Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Christian-libertarian-environmentalist-lunatic grass farmer

My first introduction to Joel Salatin was through the eyes and words of Michael Pollan, author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.” Little did I know that as I carefully opened the cover and fingered the crisp pages of this new book, the way I viewed food was about to change… drastically!

A self described “Christian-libertarian-environmentalist-lunatic grass farmer,” Saladin claims that the success of his farm and every organism within it depends on the quality of the keystone species, grass.

Salatin’s beyond-organic farm is modeled almost completely from the natural local ecosystem; biodiversity is its strength.

Take a plot of grassy land. First the cows are brought in to graze on a myriad of different plant species that we have shoved under the umbrella term: grass. They eat the plants that they need and leave their cow messes in the field. At night they are moved to a new plot of grass. If the cows were to stay in the same place for too long, they would destroy the plant life and bacteria and parasites would be encouraged to thrive.

Instead, three days after the cows have vacated the premise, the chickens are brought in. They feed on the shorter grasses that the cows have uncovered by eating the longer plant life. They also pick through the cow droppings to find and eat delicious bugs. In addition, their nitrogenous excrement is great for the soil. (In nature, birds will follow roaming herbivores in this manner. The two groups have developed a mutually beneficial relationship.)

But that’s not all. Many many organisms and species have been working together to promote an environment that is healthy and provides benefits for all of those who contribute to its health. Don’t forget the earthworms, the nitrogen-fixing bacteria, the pigs, and the trees. On the farm, the human is just there to be the facilitator.

Ok. I’m rambling… But it is clear that a healthy, sustainable agricultural system is one in which many species work together. Take away one of those species, and you produce long-lasting and detrimental effects on all of those involved.

Industrializing agriculture (planting and harvesting a monoculture of, say, corn) is taking away that natural balance that is so crucial to the health of our planet. Straying from this natural balance can spur consequences that are unpredictable and far reaching.

But it’s not so easy for the small farmer. The industry of food production, in conjunction with the U.S. Government, has done an excellent job of monopolizing the market. They over-produce cheap crops and have done a fine job of exploiting that produce. Corn, for example, is a food that is easily grown in monoculture and can get processed (and then further processed, and further…) until it is virtually unrecognizable. We find it every where in our diet. We are even forcing our cows to eat corn, which their digestive organs are not equipped to digest, and to dwell in their own fecal matter. When they get sick from the corn fermenting in their bellies, we stuff them full of pharmaceuticals. When they develop bacterial infections, we give them antibiotics. Is that what we want to think about when we’re lifting that fork to our mouths? And we wonder why our country has such a high occurrence rate of heart disease, diabetes, obesity… and our government’s answer to that: MORE PHARMACEUTICALS!

Now I’m not preaching vegetarianism. Far from it.

Salatin provides a farm where cows are free to behave like cows; chickens like chickens; and so forth. Are the animals happy? Well, that’s another discussion… but what’s so wrong with letting animals do what comes natural to them?

Why am I writing all this? I guess my message is: know where your food comes from! Of all the things we do in life, we have a choice of what we put into our bodies. Why would we turn an apathetic blind eye to something so important to our health and overall wellbeing?

So confident in the workings, cleanliness and morality of his work, Salatin’s farm is a transparent farm, meaning: you can stop by any time and take a poke around. You can see where the animals feed, sleep, poo, bred and eventually get turned into food as we know it. Salatin believes so much in what he’s doing that he’ll invite you right in and happily answer your questions.

On the other side of the spectrum, the industrial food companies have closed the door to visitors. It is now off limits to see where and how your food is prepared, a right we all should have.

So what can we do? We can embrace our communities. We can find the local farmers and talk to them. We can eat regionally and seasonally. On average, 50 calories of (fossil fuel) energy go into creating 1 calorie of food. 5 of which go into transport. By buying locally, we are using less fossil fuel to transport our food from Argentina to New Zealand, to the Czech Republic to somewhere in the U.S. By knowing our food growers and producers, we are stimulating local economy and protecting the environment.

When I found out that Joel Salatin was coming to speak in Bremerton, I knew that I had to go. From what I’ve read, it was bound to be an energetic and electrifying talk!

Bouncing out of work at an early hour, I sped down to Pier 52 for the Bremerton Ferry. An hour later I was navigating my bike through the streets toward Olympic College. Once oriented, I found myself with two hours to spare. I rode down to a coffee shop for a latte and a jaw-breaking bagel.

Back at the venue, I adorned my name tag and poked my nose around the information tables piled high with pamphlets and pictures. 10 reasons why I should eat local and an index of all the farmers’ markets in Washington. Following a brief, local food buffet, we gathered onto the unforgiving bleachers in the sweltering gymnasium. After a parade of introductory speakers (through which I doodled and made small talk with Dennis, the chicken farmer to my right), a balding man bounded up to the microphone. Here he was, the man himself.

In the rise and fall of his intonations and the whirlwind of his oratory energy, I was able to pick out a few shining phrases. He made note that “no civilization has been able to be so far removed from their local ecology like we’ve been to ours” and it’s all due to the “industrial fecal factory concentration camp farms.” We have turned food “into a pile of inanimate stuff.” We give little thought to where it comes from and what goes into its production.

One person in Vermont had complained to him about spending $1.69 for an organic ear of corn. How could buying organic it be so much better than spending $.89 for the conventional corn? The real question, says Salatin gaining momentum, is why you need to have corn in Vermont in March?! Eating what is in season is not only cheaper, but also better quality than the food picked green and shipped thousands of miles to ripen in your supermarket.

The community, he says, that feeds itself is the most free. It is true on many different levels. “Let’s heal the planet, one plate at a time.”

Following the brief Q&A, I missed the 9pm ferry back to Seattle to personally thank Salatin for coming and to take my picture with him! (I had to wait 2 hours and 40 minutes for the next ferry!)

1 comment:

KatPoz said...

check it!

much love and admiration, you're writing beautifully!