Joel Salatin calls himself a Christian, libertarian, capitalist, and lunatic farmer. I think of him as an economist, philosopher, brilliant marketer, excellent financial analyst, gifted public speaker, a master in debate, and certainly a Thomas Jefferson farmer. During this conversation, we focus on his book, Folks, This Ain’t Normal. We address open-book farming, the mechanical food worldview, and the frustrating death tax for those inheriting farms. Joel’s satire and storytelling make this conversation go far too fast.
- How Mark encountered Joel
- Joel’s suggested starter books from his twelve-book portfolio
- The reason farming is different today than in the past – and nothing against technology
- Food is fundamentally biological, not mechanical
- Growing food while protecting the land
- The purpose and drive behind open-door farming
- The reason CAFOs don’t have an open-door farming policy
- The story of the cat and the faceoff between store burgers and Polyface burgers
- Joel’s nutrient-dense eggs are not pale, and why that matters
- Food that travels 1,500 miles
- “People don’t go hungry because of the lack of food, but due to distribution
- Solariums on the south side of every house and building
- Local farmers are professionals and generalists
- Two kids who had saved $20,000 by the time they were 20 years of age
- The lunacy of taxing death on the family farm
A Few of Joel’s Favorite Books
- Daring Greatly by Brene Brown
- George Washington Carver
- Blindspot by Banaji and Greenwald
- Books by Zig Ziglar and Dale Carnegie
Random Thoughts on Folks, This Ain’t Normal
Joel’s book is a five-star read. Here are a few of my takeaways from this fascinating book, a topic I know little about.
- As recently as 1946, nearly 50% of all produce grown in America came from backyard farms.
- In 1910, 88 percent of America’s chickens were in flocks of less than eighty hens. People were eating close to the land.
- In the last century, Iowa, the breadbasket of America, has lost half of its topsoil.
- Joel’s concept of open-door farming
- Joel reminds us that farming is about growing food and caring for the land – both.
- I had never heard of SPIN (small plot intensive farming). Joel also provides the idea of matching landowners with wannabe farmers.
- Excess acreage – his daughter-in-law thinks that all of the interstate medians should be planted with orchards tended by inmates (good one).
- Solariums can easily be built on the south side of every house and building.
- The discussion about the mechanical worldview is excellent. This got me thinking about what happens when you merge the thinking of Frederick Taylor, Henry Ford, and Monsanto.
- “A forest is a living thing, just like a vineyard, and must be pruned to keep it healthy and productive. Just because a forest Is pretty today does not mean it will be pretty tomorrow.”
- “Every home should be water self-sufficient … any home that wants to install a cistern big enough to hold all its roof water should be given a tax credit.”
- As I started reading about CAFOs, I immediately thought of The Secret Life of Groceries.
- “But is there enough land to produce it this way?” asks the journalist. This is a great question and one that Joel repeatedly proves that the answer is a resounding “Yes.”
- There are some great opening lines in the chapter about scientific mythology. I have a personal note to study transgenics.
- “Nobody goes hungry because of lack of food; they go hungry due to a lack of distribution.”
- “The average person is still under the aberrant delusion that food should be somebody else’s responsibility until I’m ready to eat it.”
- “The average morsel of food sees more of America than the farmer who grows it, traveling fifteen hundred miles from field to fork.”
- “Long-distance distribution now defines the modern food system, yet as recently as 1946, the average food miles in America was less than one hundred.”
- Yes, a local food system is realistic.
- As Prince Charles so eloquently articulates, a culture is defined by religion, architecture, and food.
- I loved the cat story with the burgers – “refused to touch the supermarket burgers.”
- “You can’t just take apart a grain of wheat, analyze its components, fabricate them in a laboratory, and recreate the same nutrition.”
- The percentage of American per capita income spent on food is the lowest of any country worldwide – why do many intelligent people think this is good?
- Japanese loser-pay system for civil suits – if I sue and lose, I have to pay you the amount I sued you for – I did not know this.
- Since the 1970s, land prices have spiked without a correlation to productive capacity.
- Farmers are notoriously land-rich and cash-poor. Their assets are the least liquid, and their value is least negotiable. This is why the death tax for future generations is foolish for those wanting to stay on the land to work it.
- “Both of our children hit 20 years old with $20,000 in the bank.”
- “I’m a big believer that children should have autonomous businesses. This teaches the value of a dollar, persistence, thrift, and good math skills.”
To learn more about Joel Salatin, I’d start with Musings From The Lunatic Farmer, where you can find his books, events, and blog.
You will probably find a link to Polyface Farm through Joel’s website above. If not, that site includes a wealth of information there.
Polyface Yum is the retail site for their food products. Purchases on the website include pickup or shipment across the U.S.
Farm Like a Lunatic includes several courses on farm-centric topics.
We did not discuss this on the show, but there is a movie about Polyface Farm. You can check it out at Polyfaces.
If you liked this episode, looking for a similar show? Check out The Secret Life of Groceries with the author, Benjamin Lorr.