Farmer And Philosopher Joel Salatin

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With Jane Clayson in for Tom Ashbrook

Farmer/philosopher Joel Salatin says get off your laptop, get in the dirt and live with it.

Farmer and author Joel Salatin (Teresa Salatin)
Farmer and author Joel Salatin (Teresa Salatin)

Joel Salatin is heralded as the high priest of the pasture. And for good reason. The Virginia farmer speaks the gospel of local, clean, and healthy eating. No pesticides. Uber-organic. Just a man and his earth---with as little government interference as possible. Devotees are eating it up.

Now, he’s out with a new clarion call for a nation of unhealthy eaters: Get off your laptop and get your hands dirty. Get close to the earth. Understand where your food and fuel comes from. Before it’s too late.

This hour On Point: Food philosopher, Joel Salatin.
-Jane Clayson


Joel Salatin, third-generation alternative farmer and owner of Polyface Farms in Viginia's Shenandoah Valley. He raises livestock using holistic and chemical-free meathods of animal husbandry. His new book is, "Folks, this ain't normal".

Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, the nation's largest general farm organization.

From The Reading List

The New York Times "For 44 years on the western edge of the Shenandoah Valley, three generations of Salatins (of which he's the middle) have raised grass-fed livestock on rough and hilly land without recourse to an ounce of chemical fertilizer or a fistful of seed, in close touch with the soil, the seasons and themselves, using methods meant to mimic nature."

Bloomberg Businessweek "We have seen new business models emerge over the last decade for dozens of industries including travel, advertising, and publishing—all relying heavily on technology-based improvements in productivity and changes in distribution associated with the Internet."

National Geographic "Today an enthusiastic band of scientists has gone back to that fork in the road: They're trying to breed perennial wheat, rice, and other grains. Wes Jackson, co-founder and president of the Land Institute in Salina, Kansas, has promoted the idea for decades. It has never had much money behind it. But plant breeders in Salina and elsewhere are now crossing modern grains with wild perennial relatives; they're also trying to domesticate the wild plants directly."


Children, Chores, Humility, and Health

“We need something for our young people to do” is a common refrain in adult circles today. Daily news reports about roving teenagers getting into mischief during the wee hours of the morning don’t make any sense to me. Every time I see that a group of young people has caused some fracas at 2 a.m. I wonder, “Who has time and energy to be out cavorting at 2 a.m.?”

Our children went to bed at 9 or 10 p.m. and were grateful for the opportunity. Our apprentices and interns normally dismiss themselves from our company and head off to bed as soon after dark as they can get there.

That young people today, at least when they are not in school, spend the day lounging around, hanging out, and then go into the wee hours burning off excess energy is aberrant in the first degree. Add to that the pastime of playing video games, exercising only thumb muscles and fingertips, and folks, we have a situation that just ain’t normal.

When the biggest thrill in life is becoming competent enough on the video game to achieve level five performance, what kind of environ¬ment are we creating for our future leaders? When I sit in airports and watch these testosterone exuding boys with their shriveled shoulders and E.T. looking fingers passing the time on their laptops, I realize that this is normal for them. This isn’t happening because they are sitting in an airport trying to while away the time. This is actually how many, if not most, of their hours are spent —recreation, entertainment, and playing around.

Contrast that with historical normalcy. Here is a list of chores for young people since time immemorial:

1. Chopping, cutting, and gathering firewood. In the days before petroleum and electricity, every able bodied person contributed to keeping the household warm during the winter months. This wood accumulation required a knowledge of the forest and of what kind of wood burns well. Not all wood is created equal. Resinous woods like evergreens coat the inside of the chimney and unless mixed half and half with nonresinous will accumulate too much soot on the inside of the chimney or flue. This highly combustible residue can become a fire hazard. Whenever we cut down a pine tree, therefore, we want to look around for at least equal parts hardwoods to balance out the fuel for the fireplace or woodstove. Green wood cut from standing, living trees con¬tains 30 percent or more water, and this moisture retards the fire because before the wood can burn it must evaporate the water.

A skilled wood gatherer knows to seek dead and dry wood for imme¬diate burning but to stockpile the green wood for future burning. But all dead and downed wood is not equally dry. If the dead wood is up off the ground a little, it will be perfect. A standing snag is ideal most of the time. Sometimes it has already rotted and turned to powder —common in soft deciduous trees like poplar or red maple.

If the dead or downed wood is on the ground, it may be too rotten to burn. Burning wood is essentially an extremely fast rotting process: What soil microbes do over an extended period, a fire does in a short period. If the combustible carbon is already decomposed through the rotting process, nothing is left to burn.

All wood gives off about the same BTUs per pound, but different woods weigh different amounts per cubic foot. Heavy woods like white oak and hickory give off twice as much heat per cubic foot than light woods like poplar or white pine.

Gathering wood, then, requires a fair amount of knowledge to be done well. Beyond the knowledge is the skill to gather it efficiently. Obviously if we’re going to the forest to bring in firewood, we will take our tools like a chainsaw (modern), crosscut or bucksaw (premodern), or ax (old). Or imagine the Native Americans who either used stone axes or built fires around big trees to fell them. That required yet another whole skill set — one that I don’t possess.

But I do know how to run a chainsaw — a wonderful modern inven¬tion. I also know how to swing an ax, sharpen an ax, and replace the handle on an ax —all skills I developed as a youth. Once the wood is cut, it must be loaded into a vessel: trailer, pickup truck bed, hay wagon, whatever. It never ceases to amaze me when I go to the woods with our apprentices and interns how much I have to teach about efficiently gathering wood. First, we stack the branches with all the butts facing one way and uphill because the fluffy branch ends tend to build verti¬cal height faster than the butts. If you stack the branches haphazardly, the pile gets too high too fast. By carefully placing the branches, we can get far more on the pile.
When we begin picking up the cut pieces of wood, we want to get the vessel as close to the wood as possible. No walking — pitch it into the vessel. If the piece is too big to throw, of course, then you may have to walk, but we want to keep backing the vessel into the cut wood to minimize walking. Obviously, if we pitch the wood to the vessel, we want to position our bodies between the vessel and the wood we’re pick¬ing up. This way we can reduce the throw by the length of our bodies and our arms —usually a distance of nearly five feet.

By swiveling back and forth this way, we can load the wood twice as fast as if we’re behind the pieces throwing them into the vessel. And three times faster than if we’re picking them up in our arms and carry¬ing them over to the trailer. I know some people are reading this think¬ing, “Wow, that sounds like a lot of work. I’m glad I just turn on the thermostat and the heat starts.”

This is an excerpt from FOLKS, THIS AIN’T NORMAL by Joel Salatin. Copyright © 2011 by Joel Salatin. Reprinted by permission of Center Street. All rights reserved.

This program aired on October 10, 2011.


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