Everything I Want to Do is Illegal

So says the book by independent farmer extraordinaire Joel Salatin of Augusta County. 

This past Saturday, I visited Mr. Salatin’s “Polyface Farm” outside Staunton to see why everyone is talking about his revolutionary methods of farming.

Why is a Senator and attorney from the Northern Virginia suburbs interested in farming?

First of all, my wife made me go.  She’s been interested in Polyface Farm since reading the “Omnivore’s Dilemma” with her book club several months ago.

Second, my family (like most American families) has a long history with farming.  Three of my four grandparents grew up on farms or ranches.  My mother and I are part owners of a family farm located in Middlesex County.  Somehow, somewhere there’s a farming instinct in me. 

Third, as a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, I have a front-row seat of the various battles between agribusinesses that sell to national grocery chains and small farmers selling directly to consumers.  Around these battles are all the hot issues:  consumer choice, product safety, competitive pricing and environmental impact.  Besides, my constituents are eating all these products.   

I figured there would be a few dozen people there to walk the farm and hear from the boss.  Wrong.  There were about a thousand.  And that was just for the morning program.

The parking lot held license plates from all over the U.S.   There were “Ron Paul Revolution” stickers next to “Jan 20 09″ stickers.  There were Amish families from Pennsylvania.  Pig farmers from Arkansas.  Food buyers from NYC restaurants.  Moms with kids.  Dads taking notes.  It was “A to Z” of the American food chain.

Mr. Salatin’s points were pretty simple: Let the animals work naturally with the land.  Give them free range.  Let the chickens run.  Let the cattle graze.  Do not keep them penned up in stalls.  Don’t give them steroids.  Let them grow naturally. 

The result is not just healthier food, it’s also a healthier landscape.  Why?  Because the acres saved from constant hay production become land that is utilized for natural feeding without soil exhaustion.

And here’s the shocking part … you can make more money!

According to Salatin, his yield per acre as an organic farmer far oustrips his neighbors using conventional hay-driven farming.  Let’s face it.  That’s what brings in the visitors. 

I don’t know enough about farming to appreciate all of Salatin’s arguments, much less critique them.  But I learned more there in a morning than I learned in all the Ag Committee hearings combined.

This guy may really be on to something.

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