I remember picking up Joel Salatin’s book, Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal soon after I finished The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. I wanted to learn more. Joel’s reverence for growing grass captured my imagination. His explanation of bio-dynamic farming confirmed my suspicions. Animals and plants are meant to be cultivated together.
Our visit to Polyface Farms, located in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, fit perfectly into our spring break excursion– but was a little too early in the season to see the farm in full production. No chickens pecking around the chicken mobile or cows grazing on pasture. Still, Brie Aronson walked us through the property and answered all our questions. The picture that sticks in my mind is the early greening of the Polyface pastures compared to the distinct brown of his neighbor’s land. Bio-dynamic farming feeds the land, the animals and the farmer in a way that conventional farming just can’t.
We saw chicks pecking in the brooding house, and were told how pigs contribute by disturbing the land. The thrashing of the pasture and paddocks allows seed to be spread, nutrients to till, and the rich ecosystem of the soil to thrive. Resting the pastures allows them to regenerate and grow the grass that feeds the cows far longer than conventional farms. Polyface relies on hay feed for a mere 40 days of the year while more conventional local operations feed hay an average of 120 days.
The exquisite execution and overall efficiency of each farming operation impressed us the most. Every season allows work to be done that prepares for the next. We saw how the cows feeding in the barn were actually busy building the layers of manure, fermented corn and hay that the pigs next door churned into rich compost and fertilizer. (Boy, are they rambunctious. I remember seeing docile pigs in crates at the LA County Fair and cringe. I have a new appreciation for Joel Salatin’s intent to honor the “pigness of a pig”. ) We saw the chicken mobiles that allow the chickens to range and peck on the fly larvae maturing in cow pies that ultimately creates the delicious omega three rich eggs. The cycle of life hard at work.
CONVENTIONAL FARMING IS UNSUSTAINABLE
The current industrialized model for farming and raising animals is unsustainable. Conventional farming doesn’t optimize the synergy between the grass, animals and plant foods. Waste in the conventional model is considered a resource in the bio-dynamic model.
Conventional farming depends on cheap energy and subsidized products, horribly distorting food costs in the marketplace. The cheap stuff at our local markets is subsidized by our taxes, so we do pay more for this food, just not directly. Ironically all this cheap food is more than we can afford. Treating diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and the myriad of other diseases linked to our abundant and highly adulterated food supply only continues to cost all of us–individually and collectively. There is another way to produce the food we need. Thanks to Joel Salatin and sustainable farmers everywhere, more and more of us have a choice. What do you do to eat closer to the earth?