The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer

Wednesday is the day I pick up my raw milk from a local urban drop point and it is also Real Food Wednesdays over at Kelly the Kitchen Kop’s blog. She has a great round-up of all kinds of real food related posts and recipes every Wednesday from the realfood blogosphere. I have come to really look forward to this day, I really like having a day of the week dedicated to Real Food like this. I also meet interesting people on my bus ride to get the milk. One morning it was an elder indigenous woman who was heading home to can freshly caught salmon, another time it was an old man asking about the wild fennel I had just foraged from the alley, sticking out of the back of my blue hand-cart, another time I met another cowshare member who was growing her own mushrooms on a bag of straw. The cycles of relationship created by getting involved with real, living food are very grounding and healing.

We also get real pastured eggs through our local cowshare. In October, I was also really lucky to get a loan of the book The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer by Joel Salatin from a cowshare member when we were at the Contempt of Court trial against our local community dairy, which is now being run by Michael Schmidt.

What an exciting read! It is one of those rare books that I get that I actually try to read slowly. The last one I read like that was Masanobu Fukuoka’s book The One-Straw Revolution and I would say that in many ways these books are very similar. Both are written with the integrity and passion of people with their hands in the earth and who really know what they are talking about. Both speak of the diversity and of working with the systems and natural rhythms that are already in place. Reading this book has frequently given me goose-bumps, and worth savoring, drawing out for as long as possible until you can really embody the experience. Joel Salatin writes with such a cascade of vibrant examples from nature that it is impossible to not get caught up in the excitement and to feel and see the earthworms dancing in your dreams at night. He also dares to say things that really need to be said in a way that is humorous and not too offensive. I highly recommend you read this book for yourselves, but in the meantime I am gonna post some of my favorite excerpts. I just can’t help it, very exciting stuff….

The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer

by Joel Salatin 2010
Polyface, Inc. “Farm of Many Faces”

Small Scale Vs Industrial:

But doesn’t our system take way more land than the efficiencies of confinement factory houses? Not at all. In our system, the birds are out on grass, dropping their poop and eating grass plus grain. In the confinement houses, their grain has to be produced somewhere and their poop has to go somewhere. Even if our birds didn’t eat any grass and consumed the same amount of grain, the land required to grow the grain would be the same per pound as it is in a confinement house. No land difference there. Everyone needs to understand that radiating out from every single confinement animal operation, whether it be poultry, pork, beef, dairy, or guinea pig, an entire unseen land base supports it. You don’t see the corn fields. You don’t see the corporate offices. You don’t see the manure hauling trucks and the acres on which the manure is spread. Our pasture based model actually takes less land than the industrial model. -p41

“Bird Flu”:

In fact, government agencies are now using satellite photography to inventory farm ponds in order to identify these liabilities. You see, farm ponds attract water fowl. Water fowl, according to accredited government experts, are the primary vector for transmitting avian influenza. Never mind that studies conducted in Britain showed that poultry eating a bit of fresh grass every day were virtually immune to avian influenza. Never mind that the whole problem began in developing countries trying to mimic American industrial overcrowding techniques but without the modicum of sanitation practised in American poultry houses, of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO). -p59

Stewards of the Land:

I believe one of our responsibilities as stewards of the land is to build more forgiveness into the landscape. Farmers should be shock absorbers. Nature can send some shocks, weather being perhaps the biggest one. But that is a given. We know a drought is coming. We know a flood is coming. It’s our responsibility to bring cleverness and ingenuity to the landscape so that it’s more resilient. Anything less is not good stewardship. -p62

Confused Culture:

When is the last time you presented a business plan to a bank loan officer and had her ask: “That’s all well and good, but what does this plan do to salamanders? What does it do to your marriage? What does it do to your kids? What does it do to your neighbors? What does it do the the earthworms?”

Unless and until we begin asking those kinds of questions, we will continue assaulting nature. That, in turn, will require more sophisticated technology, more infrastructure, more questionable concoctions from pharmaceuticals to pesticides, more energy, and more problems. Most of the problems we research are a result of not keeping things toxin free. Yes, I know anything can be a toxin. You can’t just drink a bottle of organic foliar spray without getting sick. Manure is a toxin.

The point is to handle things so they aren’t toxic. Respect the cycles and natural cleansing tht rotations, decomposition, and sustainable carrying capacity affords. If we devote ourselves first to that, instead of solving the problem created by not thinking about that first, we will end up much happier and healthier. -p76

Pastured Eggs:

Pastured eggs contain the proper balance of Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids. That balance is the key to cholesterol. -p82

Food Police:

Food police aren’t normal. People have always been able to eat pretty much whatever they wanted. No civilization has ever had bureaucrats determine for the populace what is and is not acceptable to eat. As the industrial backlash against local and normal food escalates, it will be interesting to see how much good food gets demonized before normal food wins the day. I have no doubt that normal food will again be legal; the question is how long and how far-reaching will be the assault until our side wins the day.

The point of the assault is raw milk specifically, and raw dairy generally. By what strange process has raw milk been deemed unsafe but Twinkies, Cocoa-Puffs and Mountain Dew been deemed safe? This convoluted circumstance derives from teh notion that unless something kills you outright, it’s safe. If it gives you Type II diabetes or asthma or some other chronic malady, that’s okay because it didn’t happen quickly enough to go on the causation report. Scientists use the lethal dose rule to measure toxicity. It’s a crazy notion. The only things considered harmful are things that kill you while the study is going on. -p113

“Our government has become a terror to righteousness, and an encourager of evil.” -p114

Local farmer VS soldier:

I confess that it’s hard for me to appreciate what our military is doing abroad when our own government agents are terrorizing our populace at home. In my opinion, the real heroes of our day are the everyday farmers who feed their neighbors with normal, historically-accurate food and take it in the teeth from industrial naysayers, food police, and consumer lethargy.

Anyone can sign up for a free education, meals provided, the best weaponry and communications money can buy to go empire-build on the other side of the world. It takes a real visionary, perhaps even a lunatic, to embark at home, where he grew up, among neighbors, on a journey that the culture thinks is lunacy. To stand with nothing but the power of righteousness. To continue massaging the land, massaging the animals, massaging the plants, nurturing in humility and awe, when the culture applauds dominion, manipulation, disrespect, and rape. -p114

Food Police

If what I do became normal once again, it would completely invert the power, prestige, and profits of the current food economy, from producer to retailer.

“But they can’t come after me with guns. All they can do is argue with me. And they know it. So they will use you, sir, to move their agenda forward. They will stroke you with wine and cheese dinners. They will give you money. They will give you honor and plaques and recognition. They will use you to terrorize me. Because you, sir, can send people with guns.

“At the end of the day, governor, you are the thin veil of protection between the industrial food agenda and me. You stand between me and annihiliation. You and every other elected official must understand that your responsibility, your ministry, your number one job, is to defend righteousness against an evil agenda.”

I implore, I beg, I plead with any elected official reading or hearing these words to understand the gravity of the situaition. Never, ever, in human history have we had a food police to deny the populace normal food. Never. To swoop down on little cottage food industries with legal paperwork and litigation threats just because a letter on a label is bigger or smaller than some bureaucrat thinks it should be–this is not normal. It’s never been tried.

When will people begin to realize that the unprecedented acceleration in obesity, Type II diabetes, and food-borne pathogen illness is a direct result of the food police denying the populace normal food? -p115

Biofuels:

When you build subsidized single-use capital-intensive multi-million dollar alchohol plants, the culture does not abandon them easily. The truth is that whether or not we need the energy, whether or not producing the corn to fuel those plants is ecologically sound, whether or not those plants are ecologically viable, those plants will still operate because the culture invested time and emotion in them. And the more you have invested in a relationship, the harder it is to break it off when it’s no longer healthy. -p203

The answer for energy is to eliminate the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF) and let anybody who wants to have a still in their backyard have one. That’s the way it used to be, before prohibition. If you research it a little, prohibition did to decentralized and independent energy production what the drug wars have done to decentralized and independent food production. A government that has the authority to criminalize your backyard whiskey production can and will also criminalize your backyard energy production. And a government that has the authority to criminalize drugs can and will also criminalize raw milk and compost grown tomatoes.

All under the guise of safety and the common welfare. -p203-204

Nature Conservancy:

Sometimes I wonder if a lot of members join these groups for guilt assuagement rather than real engaged cultural alteration. The thinking is like this: “Now that I’ve given my money to this outfit, I can check off my environmental commitment for the year and keep eating candy, junk and soda, and taking the grand-kids to junk food joints.” This is all part of that disconnectedness in our culture created by compartmentalized thinking.

This is my problem with carbon trading and cap and trade schemes. What is this, earth stewardship by indulgence? As long as I can pay enough into the treasury, I can live like the Devil any time I please and be forgiven? Just keep the money rolling in? Eventually, somebody needs to just do what’s right instead of getting permission to do what’s wrong. I’ve heard this called: “doing bad but feeling good about it.”

If all the money funnelled into these big name environmental organizations were channelled into identifying and then turning the membership loose on ecologically beneficial regulating, and legislating. They could start their own subsidy chest so that if school districts couldn’t afford ecologically-friendly food, the environmental organization would throw in a subsidy. Can you imagine what impact that would have?

Then the message would be localized. The battle would be fought over the dinner plates of real people discussing real issues in their homes and classrooms instead of artificial news conferences and lobby rooms in bureaucracies somewhere. If all the money and time spent regulating the word organic had been spent freeing up local food entrepreneurs, we’d be spinning circles around industrial food by now. Instead, we squandered all that investment fighting ourselves, dividing ourselves, while the industrial food system expanded and laughed. -p245

Farmers:

An economy can only be as healthy as it’s farmers. Farmers drive the lion’s share of landscape stewardship. Unfortunately, if the landscape ecology fails, the economy will fail. Farmers drive food quality. Ultimately, if health fails, the economy will fail. -p246

Relationships:

Non-industrial farming is all about cultivating relationships as part of the transparent and open source production and processing lifestyle. Relationships blossom with trust and shrivel with distrust.

Industrial farming cultivates distrust.

Industrial food processors consistently abuse their patrons. -p252

As a farm becomes more industrialized, interactions with the community inherently diminish. Experts must be called from outside rather than counsel sought from inside. Poultry farms, for example, receive routine visits from the field rep. That’s the corporate expert. In many cases, these field reps have never raised a chicken in their lives, but they’ve been to school and have a credentialed degree.

Field reps come in and tell farmers how to do it. Of course, this is appropriate because most farmers who sign up for a factory house have never raised a chicken either. So the factory chicken farmers, by and large, feel completely overwhelmed by their own industrial paradigm. If they have a problem, they don’t call a neighbor; they call the field rep. If anything goes wrong, the farmer can blame the field rep. And of course the field rep blames the dumb farmer. It’s a wonderful partnership.

A similar thing occurs in many areas. Our neighborhood mechanic, for example, has a small shop adjacent to his house. A fix-it wizard, he’s the kind of perfect neighborhood expertise we need to encourage. but as cars become more and more sophisticated and the technical equipment for reading the computers more expensive, it’s harder for him to serve the community. If the computer reading equipment costs $100,000., you need a pretty big shop to pay for it. A one-man backyard business can’t afford that kind of equipment.

And while Thomas Friedman, author of The World is Flat, seems to relish this movement, I think it cuts at both warp and woof of culture’s fabric. In our mad dash to globalism and sophistication, we’re not asking, “What about the neighbors?” Culturally, it’s as if we respond, “What neighbors?” For all our looking at the other side of the globe, we can’t even see the folks who live under our noses.

James Dale Davidson discusses this in his wonderful book The Sovereign Individual, in which he says modern western cultures are re-organizing around value tribes as opposed to blood-related tribes. Historically, people have been organized tribally much longer than we’ve been organized as nation-states. Chat rooms, twitter, facebook are all part of realigning ourselves with people who think like us rather than people who live near us or are biologically related.

Most of us are much better friends with people who think like us than the yo-yos with whom we must spend Thanksgiving and Christmas. You know, the weird uncle and weird grandma. And weird sibling. A truly happy, cohesive, open family is a rarity. -p257

Children and Dirt:

Disease happens. Drought happens. Frost happens. Hail happens. The lettuce bolts. The beetles find the potatoes. And children need to know that they can’t just tap a button on a console and have the world bow to their whim. Gardening builds relationships with microbes, with reality, and with humility. Our world needs a lot more humility and a little less hubris. Gardening does that for kids.

Dirt is great on kids. It will wash off. What do we teach our children when we call soil yucky? Parents should do everything possible to encourage their children to build relationships with their ecological umbilical. Eat a little soil. It’s good for you. Get those microbes in there. Exercise that immune system. Wiggle on down in that nest. Move some stuff around. Build that relationship.

Industrial farms want to annihilate microbes. They want sterility. And they think they can substitute a relationship with microbes by cultivating a relationship with pharmaceuticals. -p265

If the modern industrial food empires had their way, visitors and customers would be excluded from farms. They view anybody coming onto the farm as threatening the world’s food supply. -p273

Organic Certification:

That’s the problem with organic certification as a marketing tool. Now that the government owns the term and defines the protocol, the same kind of collusion toward shortcuts that defined corporate/government agendas now defines organics. For the life of me I can’t figure out why people who fought the USDA for decades because it pooh-poohed everything nature-respecting suddenly decided to turn over to the USDA the reins of organics. That’s called intellectual schizophrenia. -p276

Product to People:

At Polyface, we’ve enjoyed pioneering what we call the Metropolitan Buying Club (MBC), which is just a glorified way of saying urban drop points. Demanding everyone to come out into the country every time they want a dozen eggs is neither realistic nor sustainable. Somehow we need to duplicate the efficiencies of industrial distribution, but on a local scale. That requires networking and using e-communication to create real time diversified inventory food commerce.

The conundrum facing all of us in this movement has been this: how do you take a story-based open-sourced Eastern-holistic integrity food item and preserve that in a Western compartmentalized opaque dishonest supermarket setting? -p280

Direct Marketing:

If we would be as quick to realize the strength and vialidity of direct marketing as we are to shoot it down because it doesn’t have universal application, we’d be realigning the food system so fast the Cargill board of directors would be heading for Pakistan. And the Monsanto board would be right behind them. What happens when the people desert obsolete multi-nationals? -p281

Transparent Economy:

During that time, the butcher, baker and candlestick maker were securely imbedded in the village economy. This proximity encouraged transparency, which is the linchpin of accountability, which is the cornerstone of integrity. as the scale of each of these enterprises increased during the industrial revolution, the outgrew the human friendly scale necessary to stay imbedded in the village.

The dust, noise, odors and other things associated with large-scale anything required that these businesses locate away from the village. Any time an economic sector moves away from public view, it begins to create its own value system. Any economic sector that is out of sight long enough will begin taking environmental, social, and economic shortcuts. The only way to ensure integrity in anything is to maintain transparency, where lots of people can see what goes in the front door and what comes out the back door. -p286

Integrity does not require wordsmithing and cleverspeak. -p296

Lawn Mowing:

Remember that America has 35 million acres of lawn. That’s land that routinely gets fertilized, irrigated, and then mowed with heavy metal operated by petroleum. If all that ground were turned into edible landscaping, it could feed the nation. -p296

Industrial Chemical Farming:

Industrial/chemical farming has had several oops days.

Remember when confining animals in muddy lots brought on hog cholera and Newcastle’s disease? Or feeding distiller’s grains to dairy cows brought on undulant fever and brucellosis? How about when everybody realized DDT and other chemicals were responsible for three-legged salamanders and infertile frogs?

How about when feeding dead cows to cows was the smoking gun in bovine spongiform encephalopahty? And how about whn Cdiff and MRSA, commonly known as hospital superbugs, were linked to antibiotic feeding on factory farms? Remember when subsidized corn turned into cheap high fructose corn syrup was fingered as the primary cause for Type II diabetes? And just around the corner, devastating ecological and nutritional results from genetic engineering. -p302

4 Comments

  1. GeorgeFarms says:

    I bet Joel is a target of every government group that sleeps with the corporate food industry scum. I thank God he’s still in business, despite the communistic regime in the US ag industry. The day they silence Salatin is the day before we all die a miserable, slow death. Please support your local farmer’s. They are fighting the beast with everything they’ve got because they know it’s our last hope for normal, non-engineered food. If you don’t, it will all be over soon.

  2. This is an incredible book written by an impassioned giant of a man.

  3. I just bought this book. Can’t WAIT to read it.

  1. [...] Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer” by Joel Salatin, reviewed From Hella D’s blog: Joel Salatin with pastured laying hens. Picture via Crozet [...]

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