Podcast

Joel Salatin: The Rise Of Rogue Food

A 'food freedom' revolt against the government is starting
Monday, August 6, 2018, 5:52 PM

This week, we welcome back Joel Salatin to the podcast. 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.

Who wouldn't want that?

Well, the government and Big Ag for starters. Joel refers to himself as a 'lunatic farmer' because so many of the changes he thinks our food system needs are either illegal under the current law or mightily resisted by the deep-pocketed corporations controlling production and distribution.

And this anti-competitive restriction and stifling of small sustainable food producers is only getting worse. While dismayed at this, Salatin finds hope in the burgeoning rebellion of the "rogue food" resistence breaking out:

I'm not optimistic at all about where the government and all its bureaucracy is headed. It is getting more and more stifling. The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) that Obama put through, it's absolutely stifling. It's size prejudicial. It's putting an inordinate price pressure on smaller producers. That's a fact all the way across the board. And the cost of compliance is escalating -- the amount of paperwork, the amount of licensing, the amount of testing and procedural stuff that's happening on farms -- is through the roof.

So on the federal level, I think it's getting worse. Now, I think what's happening on the local level, the other thing that's a pushback that's happened, is what's now known as the food sovereignty movement. And that started in 2015 maybe, two or three years ago in Sedgewick, Maine. And that was a township that passed a half page food sovereignty law that said, in our township if a neighbor wants to do food commerce with another neighbor it's none of the governments business and no bureaucrat has to be involved. So if you want to come to my house, look around, smell around, and operate as freedom of choice, as voluntary adults, as consenting adults – and I'm using very strong language here – to practice your freedom of choice, then two consenting adults should be able to engage in food commerce without a bureaucrat being involved. Well, very quickly six other townships in Maine took up the mantra and passed the regulation, the law, as well.

Then, of course, Maine pushed back and said, no, you can't do that. And it continued to build in Maine until finally the legislature and the governor passed it and said, okay, if a township wants to do that it's okay with us. Well, then, the USDA quickly responded and said we're going to pull all of your federally inspected slaughter houses and food processing plants. Maine, you won't be able to sell to anybody because the federal government is pulling out if you do this. Then the governor called an emergency session. They went back in, and it's still being negotiated. It's a big hoo-ha. Believe me, there are a lot of us around the country that are watching what's going on in Maine, and we're very interested in it.

And if that were duplicated around the country it would almost be like local food secession. There's a place to say, at some level, we should be able to engage in food commerce at our own risk and our own freewill. And that is definitely gaining momentum. We see it in the expansion of the Farm-to-consumer Legal Defense Fund, which is essentially a home-schooled legal defense association for food. In two years, they’ve grown from a network of collaborating attorney's in something like 5 states to collaborating attorneys in 40 states. That's phenomenal growth for a little non-profit organization.

And so as attorneys find out about how little farmers get treated by SWAT teams that come in and confiscate their food and different things like that, there's a backlash to it. And now the beauty of the internet is that these things can be documented on iPhones. People can see the bureaucrat, the SWAT teams coming in and throwing out the perfectly good food from a freezer. They can see the raid; they can see people's rights being violated. And so there is definitely a backlash. It's a food freedom backlash in the country, and I've been an advocate of this all my life. I've always said when Americans become as interested in defending their right to acquire the food of their choice as they are the gun of their choice, we're going to have a whole different food paradigm in this country.

Rogue food is on the rise. One of the most successful examples in the in country is in Louisville, Kentucky. It's a food club that operates essentially under the same kind of a charter as a golf country club. It's not public, it's completely private. If you're not a member you can't go play in that club or on that course. And so what this is is a dues paying, nonpublic, members-only food exchange model. And these guys in Louisville actually have a store front and everything in there is illegal. I mean, they got everything from raw milk to homemade pepperoni. I mean, it's all illegal. And nobody can touch them because it's a private club.

Click the play button below to listen to my interview with Joel Salatin (52m:32s).

Transcript: 

Adam Taggart: Welcome to the Peak Prosperity podcast. I'm your host, Adam Taggart. This week, 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 practicing and pioneering models that show how food can be grown and raised in ways that are regenerative to our topsoil's or more humane to livestock, produce much healthier, tastier food and contribute profitably to the local economy. Who wouldn't want that?

Well, the government and big ag for starters. Joel refers to himself as a lunatic farmer because so many of the changes he thinks our food system needs are either illegal under the current law or mightily resisted by the deep pocketed corporations controlling production and distribution. But that doesn’t stop him from his passion of inspiring others to take a better path.

He co-owns and operates with his family Polyface Farm in Swoope, Virginia. Featured in The New York Times best seller Omnivore's Dilemma and award-winning documentary "Food, Inc"., the farm services more than 5,000 families, 50 restaurants, 10 retail outlets, a farmer's market with produce and pastured beef, poultry, as well as forestry products. On the farm, Joel and his start pilot new practices, they mentor young farmers, they educate the public, and they produce an excellent set of work chops for those looking to truly get their hands dirty learning how to farm sustainably.

It's been over a year since we've had Joel on the podcast, so we've asked him back to update us on what's new in sustainable agriculture as well as which endeavors he's been most focused on. Joel, thank so much for returning to talk with us.

Joel Salatin: Thank you as well. My pleasure.

Adam Taggart: First, Joel, I just want to start on a personal note. You and I had a chance to spend a few days together two years back when we brought you out to present at a farm that I was involved in here in Norther California. There's an old saying. It says, never meet your hero's because they rarely measure up to your romanticized version of them. And with all the interviews Chris and I have done over the years – it's been hundreds at this point – I generally realize that advice to be true. After you meet these folks that you’ve idolized from a distance, they kind of bring themselves down a few pegs usually because they're human. They’ve got foibles and idiosyncrasies and things that just don’t map to your fantasized vision of them.

But you, Joel, you are a rare exception. I just enjoy our time together so much. You're so passionate about your craft. You're so genuine, your enthusiasm to help education others, and I just love how you comport yourself with integrity in everything you do. You really are a hero who measures up to the legend. I just wanted to recognize you for that.

Joel Salatin: Thank you. That's very gracious.

Adam Taggart: It's definitely very deserved and earned on your part. So anyway, with the fanboy gushing out of the way, let's just kick things off with a high-level question. As I said, it's been about a year since we've had you on the program. What's new and noteworthy in agriculture, sustainable or not, since we las talked? What are the key things that have happened in the past year that have caught your attention that you think the general public should be more aware of?

Joel Salatin: I think certainly one is the breakdown of the organic certification program that the official government organic certification program in the US now. We're the only country in the world that certifies soilless systems. The enabling legislation back, whatever, 25 years ago that Senator Patrick Leahy put in. The wording is all about soil. That was the crux of the whole certification program was to – how are you handling the soil? And now, it's taken a couple decades, but gradually, that standard has been compromised and compromised and compromised and adulterated until now here we are certifying soil as hydroponic systems. No other country in the world recognizes that as an organic option.

So once again – so once again – and I've actually done a fair amount of foreign travel in the last year. That's really picking up. I've been in Australia, Spain, Austria, England, Netherlands twice, just different things. And here, once again, here we are – I mean we as American's – what we're known for around the world – somebody asks, "What's American food culture?" the first thing they say is fast food, McDonalds. That's not the best thing to bring to the world. And then the second – and now, here we are pushing – we brought genetically modified organisms to the world, now we're bringing Nano-technology to the world, and now we're trying to force other countries to go with hydroponic.

So the food scene from America, the techno food scene, is not a good one, and that has certainly changed things, that adulteration of the label. Not in the least of which is all of the organic grain coming out of Sylvania and Lafia through Istanbul that gets stamped organic and then imported into the US. And so then what we have is we have a pretty significant breakdown in the creditability of organics. And there are probably, that I know of right off the top of my head, half a dozen alternative counterparts to the government organic certification that are not government programs. They are private, like AAA or Underwriters Laboratory – they're private certification programs that are coming on in response to the adulteration of government organics.

That is certainly a big change that's happened or I should say a tipping point change. It's been brewing for a long time, but I would say in the last year and a half, with the final votes in Florida back in whenever it was – October – the divorce is pretty complete.

Adam Taggart: Just to make sure I'm following it, it sounds like you're saying that the term organic that we've used for several decades now has been getting more and more, let's say, diluted because more and more things can be classified as organic that maybe many folks wouldn't think, in the spirit of the term, should be. And then you said there are some private organizations that are perhaps maybe coming up with better metrics or metrics that are true to the original spirit?

Joel Salatin: Yeah, to the original spirit. They're actually looking at soil; they're actually looking at additional practices. One is an outfit called Beyond Organic. One is an outfit called ECHO, Eco Verified that's being up forth by the Allan Savory Group. There's another one being put for by the Rodale [PH] Institute – I can't think of the name of it off the top of my head. But there are numerous ones of these now, and you will see more of them. And, of course, as if the consumer is not already assaulted by confusing labels, can you imagine?

The Beyond Organics folks, which probably have as much traction as anybody, they are trying to create this as an addon. In other words, you have to be government certified first, and then, if you are, then you can go for the Beyond Organic. So here you have a label USDA Certified Organic, then you have a Beyond Organic sticker on it. And all these outfits are going to be we're the true blue. It's like the Presbyterians, the Methodists and the Baptists. We're the real deal. And so you're going to see a lot of that.

Now, how that plays out in the marketplace is going to be very interesting. As you have more and more, whatever, cacophony, railing, whatever going on in the marketplace with all these espousing – ours is the real deal, we're the true blue. My hope is that it actually irritates people to the point that they start looking local and start actually take responsibility by learning what their food is, where it comes from. And there are more and more tutorials now occurring to teach consumers how to look at somebody's website, for example, and find out what they are.

For example, we have an outfit here in Virginia called Shenandoah Organic, big money moved in, and they're doing hundreds of thousands of organic chickens, and they're just using defunct factory houses that are empty. The farmers aren't interested in organic; they just want their houses full of something, and you can go on the website, Meet Our Farmer's, and even though the organic standards require pastured chickens out on range and pasture, there's no chickens on grass in the website pictures. They're all farmers standing outside their factory house holding an organic chicken.

So you just have to have some savvy to look through. So you can punch through the clever speak and the pretty pictures and things on websites and really find out what the real deal is. But the best way is to come and visit farms. So we're hoping that our friend, our tribe who actually have a – we have a 24/7/365 open door policy. Anybody can come to the farm anytime to see anything anywhere from anywhere in the world unannounced anytime. That will actually gain some traction. That becomes a certification too. That becomes customer verified. And so it'll be interesting to see how all these different stories and different marketing sticks, how they actually play out in the marketplace and what they actually do consumer awareness and where it goes. It'll just be really interesting.

Adam Taggart: I guess what I like about this – I don’t like that it just gets more and more confusing for the consumer who's trying to make a good decision for them and for the families. But, at the same time, one of the recommendations that you and many of the other food security folks that we've been talking to over the years – this just reinforces that recommendation which is to buy local. Know your farmer, buy local. And there were lots of good reasons to do it before, but now, because it sounds like it's getting harder and harder to trust the verification labels that we were using to make some of our decisions, I think your point is this is just the right shortcut which is don’t go to the major grocery store. Just go to the farmer's market or the local providers in your area and buy direct.

Joel Salatin: That's correct. That's correct. And about five or six years ago when Walmart became the number one purveyor of organics in the country, we definitely saw a flattening out of farmer's markets and direct farm marketing, and that is continuing. And you haven't asked for my second big take on what's happened in the last two years, but I'll go ahead and say it.

My second big change that's happened in the food scene is Amazon buying Whole Foods and door to door delivery. I mean, we're seeing now even brick and mortar stores having free parking spots and express lanes for people who order online and zip by and pick it up. Somebody runs their groceries out from the store. People will get to – it's too inconvenient to even go inside. And this is actually playing havoc with farms like us. We're struggling to stay current in our marketing because this whole convenience and availability is just really driving things.

Just as a personal example, we live ten miles from Stanton which is a city of 20,000 people. That's kind of our shopping nexus where we go for things. And we were running into numerous customers – we're 10 miles away, but we're on a dirt road, and we're running into people, "I would never put my car on a dirt road. I would never come out there with my wife. If you'll bring it in here to town and I'll buy from you." Okay. So we started this online buying club thing and you can order. We'll come in once a month and deliver it to you. And so once we did that, it didn’t go anywhere, and what we started hearing was why should I order from you when I can go through Amazon or somebody and have it delivered on my door? And they don’t care that that's costing an extra $30, $40, $50 bucks of delivery. It's just the convenience.

And so we have just – this whole convenience culture is changing the marketplace. And I always say, it's okay to be nostalgic, you just have to quit being nostalgic one day before you're obsolete. And so that's the way we feel. And so we're actually looking at delivery, distribution, even using Amazon if necessary because the push for door to door delivery is powerful.

And the thing is, the big companies that are in distribution, for example, FedEx, UPS, they actually have software where they plug in all the addresses where they going to go for the day, and the software routes them so they never have to make a left-hand turn. And that, in and of itself, saves them 30 percent of the fuel cost and time, of the delivery cost, on those companies.

Now, that kind of software is extremely expensive. It's not available yet for small folks. It's a very complex, sophisticated algorithm that let's you do that. It's not available to us. And so much of this convenience, distribution, high tech orientation in the food marketing system is prejudicial against smaller entities and concessionary toward large entities that can afford the cutting-edge software to efficiently do the convenience. I'm not whining, I'm not complaining. This is a statement of fact.

So we either have to figure out a way around it or we have to educate our customers to the point where they don’t mind putting their car on a dirt road or a moments inconvenience to come and get something valuable or worthwhile. Or we figure out a way, like we've done with the internet and online sales so much, we figure out how to coop the technology that the big outfits have done and localize it for ourselves. And I think that's where we're headed.

Adam Taggart: Let me ask you this, Joel, because you guys are, at Polyface, arguably the most famous sustainable farm in America. You guys have a lot of brand awareness and a lot of people who want to be supporters of yours because you’ve been one of the message deliverers to really break through into the mainstream, and I know we'd love to have many more that be aware of you than are today. But certainly they're much more aware of you than other farms out there or, maybe arguably, any other small farm. So what is this doing to the smaller players in your space? When you look at the other small farms, is this at an Armageddon stage yet? Are these folks just falling off at the wayside? Are they able to compete at all? What's the rest of the pack doing right now, and by pack, I mean pack of small, sustainable farmers?

Joel Salatin: Sure. Well, it's a great question. And my sense is that they're really struggling because I hear from them. I meet them. I talk to them, and they are in triage. I don’t know if it's Armageddon, but I think if the current trajectory continues unabated, I think we're going to see some pretty significant changes in this. And, frankly, as the baby boomers age and the millennials come on – the three things that define millennials are convenience, community – oh shoot, what's the other one – I can't think of it right now – but, anyway, in another two years now actuarily, the millennials are going to become the…

Adam Taggart: …consumer population.

Joel Salatin: …purchasing block. And so that is going to play a big role in how these things change. Some of us – I'm older now – and 30 or 40 years ago when we were forecasting what's going to happen in 30, 40 years with this integrity food movement, what's going to happen to it? And all of us thought, well, within 30 years people would be back in their kitchens, they're going to be buying from their neighbor, and we're going to have this renaissance of culinary community based…

Adam Taggart: …lots of victory gardens.

Joel Salatin: Well, what has actually happened is the opposite. An abandonment. Now, there's still plenty of interest in that, but in the bigger scheme, when you take the aggregate we've had an abandonment of that. And what's happened is more and more and more convenience. The single biggest growth – the only real food sector that's growing right now is what's called the integrity convenience sector. Around here at Polyface we joke that what our customers really want are Polyface Hot Pockets.

And so what we're seeing are power shakes, protein drinks, snack jerky meat snack stick, dehydrated egg powder protein things and protein bars. Of course, the whole CrossFit, paleo keto movement have spurred a lot of interest. But it's funny, the paleo people, they're not cooking. They're buying protein drinks and jerky. And so what that does is it forces the small farmer, and we're right in the middle of this, and we're not as small as many, but it forces the small farmer to either educate their customers and get them in the kitchen – which that's a really uphill battle right now – or value-add by making convenience food. Heat and eat shelf stable convenience as well.

That sounds great. Who doesn’t want pasture-based baloney or summer sausage or jerky? The problem, though, is as soon as you go that route then you're into the whole food safety regulatory structure which is highly, highly, highly prejudicial against small outfits. And so the infrastructure requirements, the HACCP plans, the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point, all of the compliance and licensing issues; temperature readings, thermometer, all of these things, the paperwork, are just horrendous for a small outfit that can't spread those costs over a tracker trailer load of stuff.

If you’ve got a compliant paperwork overhead to do, let's just say, hotdogs, that takes 200 hours of manpower to fill out all the paperwork – and I'm not exaggerating here – this is what this stuff takes, 200 hours. It's one thing to have that spread over a tracker trailer of hotdogs a day coming out of a great big plant. It's quite another to have that spread out over half a dozen little local artisanal guys that are producing 2,000 pounds a year. And that's why I have really come to the conclusion that any regulation that is scaled prejudicial is a bad regulation.

A regulation should not be discriminatory against smaller players and concessionary towards bigger players. Somebody may ask, well name me one that isn't. One that isn't is, for example, speed limits. It doesn't take any more effort or cost to put your foot on the break of an eighteen-wheeler as it does a Toyota Prius. It's the same effort and the same cost of compliance. So that's an example of an okay regulation. But a not okay regulation is one in which the cost of compliance is exactly the same for a $500 million business as it is for a $5,000 business.

That is not a fair playing field. To say that that's a fair playing – and that's what the other side says. Oh, you know, we make the rules, you want to play the game, you got to make the rules, you got to play. That's all fair. Well, an analogy would be, okay, it would be as if you said, oh, you like football? You want to play football? But in order to play football legally, you can only play football legally in an NFL stadium. Well, how many people would play football? Not very many.

Adam Taggart: Right. And what does the stadium cost to build these days?

Joel Salatin: So that's an analogy, I think, that people can – especially when we're coming up to football season, right – it's an analogy that people can understand that – you can say, well, that's a level playing field. The only way to play is you got to play in an NFL football stadium. Well, that's very level, but it certainly doesn't allow for much participation in the marketplace, in the movement. And so this convenience, this convenience food where the local – to be viable with a local producer, your neighborhood producer, to stay viable is going to have to start making stews and quiche and whatever. It creates an additional hurdle in the marketplace due to the size discriminatory food…

Adam Taggart: Cost of play. So question for you in that then. You’ve certainly identified that's where the market is encouraging small providers to go. You’ve just said it may be cost prohibitive for most of them to get there. Do you see these small farms being able to adapt here and to be able to somehow fill this need, or is this truly going to be prohibitive for them?

Joel Salatin: Well, certainly some will do fine. And I truly hope that – the USDA actually now has a small value-added help desk, a help line. I co-own a small community abattoir. We have eighteen employees or something like that up in Harrisonburg, and so I'm well aware of this prejudicial, small plan regulatory structure. But there's actually a help desk now at the USDA that is actually quite helpful. So there is definitely some movement, and the local food movement is definitely pushing back in this arena.

So I don’t want this to be a pessimistic outlook here. I think we need to be realistic about where we are, but I think that if those of us that really care pushback and stay strong, stay in the game, I think that pendulum is going to swing. I think it's going to swing our way.

You know, most people are very concerned when Bayer buys Monsanto and Smithfield is sold to the Chinese. These kinds of things, people don’t talk much about it, but I can tell you down deep inside people are concerned about that kind of consolidation, that kind of thing. And I think that all those stories, all those occurrences in the big agribusiness orthodoxy community is – every time that happens and hits the news it creates another opportunity for an alternative narrative to be told. And that's, of course, the local direct market story.

Adam Taggart: I'm glad that you brought that up. I was going to ask about the Monsanto sale. but maybe more at a higher level because I really like what you said about not trying to make this a despondent message, that there's actually a lot of optimism here. You've been involved in the local food movement now for decades, and you've been one of, if not it's loudest, spokesperson. And you've done a wonderful job of raising awareness of a lot of the challenges that face small providers that are trying to do things better and more based on natural processes and things like that. I know we're at cross currents here both with what the big competition is doing both on a regulatory side and with shifting consumer preferences like you were just telling us about.

At the same time, we've had the emergence of the farm to table movement. There's definitely, I think, been a lot of progress over the past ten years in terms of understanding nutrition science and that healthy food is required for a healthy diet. Net net, at the end of the day, are things getting better, and are you optimistic about where momentum is going, or is the empire striking back here and placing regulations and competition and whatnot that's curtailing things? Where are you in terms of your morale around the movement right now?

Joel Salatin: What a great question. I am not optimistic at all about where the government, the bureaucracy is going, where the bureaucracy is headed. It is getting more and more stifling, the food safety modernization act, FSMA, that Obama put through, it absolutely stifling. And it's, again, because it's size prejudicial, it is putting an inordinate price pressure on smaller producers. That's a fact all the way across the board. And compliance, the cost of compliance is escalating the amount of paperwork, the amount of licensing, the amount of testing and procedural stuff that's happening on farms is through the roof.

So on the federal level I think it's getting worse. Now, I think what's happening on the local level, the other thing that's a pushback that's happened, is what's now known as the food sovereignty movement. And that started in 2105 maybe, two or three years ago in Sedgewick, Maine. And that was a township that passed a half page food sovereignty law that said, in our township if a neighbor wants to do food commerce with another neighbor it's none of the governments business and no bureaucrat has to be involved. So if you want to come to my house, look around, smell around, and operate as freedom of choice, as voluntary adults, as consenting adults – and I'm using very strong language here – to practice your freedom of choice, then two consenting adults should be able to engage in food commerce without a bureaucrat being involved. Well, very quickly six other townships in Maine took up the mantra and passed the regulation, the law, as well.

Then, of course, Maine pushed back and said, no, you can't do that. And it continued to build in Maine until finally the legislature and the governor passed it and said, okay, if a township wants to do that it's okay with us. Well, then, the USDA quickly responded and said we're going to pull all of your federally inspected slaughter houses and food processing plants. Maine, you won't be able to sell to anybody because the federal government is pulling out if you do this. Then the governor called an emergency session. They went back in, and it's still being negotiated. It's a big ho ha. But that – I don’t want to belabor that, but that food sovereignty movement, believe me, there are a lot of us around the country that are watching what's going on in Maine, and we're very interested in it.

And if that were duplicated around the country it would almost be like local food secession. And I'm not a racist, but there is a place to say, at some level, we should be able to engage in food commerce at our own risk and our own freewill. And that is definitely gaining momentum. We see it in the expansion of the farm to consumer legal defense fund. Farm to consumer legal defense fund is essentially a home schooled legal defense association for food. And in two years they’ve gone from collaborating attorney's in something like five states to collaborating attorneys in forty states. That's phenomenal growth for a little non-profit organization.

And so as attorneys find out about how little farmers get treated by swat teams that come in and confiscate their food and different things like that, there's a backlash to it. And now the beauty of the internet is that these things can be documented on iPhones. People can see the bureaucrat, the swat teams coming in and throwing out the perfectly good food from a freezer. They can see the raid; they can see people's rights being violated. And so there is definitely a backlash. It's a food freedom backlash in the country, and I've bene an advocate of this all my life. Of course, I've always said – and I'm a member of the NRA – I like guns – I'm not concerned about that . But I've always said when Americans become as interested in defending their right to acquire the food of their choice as they are the gun of their choice, we're going to have a whole different food paradigm in this country.

Adam Taggart: Interesting. And so I know you’ve always been more on the bleeding edge of tactics for advocating for food freedom, but it sounds like you're saying that you have little to zero hope with the government making things easier in the near term. But you do have hope with this sort of guerilla civilian insurrection.

Joel Salatin: Yes. Rogue food is on the rise. In fact, I would actually like to convene a national conference call, the rogue food conference because there are people – here's what's happening. There are actually people – there's one of the most successful ones in country in Louisville, Kentucky. It's a food club that operates essentially under the same kind of a charter as a golf country club. It's not public, it's completely private. If you're not a member you can't go play in that club or on that course. And so what this is is a dues paying, nonpublic, members only food exchange model. And these guys in Louisville actually have a store front and everything in there is illegal. I mean, they got everything from raw mild to homemade pepperoni. I mean, it's all illegal, and nobody can touch them because it's a private club.

And so these things are beginning to pop up. there is more and more interest in exactly what you said, the guerilla just circumventing the system to where many of us in this integrity food movement now say look, we've been trying to comply, comply, comply, and there's a point at which circumvention is cheaper and less risky than compliance.

Adam Taggart: Interesting. To a certain extent, when you push people beyond a certain line you’ve got little other better option than to try to break the rules.

Joel Salatin: Just think of Corrie ten Boom and the cost of registration and compliance with what the government officials wanted got so high that circumvention, hiding, fleeing, going underground were actually better options. And I don’t want to sound like a raving whatever, Henny Penny house is on fire, but I can tell you that the pent up, latent entrepreneurial desire for local food entrepreneurs in this country, yes, they're farmers, they're entrepreneurs, it's a very, very powerful push. And, of course, the only people that don't want it to proceed are, of course, the big food companies, the big entrenched interests that would find competition if we had a little more freedom

Adam Taggart: Well, look, I'm going to start wrapping things up here only because I've already taken up so much of your time. And honestly, Joel, I could go on for hours for this so we'll have to have to on again at some point if you're willing to come back. But let's square what you just said here. There's a lot of frustration, there's a lot of pent up desire to do things differently amongst existing consumers. But then you also have this, what I believe from what I've been observing although I don’t have numbers at my fingertips, but there's a generational wave going on right now where a lot of the millennial and younger generations, Gen Z, I guess is the one behind the millennials, there's a lot of essument [PH] of the material career paths that previous generations took. And there's a strong respect for the environment, and there's a sense of you want to live a fulfilling life not necessarily just a financially wealthy life, and so there's a real kind of back to the land and let me put it this way – a larger percent of this population is interested in pursuing small scale farming in many of the ways you have espoused then was in previous generations. So how is that plugging into this kind of brewing revolution that you're talking about just having this wave of bright shiny people that just want to do this for a living?

Joel Salatin: Yes. I can tell you I spent a lot of time with millennials, with our internal _______ [0:43:47] program, and I speak at college campuses routinely. And I can tell you that, yes, it is heart warming to meet young people today who are more interested in doing something noble, righteous, and sacred than acquiring material wealth. And that is an extremely hopeful sign. And for sure, what we are speaking about in nutritious, soil building, land healing food is a pretty noble calling. And that story is absolutely firing the imagination of a new generation of young people. And it's exciting to see, and I think that wave is going to continue.

The old guard will not go down easily or gently, but there's a lot of tipping points that we're beginning to approach. The fact that the US leads the world now in the five noninfectious morbidity diseases. That's not the place to be number one. US sperm counts are down 60 percent in 30 years. In Africa they're not down at all. Clearly, something is different in the US that sperm counts are that low. We have desertification. We have water wars developing. There are lots of just very interesting, not to mention the whole financial deficit spending type of tax type of thing.

And so there are numerous tipping points that are showing themselves to us, and nobody knows what the trigger will be. But with as many looming as there are, chances are that something will trigger in the next twenty years that we're not really anticipating. I mean, this is the whole deal of collapse, right. Collapse is no civilization ever rectifies its demise in time. The guy who cut the last tree on Easter Island was not thinking about where the next tree was going to come from. And I think in that regard our civilization will not be any different than any other civilization in history. And the chances are the thing that we fear the most right now probably won't be that trigger. It'll be something maybe that we're not expecting.

Adam Taggart: Very true. And it's exactly why Peak Prosperity exists because we're doing that on a number of levels. What's going to cause us to change our behavior in terms of our monetary policy or our credit binge or our energy policy or the many ways in which we're depleting the environment. And we talk about people. Two ways that humans change. One is by insight, if I keep doing what I'm doing it's going to have a bad end, then I should change my behavior. Or it's by pain. You keep doing what you're doing until it hurts too much to continue doing it. And sadly, human nature being what it is, and the behavioral economists have tons and tons of data supporting this, as a species we tend to always change by pain. Seems like it's probably going to go that way. And what is that trigger? What is going to be that one thing that's so painful enough that we change? You know, at Peak Prosperity we spend our time looking at the probabilities, but that's really the best we can do. And we're completely open to the fact that it'll probably be the bullet we don’t see coming.

Joel Salatin: Because prophecies tend to rectify themselves. In other words, when everybody starts saying we've got to solve this problem here because it's a real problem, it becomes a self-fulfilling deal. All the effort goes into solving that problem, and so that problem doesn't happen. It's the one you didn't see over here that's going to be the one that's a problem.

Adam Taggart: I'm butchering it, but it's – what is it, the Mark Twain quote that says it's not what you don’t know that gets you into trouble, it's the thing that you think you know for sure that does. All right, well, Joel, again, thank you so much. Just in closing here, just want to ask the general question of what's your advice to individuals listening to this podcast who are inspired by your words and interested in effecting change in their local food systems, is it getting involved in the Integrity Food Movement? We know for sure it's buying local. What other things might you suggest for folks?

Joel Salatin: I kind of have a three-part deal. One is get in your kitchen. The first thing is get in your kitchen. You can't be as profoundly divorced from your body's foundational fuel and expect integrity in the food system. So get in your kitchen. Fortunately, we have so many techno gadget type things in our kitchens now, kitchens are fun as opposed to maybe in great grandma's day. So get in your kitchen.

Number two, go find your food treasures in your community. If you're a working name relationship with your purveyors, you will be the last one cut off.

Adam Taggart: I'm glad you say that. I say the exact same thing. Keep going.

Joel Salatin: So developing that network and those relationships with your purveyors, you'll get the last can on the shelf, which is a great place to be. And then the third thing is do something yourself. I don’t care whether it's a Verma composting bin under the sink, a hanging – one of these PVC pot things that hangs from the patio and you grow all your own herbs in it or tomato plants or whatever, a beehive on the roof of the house. But do something yourself that plunges you into the awe and mystery of life in a tactile, visceral way. And that will help you to realize there's a way bigger world out there revolving around you. And I think that's a powerful thing to stimulate common sense and reason.

There's a reason why the urban sector folks have a block very different than the rural sector. And I don’t want to get partisan, but all I'm going to say is that there is something about touching, smelling, sensually, tactilely participating in growing things, and something that's growing in life that brings us to a humble place which is the beginning of wisdom and common sense.

Adam Taggart: I agree very much. And those are wise words. And the only thing I'd add is not only do you become aware of that world, but you develop an appreciation that it's a world worth fighting for which is exactly what you were saying is part of the hope in the story. It's the public really stepping up to take back control of the things it values. Great. All right, Joel. Well, thank you so much. Folks, Joel Salatin. You can read more about Joel and see what he's up to at his farm at pollyfacefarm.com. It's pollyfacefram.com or pollyface.com?

Joel Salatin: pollyfacefarms.com, and I have a blog, Musings from a Lunatic Farmer, so they can keep up with me there as well.

Adam Taggart: Great. We'll keep up with that. Enjoy. You’ve written a whole slew of books. What's your most recent one?

Joel Salatin: The most recent on is Your Successful Farm Business.

Adam Taggart: Super timely farm topic. I'll link to that as well here in the podcast write up. All right, everybody else, hope we'll have him back on soon again. And Joel, again, thank you so much for your time today. It's always a pleasure.

Joel Salatin: Thank you.

About the guest

Joel F. Salatin (born 1957) is an American farmer, lecturer, and author whose books include Folks, This Ain't Normal, You Can Farm and Salad Bar Beef.

Salatin raises livestock using holistic methods of animal husbandry, free of potentially harmful chemicals, on his Polyface Farm in Swoope, Virginia, in the Shenandoah Valley. Meat from the farm is sold by direct-marketing to consumers and restaurants.

In high school, Salatin began his own business selling rabbits, eggs, butter and chicken from his family farm at the Staunton Curb Market. He then attended Bob Jones University where he majored in English and was a student leader. He graduated in 1979. Salatin married his childhood sweetheart in 1980 and became a feature writer at the Staunton, Virginia newspaper, The News Leader, where he had worked earlier typing obituaries and police reports.

Tired of “having his stories spiked,” he decided to try farming full-time after first getting involved in a walnut-buying station run by two high school boys. Salatin’s grandfather had been an avid gardener and beekeeper and a follower of J. I. Rodale, the founder of regenerative organic gardening. Salatin’s father worked as an accountant and his mother taught high school physical education. Salatin’s parents had bought the land that became Polyface after losing a farm in Venezuela to political turmoil. They had raised cattle using organic methods, but could not make a living at farming alone.

Salatin, a self-described “Christian-libertarian-environmentalist-capitalist-lunatic-Farmer” produces high-quality “beyond organic” meats, which are raised using environmentally responsible, ecologically beneficial, sustainable agriculture. Jo Robinson, the author of Pasture Perfect: The Far-Reaching Benefits of Choosing Meat, Eggs and Dairy Products From Grass-Fed Animals (2004) said of Salatin, “He’s not going back to the old model. There’s nothing in county extension or old-fashioned ag science that really informs him. He is just looking totally afresh at how to maximize production in an integrated system on a holistic farm. He’s just totally innovative.”

Salatin considers his farming a ministry, and he condemns the negative impact on his livelihood and lifestyle of what he considers an increasingly regulatory approach taken by the agencies of the United States government toward farming. Salatin now spends a hundred days a year lecturing at colleges and to environmental groups.

 

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7 Comments

Uncletommy's picture
Uncletommy
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
Joined: May 4 2014
Posts: 608
Peer fear!

Joel touches on only one aspect of our fear of elites: food safety. We haven't even begun to explore the effects that medicine, schooling, media, etc., have on our autonomy to live within the parameters of our natural world. Are we like sheep; pickled in our own herd myopia?

Observations of the sickening effect of programmed environments show that people in them become indolent, impotent, narcissistic and apolitical. The political process breaks down, because people cease to be able to govern themselves; they demand to be managed.

Perhaps, we're starting to come to our senses.
 
dcm's picture
dcm
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 14 2009
Posts: 218
Thought for food (read both ways)

Great interview Adam.  Although Joel only talks about food there’s a lot to chew on here. There’s a reason most humans knew how to produce (or forage) healthy food for all but the last 150 years of their existence. If you told me I had to give up control of everything to the big bad boys but could keep one skill, it would be food. “Making” food is not making money, talking politics, or driving to work. It’s the utter essence of what we are. It’s not only survival, it’s our most profound understanding and interaction with a real world we are slowly learning to forget 

LesPhelps's picture
LesPhelps
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 30 2009
Posts: 807
Holy Zeus, our government lies to us!?

But we've all known that the US Government tells us only what they want us to hear for years.

The absurdly low bar set for organic food is no suprise.  Heck Amazon and Walmart are selling organics now.

An even bigger issue, however, is the information we are getting about nutrition and sustainability as it relates to the food industry in general.

The meat, dairy and processed food lobbies are going to insure that you don't get uncontested information about honest nutritional science any more than they are going to make it easy for you to find out how cruel and ecologically unsound the meat and dairy factory farms are.

Nutrition and pollution aside, knowledge of the cruelty involved in CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations), would cause many of us to avoid meat and dairy consumption almost entirely.

Pigs and poultry that never see the light of day, their entire short, miserable lives.  Cows that are chained stationary in a stall, their entire adult life.  It's far worse than what you see driving by a feed lot, out West.

LesPhelps's picture
LesPhelps
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 30 2009
Posts: 807
Duplicate

The, "I'm not a robot" feature attacks again.

DennisC's picture
DennisC
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: Mar 19 2011
Posts: 328
Another Group

Another organisation that dot gov. and dot corp. don't like poking around in their beeswax.

mercyforanimals dot org

 

jandeligans's picture
jandeligans
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Dec 21 2011
Posts: 28
Small food growers could solve many problems....

Love Joel Salatin. Someone who just calls it as he sees it no matter what. If the US gov't would reverse course and promote small farming - give them subsidies and freedom - just think of the issues it could solve. 1 - climate change. Growing more trees and grasses and doing it right can remove carbon from the air and store it in the ground where it can be used productively by animals and more plants. 2 - employment. Using human labor again instead of fossil fueled machines and chemicals will also reduce CO2 emissions not to mention give people meaningful healthy employment. We could go back to half of all of us being involved in food production. Doing it right will reduce drug addiction and crime and promote community and health. 3 - better health for all. All the autoimmune disorders and obesity and all the other diseases caused by big chemical ag can go away. Small farms can get off the chemical train and raise food that will heal people instead of poison them. And there are many other benefits I can think of. But our gov't is determined to promote maximum profits for the biggest chemical addicted players and regulate the small farmers out of business. It is so backwards. Where I live for example it is legal to sell raw milk but only for pet food. So a local pet food store here is doing a great business selling raw milk to people "for their pets" who are taking it home and drinking it themselves. Rogue food is the only way we have to go right now. How sad. But bring it on!

richcabot's picture
richcabot
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 5 2011
Posts: 226
Almost all regulations have ulterior motives

Regulators almost always end up co-operating with the well funded people being regulated, whether it's the revolving door between the SEC and Wall Street or between the FDA and the pharma companies.  Farming is no different.

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