need a little less remediative babysitting than in the east here where our soils have been abused for longer.
Chris Martenson: Yeah. That was one of my criteria here was finding soil that hadn’t been too heavily abused. And that really complicated the search.
Joel Salatin: Right. Sure it did. Sure it did.
Chris Martenson: Because all our high-quality topsoils here have been industrially just destroyed. Well-meaning people but just...if you ever ran a chemical test on them, you’d have to get a couple of PhDs to know what all those byproducts were.
Joel Salatin: Absolutely. Yeah.
Chris Martenson: It’s something. So when you talked about food security before, are you at all...what’s your concern factor here that we might experience some sort of breakdown? I know that when COVID first hit, we had hundreds of thousands of migrant laborers who had come in who weren’t planting the central valleys of California so I was telling people uh-oh, veggie prices are probably going to get expensive and all that. But are you concerned about any larger threat to the system at this point?
Joel Salatin: Well, I think if there’s one thing the pandemic showed, it was...you see my cat coming in here.
Chris Martenson: Yeah. Hi, cat.
Joel Salatin: You can appreciate that with this whole pandemic thing, it actually exposed the fragility of the industrial system, which is a very segregated system. And segregated, of course, is a very strong word. But nature is highly integrated. There’s no waste stream. It’s a highly integrated system. [Aside - Morgan, you’re going to have to get down here.] All right. It’s a highly integrated system.
What we have today in our industrial food system is a very segregated system. The fertilizer comes from one place. The crops are grown another place. The animals are another place. The manure goes another place. The food is eaten in another place. And so you have what nature and history would have put together in an intricate symbiotic umbilical, if you will, and it is ripped apart, very oppositional, asymmetric, disconnected systems.
And that is so antinature that those of us who believe nature bats last, we don’t know when it’ll break down or what will actually be the final straw that breaks it down, but the way to bet is that that horse is going to break down at some point. It might be a big disease. It might be...well, the pandemic, obviously, broke it down because these...look, right now in the US, the only place where thousands of people congregate every day in a cold, damp environment shoulder to shoulder is in large processing plants. Even automotive manufacturers are not in a situation like this. If you ever see those pictures, those assembly line workers, there’s a lot of artificial intelligence. They’re 15 feet apart on those assembly lines.
But boy, if you look at pictures of a processing plant, cannery, a meat processing plant, it’s like...and guess what? Those people, many of them if not most, are foreigners, and I’m not xenophobic, but those foreigners are often living in different kinds of quarters eating cheap food to save nickels to bring the rest of their families over here to the land of opportunity. And I just had a doctor in the farm store the other day from North Carolina, and one of the big hog processing plants down there had a big outbreak of COVID-19. He worked in the emergency room. So when they had this huge outbreak all of a sudden, they went to looking at what the...where people were. And they went to this one double-wide trailer that had 28 - 28 - people living in this double-wide trailer. And those are the kinds of living conditions because they’re trying to...it’s not so much about pay. They’re just trying to pinch their pennies to bring aunt and uncle and cousins and stuff to this country.
So you’ve got a perfect storm here. You’ve got all these people crowded together. They’re under the stress of being in a foreign country, under the stress of eating poorly, under the stress of being packed in to home quarters. They don’t even get space when they leave the plant to give their body a little bit of rest so they’re just immersed in this confluence of things. And that’s a fragile system.
Whereas small plants, here’s the deal. Just imagine if instead of having 150 3,000 person mega processing facilities to handle 98% of America’s food, just imagine if we had instead 25,000 very, very small plants, community-based, 20 to 30 people spread all over the countryside processing that food. The resilience of that would just spin circles around the centralized, amalgamated, mega processing facilities we have.
This is the same thing that happens when you have an epizootic in animals. With factory farming, if avian influenza comes through, if salmonella comes into a Wisconsin factory egg farm that supplies all this, you have major disruptions. But at least if you have decentralized...if you have the production and processing spread out across the landscape at a lower density, we could even say food production distancing. Social distancing is a new word. What we’ve got is the complete anti-distancing with the amalgamation and centralization in the farming and food sector. And what we need to do is break that down so that people eat locally and you have a lot of small facilities instead of a handful of great big facilities.
So the way to bet is that we’ve just seen the first rumblings of additional issues breaking down. And chances are, we’re going to see continued breakdowns in that industrial system.
Chris Martenson: Yeah. Well, maybe not a minute too soon, but what you’re talking about sounds illegal or something because it sounds so common sensical. It’s something that maybe we should do. I worked with a local crew a couple years back. They were trying to bring in a local slaughterhouse because we had two choices. One was over a state line, which is impossible, and the other was an hour and a half away and always full. So just seeing the nimbyism and the level of complexity and the rules at the local level plus the state level plus the federal level, it’s pretty daunting. You’ve got to be pretty eager to do something like that.
Joel Salatin: Oh, absolutely. It’s very daunting. And within the inspection bureaucracy, there’s absolutely a prejudice against small-scale facilities. And I’ll never forget, I was testifying before a Congressional hearing convened by Congressman Dennis Kucinich when he convened it after that...remember that California slaughterhouse that had the undercover video where they were fire-hosing and poking the cows with the front end forklifts to get them to stand up to get into the kill chute?
Chris Martenson: Yes.
Joel Salatin: He convened this hearing on what can we do about America’s meat supply. And I was one of about 12 people who were called to testify. And I was in the afternoon. The morning group, of course, started out with the...whatever he is, the commissioner of the Food Safety and Inspection Service. And I about fell out of my chair when he told the committee, the congressmen, how efficient FSIS was because he had the pounds of product, the pounds of meat, pounds of tomatoes, pounds of product, that the inspectors saw and the fact that the inspectors are now seeing way more pounds of product per hour than they did a long time ago because we’ve gotten rid of all those little community inefficient processing facilities. Man, aren’t we great? He pounded his chest. This is the greatest thing. We got rid of all those little inefficient community plants. And now look at how many pounds of products the inspectors are being able to look at per hour.
And it struck me, why should I be surprised that a country that worships at the alter of efficiency over effectiveness would also worship at the alter of efficiency in its regulatory agencies rather than effectiveness. There’s a big difference between efficiency and effectiveness. You can be efficient going down the interstate 100 miles an hour, but if you’re going the wrong way, that’s not very effective.
Chris Martenson: Yeah. Well, maybe that’s all the way back to vaccines sound very efficient but it’d be a little bit more effective if we had everybody just get their immune system tuned up.
Joel Salatin: Right. Exactly.
Chris Martenson: Yeah. So in the scheme of things, big picture, food resiliency, all of that stuff, I feel encouraged that the trends are going in the right way. And I’ll tell you what’s the most encouraging. We just had a bonfire the other night, just last night, and I have these brilliant young people working here interning and all that. The level of genuine interest of young people who are saying this is something I want to do, I find very encouraging. And boy, I don’t know what I’m doing so they’re learning from the wrong guy here, but it feels good to see that level of interest.
And it’s been really helpful to have, of course, your accumulated wisdom coming out and helping us all learn. And everybody should get the...if you have any interest at all, you should totally get this because it covers the logic, the finance of it. If you can’t cashflow this thing, it’s probably not going to work out anyway. So that trickles all the way down to what kind of cars you drive and how often you go to the movies and all that.
Joel Salatin: Yes. Yes.
Chris Martenson: Good stuff. And you’ve got another book coming out and then another one. What can you tell us about those?
Joel Salatin: Yeah. The one that came out about a month ago, the title is Beyond Labels. And it’s my first co-written book with Dr. Sina McCollough. She’s a PhD in nutrition. And her story is such...we come from very...she’s not a farmer. And she almost died with autoimmune diseases eating the standard American diet. And in fact, her family was planning her funeral when she was about 30 years old. And she just had this epiphany one day and said I can’t wait on a doctor to fix me. The doctors aren’t doing anything. I’ve got to fix me. So she stared down this path of diet, lifestyle, changed everything about herself. And today, she’s a vibrant 39-year-old Energizer bunny and is a health coach. Her recovery was so dramatic, people started talking; have you seen what happened? So now she’s a bit of a health coach.
So we’ve written this book Beyond Labels, which is an attempt to try to get people to realize that their health journey is beyond a label. If all you know about food is what’s written on a label, you don’t know very much. And until we step out and move beyond labels, we’re going to be stuck in that whole disconnected ignorance paradigm. So it’s a trajectory. We call it a heath continuum where we start with the person that’s eating out of the gas station and we end with a person that’s growing their own herbs in their own herb garden. And you can come into that continuum wherever you want to. It's gotten some great traction. And it’s just a great book.
The interesting thing about the book is it’s divided into 57 practical bites. That’s the chapters, we call them practical bites. And unlike most coauthored books, it’s not one monologue, it’s a dialogue. It’s written like a play. You have Sina. She says what she wants. And then I say what I want. And so it’s like you’re sitting in an audience and you’re listening to this farmer and this PhD nutritionist have a conversation. We didn’t know if it would work, but all the feedback so far, reviews, have been _____ [00:56:57] gold to be able to sit in on that conversation. It’s a real unorthodox format but it works and seems like people really enjoy it. Beyond Labels.
Chris Martenson: Beyond Labels.
Joel Salatin: And then I’ve got another one coming out toward the end of September that’s another coauthored called Polyface Designs. And it’s a diagram book of all of the mobile, portable infrastructure that we’ve designed and used here at Polyface Farms. And the diagrams are done by a former apprentice who’s an engineer. I did the text. He did all the diagrams. And it could be a coffee table book. It’s that pretty. It’s a landscape layout so it’s longer than it is high. And it's four-color. It’s horribly expensive to print. But the pictures...and it’s got a lot of information like how do you...the different terminology with like axles. You’re going to buy an axle. There are different type and weight classes and how to build a pole shed using batter boards to square it up, just all sorts of really practical construction and buildout type of things. We’re pretty excited about it.
We plan to offer pre-orders probably about the first of September. And we’re supposed to have it in hand on September 21st. We’re pretty excited about it.
Chris Martenson: Well, fantastic. I’m looking forward to both of those. Of course, we’ll put links to those and help get the word out about those. So Beyond Labels and Polyface Designs. How do you have...where do you find time for all this?
Joel Salatin: Well, I’ve got a great team. I’ve got a great team. And we do have winters. So I spend time in winter doing things. And I type real fast. So yeah, I’m a fast writer. This winter, my next project is going to be - you’re going to love this one - my working title for it is The Homesteader’s Livestock Manual. The thing is, Chris, back 30, 35 years ago when I started giving presentations, I’d give a presentation and everybody would say oh, that’s so cute but how does it scale up. Today, I give a presentation and people say wow, that’s incredible but I’ve only got ten acres. How does it scale down?
And so I’m realizing that this homestead movement, as you mentioned...you said your family moved out of the city to New Jersey. But you didn’t say they got 100 acres. You’re the aberration. Most of these folks are getting two acres, five acres, 15 acres. It’s small acreages but you can do a lot in a small acreage. So this book’ll be all about handling livestock in a very small acreage.
Since we’ve done both, when we were small we were more glorified homesteaders, now we’re really commercial and we have scale, I can move seamlessly between small and large. But the average person has a hard time moving seamlessly when I talk about I’m moving herds of 400 cows on four acres a day. I can move easily down to two cows on a twentieth of an acre. But the average person can’t normally make that leap. So this book is going to bring it down to a homesteader’s level, I hope, just in time for this whole urban exodus movement.
Chris Martenson: I think it’s perfect timing. Perfect. People are moving out of cities and not a minute too soon and probably for a lot of good reasons. COVID just woke them up to why, and once, I think, people get on that bandwagon, it’s going to be hard to get them off again. So at least that’s talk in my own book, but that’s how I see it and this is a much better life and lifestyle and quality of life, and it gives us an opportunity to observe and interact and be part of all these things that are happening out there. I feel less like I’m a director of anything and more I’m a member of a band somehow.
Joel Salatin: Yes, or tribe. You’re a member of a tribe.
Chris Martenson: Yeah. Yep, just a member. And they’re all doing...they’re all working. All these animals, they’re working. They’re working hard every day. I don’t have to manage them at all.
Joel Salatin: Yeah, that’s right. That’s right.
Chris Martenson: Well, thank you so much for your time today. It’s been a pleasure, as always. And if there’s any last words or anything you want to say, just let me know. Otherwise, we will do this again some time soon.
Joel Salatin: Yeah. That sounds great. I’ll be real excited to hear your progress report, see how you’re getting along. You’re going to learn a lot in the next three months. It’s going to be a real exciting time.
Chris Martenson: Thanks. It’s already been exciting. It has been. So thanks for that. We’ll come down and visit you. Evie and I will come and...love to see your place. That’s definitely on my list of things to do. We’ll do that.
Joel Salatin: Please do. Love to have you.
Chris Martenson: All right. Be well and write well and we’ll do this again.
Joel Salatin: Thank you, Chris. Look forward to it.
Chris Martenson: Me too.