We were rather impressed with Joel Salatin when he came to Australia last year. So were one or two other people. Aside from being the most entertaining farmer that we’ve ever met, he’s really onto something. Multiple somethings, even.
To call the Salatin’s farming practices at Polyface Farms in Virginia USA ‘innovative’ is a bit of a massive understatement. Joel’s unique approach to productive small-scale farming, that focuses on great ideas, biomimicry, and what can only be called truly regenerative agriculture, are fast becoming legendary.
Take the Polyface Pastured Poultry systems, for example. These are home-made systems, built up over time as funds and materials allow, to produce free-range eggs (in the feathernet system) and pastured broilers (in the chicken tractor system).
In the feathernet system, the chickens are free to roam during the day, and protected in their portable hutches at night by shepherd dogs, in a setup moved every three days. Uh huh, you say – i’ve heard of that one before. The broilers are in a chicken tractor system – enclosed cages moved daily. Yup, you say. Heard of that one too.
The thing is, this is considered by many to be the farm that launched the pastured poultry movement as we know it today – the Salatin’s virtually wrote the book on it.
But here’s what really sets the polyface model apart: the incredible production of the above systems (the feathernet system currently produces over 40,000 dozen eggs a year), the design of the systems (simple but designed to minimize energy inputs, including labor) and how they are integrated into all the other animal systems of the farm to reduce disease and increase fertility.
While I won’t launch into a full description of Polyface’s Salad-Bar Beef system (holistically managed beef herds which are followed by the feathernet system to break down the manure) or their pigerator pork system (forested foraging herds of pigs which are moved about at a rate that stimulates the seedbank in the forest floor, increasing diversity for the next round), I will say that Polyfaces techniques are exciting to anyone wanting to run a seriously productive and ‘beyond organic’ small farm.
On top of Joel’s many how-to books which outline PolyFace’s techniques in detail, and which have seen a huge uptake of Polyface-esque techniques worldwide, there’s the marketing side of things. How to get your fabulous eggs, your beef, your cheese, your whatever, to the buyer in such a way that your farm actually makes a profit, and henceforth allows you to keep farming?
Polyface’s processing and marketing techniques are at the heart of the re-localised food movement – and they work: Process as close to home as possible. Sell as close to home as possible. Know your customers. Set up buying clubs. Set up systems that cut out the supermarket chains and keeps you, the farmer, in touch with the people doing the eating.
We’re not just talking taking your produce to farmers markets here, far from it – this is next-level stuff. Polyface is an example of a pioneering, ethical small farm that is breaking boundaries around how farmers can deliver nutritionally dense food to dedicated, involved consumers.
But wait, there’s more! Polyface has a really smart intern system, with whose labor they fuel their production. Wanna-be farmers come in, confident farmers come out. And the farm in the middle gets the crew it needs to function.
Needless to day, when Joel Salatin dropped all this knowledge (and more) into the workshops he did across Australia last year, it was like a bomb going off. I have never seen so many people in the one room so freaking excited about farming. And some of them were already farmers! And some (like us) were not, and didn’t intend to be. Not until Joel Salatin came along, anyway.
So you may possibly be nearly excited as I am to hear that Joel Salatin is coming back for another series of short workshops this year, as part of RegenAG’s 2011 course series.
If you’re a farmer, or think you might like to be a farmer one day, I would highly recommend coming along:
>> Joel Salatin NSW Workshop: 2nd August: Jamberoo (we’re running this one!)
>> Joel Salatin SEQLD Workshop: 5th August
>> Joel Salatin VIC Workshop: 6th August: Ceres, Melbourne
You can get more info on these workshops and book in via RegenAG.com