Joel Salatin: Curing Society's Constipation Of Imagination

As my son, Daniel says all of the time, "Our problem is not a lack of resources. Our problem is a constipation of imagination."

In our culture today, we're all blocked up. Because we're so sure we know how it's supposed to be done. That becomes our limiting factor. We can do things very differently and profoundly better, but it never even enters the imagination.

So says the always colorful "renegade farmer" Joel Salatin, who returns to the podcast this week to share his latest thoughts on creative yet practical solutions that society could and should be pursuing, vs limiting and litigating everything under the sun.

Much of what's needed is a shift in thinking and priorities, says Salatin. And it starts with embracing initiative, accountability, and a 'do more with what we have' mentality -- which stands in stark contrast to the "we just need more stuff" narrative of today's status quo:

It's easy to say, "I can't." It's a lot harder to say, "I can."

"I can't" is so fun to say. Because then we're not responsible. If you can do something, but you're not; then you're responsible. But, if you can't do it, and you're not; then you're of the hook. "I can't" – is a real enabler for business as usual.

Using farming as a metaphor, we see it in our industry all the time. When a farm wants to produce more -- say, in order to generate more salaries -- most farmers always thinking; "How do we gobble up additional farmland and additional acres?" I

At my place, Polyface Farms, we instead think, "How can we stack?This is a permaculture concept. How can we stack more enterprises on the acreage we have?

For example, we've dug a bunch of ponds; enough now that we've bought some of this K-Line Irrigation system. Now, when it gets dry in the summer; instead of sitting here and being depressed on the stoop because it's not raining, we take winter snow melt and early spring rains like we have had just lately -- all of our ponds are full now -- and in August, we can dispense that water out on the landscape. We can grow another whole cycle of vegetation. Whether it's crops, grass -- whatever -- we can grow another cycle of vegetation with that stored water. That's a way to work from the inside out, instead of looking for additional production from outside. Let's look inside. Let's see what we can do with what we already have. We can grow other products. We can do other things. 

I mean, we have a sawmill. We got a sawmill so we could cut our own lumber. But guess what? We can make furniture out of that lumber. Suddenly, those trees that are worth $10 wholesale at the sawmill suddenly become worth $500 as a hutch, or a chair, or a table, or whatever. Suddenly, instead of having to harvest 50 acres of forest in order to make a decent income; we only have to harvest half an acre. All of the rest can keep growing. We make the same amount out of half an acre that we did off of 50 acres.

That's the kind of inside out thinking .And through this stacking of synergistic enterprises, we actually generate more income on the same acreage as opposed to always looking at more acreage.

Click the play button below to listen to Chris' interview with Joel Salatin (63m:22s).

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

It’s surprising he doesn’t understand the slow book sales. A quick scan of the Amazon reviews sheds light. His previous books are about farming and practical advice on farming and the ecosystem. The title implies the book is about pigs but it’s not, it’s about religion and his belief system. The disconnect turns away many of his traditional readers and new ones aren’t drawn to the book because his past work leads them to believe this will be similar to the previous ones.

We wouldn’t be in the mess that we are in. Posts (or books) about personal responsibility are never very popular. The down side of blaming someone or something else, as good as that feels, is that you give away your own power. You become the victim of someone else’s actions. But if you are at fault, then you also have the power to create change that you want to see in the world. Joel hits the nail on the head as usual.

And he’s a good ol’ boy who has admitted he shoots eagles because they might eat his free range chickens. Environmental vandal is a phrase that springs to mind.

My friend Charles is a natural Engineer and I am a natural… scientist.
He needs everything buttoned down and I revel in mystery.
Professor Mullenberg (physics) told me that I must never believe that they know everything. Scientists know nothing.
This alarms Charles and delights me.
My feet are in the mud but my head is in the stars. The other night I took the airs and looked down. A wallaby was keeping me company. The same wallaby is eating everything that I plant. But he is my friend.
•Sigh• I guess I need greenhouses.
But first to establish a mooring for my yacht.
Manuka honey is looking very promising. It sells for an fortune because of its anti microbial properties.
Where I live is just astonishingly beautiful.

You may find what we are doing of interest.
Jeff Oslin
MOE Farms
Knox County, Texas, USA

I am told that the cure for wallaby infestation is to tie inflated balloons smeared in peanut butter around your garden.

Chris you’ve said It before we need a new story. I don’t think we can get to that story while carrying the baggage of the Abrahamic religions that got us to the state we are in today. I love your website and podcasts but couldn’t get through this one.

I don’t think I learned anything from this. Sounds like two guys sitting at a bar hashing out the state of the world and after all is said and done more gets said than done. Disappointing

thanks for the heads up ghost. i never cared much for joes self congratulatory, us vs them shtick. i’ll skip this one.

Just because the Joel takes an occasional quote from the good book and bemoans the condition of the current society we find ourselves in, doesn’t mean his contextual.observations need to be rejected out of hand. I muddled through the interview with some mixed feelings, but came away with a profound identification with this: We live in a world rife with discontent because we have found ways to make the world work for us at the expense of something or someone else. If everything is at your fingertips and you manage to garner large profits by using other people’s money,without, reinvesting some of it back into those “externalities” we so often take for granted, what do you suppose the result is? You can pay me now or pay me later or, perhaps, pay as you go as Joel suggests. If the current condition of the US and other “good ole days” countries doesn’t scream “entitlement”. I don’t know what does. A recent storm knocked the power out at my place for about 24 hours and many were distraught that it took so long for things to get back to normal. Perhaps we need to few more New Orleans or Hurricane Sandy’s to refocus our preoccupation off of convenience and on things that really make a difference. Beautiful day and the bees are flying and making honey and I’m out the door to go and shovel chicken shit.

Joel tied some biblical passages about Stewardship of the earth to healthy eating and living. Never did he say that anyone had to adopt his belief system. If he can demonstrate the value of clean living, organic practices, and decentralized agriculture to a huge population by speaking their language, he has made another great contribution to our society. I have visited Joel’s farm and there is no bull shit. Just hard work and a unique legacy he has given to us.

I am basically an atheist and I don’t see any need for religion or “spirituality” to justify my love of earth and desire to participate in the dance of Mother Nature’s gifts and stewardship of the Garden. For me logic is enough to create an ethic to live by that we should not harm any living system. It is simply logical to see that it is wrong (sinful) to harm the life providing water, air or soil or animals or plants with pollution or degradation. It makes no sense to spoil your own nest. No other animal would do that. So for me I don’t need a new way of being - my logical abilities are already pointing me to the way of protecting the earth and all it’s creatures. But I am nonetheless encouraged when I see people such as Joel who is a professed Christian come to the same conclusion. I really don’t care what people’s motivations or religious beliefs are. I have a number of Joel’s books and have heard him speak several times and always find him so inspiring. Especially since he believes that the government doesn’t have to help - but rather they just need to get out of the way. I agree with that. So I enjoyed this podcast. It’s exciting that someone who holds to traditional Christian beliefs can join with a permaculture atheist in the same worldview on ecological health. It’s people like him that allow me to retain hope that we can eventually turn around the chokehold of corporatism and return to getting some of our wealth through a healthy world of abundance. And it’s probably going to come from a bottom up approach where we aware people just set up a parallel world. Joel has influenced many people to do that and good for him.