Joel Salatin: How to Prepare for A Future Increasingly Defined By Localized Food & Energy

Joel Salatin, proprietor of Polyface Farms and highly-visible champion of sustainable farming, thinks modern humans have become so far removed from a natural connection to the food they eat that we no longer have a true understanding of what “normal” food is.

The rise of Big Ag and factory farming over the past century has conditioned us to treat food mechanically (as something to be recoded and retooled) vs. biologically. And we don’t realize that for all our industrialization and optimization, we’re actually getting less yield and less nutrition than natural-based processes can offer.

Whether we like it or not, the arrival of Peak Oil is going to force us to realize that our heavily-energy intensive practices can’t continue at their current scale. And with world population still increasing exponentially, we’ll need to find other, more sustainable ways of growing our food.

"What we view today as “normal,” I argue, is simply not normal. Just think about if you wanted to go to town 120 years ago. If you wanted to go to town, you actually had to go out and hook up a horse. That horse had to eat something, which means you had to have a patch of grass somewhere to feed that horse, which meant you had to take care of some perennial in order to feed that horse in order to go to town. And so throughout history, you had these kinds of what I call ‘inherent boundaries,’ or brakes, on how much a single human could abuse the ecology.

And today, during this period of cheap energy, we’ve been able to extricate ourselves from that entire umbilical, if you will, and just run willy-nilly as if there is no constraint or restraint. And now we are starting to see some of the outcome of that boundless, untied progression. And so the chances are, the way to bet, is that in the future we are going to see more food localization, we are going to see more energy localization, we are going to see more personal responsibility in ecological lifestyle decisions, because it’s going to be forced on us to survive economically. We are going to have to start taking some accounting of these ecological principles."

Joel, his family, and the team at Polyface Farms dedicate themselves to developing environmentally, emotionally, and economically-enhanced food prototypes and advocate for duplicating their production around the world.

In this interview, Chris and Joel explore what constitutes truly sustainable agriculture and the reasons why our current system has departed so far from it, as well as practical steps individuals can take to increase their own personal resiliency around the food they eat (in short: “find your kitchen,” source your food locally, and grow some yourself).

Click the play button below to listen to Chris’ interview with Joel Salatin (runtime 44m:15s):

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Joel Salatin is one of the most visible and influential leaders in the organic food and sustainable farming movement. His family owns and manages Polyface Farms, which has been featured prominently in such modern food movement works as The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan and the film documentary Food, Inc. Joel’s unconventional but highly innovative farming practices are inspiring millions to increase their nutritional and community resiliency by seeking out local sources of chemical-free food raised using natural process-based farming practices. These practices have been documented in the many books he has authored, including You Can Farm: The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Start & Succeed in a Farming Enterprise (1998), The Sheer Ecstacy of Being a Lunatic Farmer (2010), and the upcoming Folks, This Ain’t Normal: A Farmer’s Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World (available for pre-order).


Our series of podcast interviews with notable minds includes:  

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Joel is the man !  A tireless and thoroughly entertaining evangelist for sustainable, healthful eating !

But serious kudos to Adam and Chris for having such a powerful guest.
Even some of us that think we get it, really don’t.

Joel gets it. I hope to some day!

Suh-weet. Joel is just an amazing individual that does "get it" on all levels and expresses it all eloquently and passionately.  I look forward to listening tonight.It is interesting that I was introduced to him on this site quite some time ago. Thanks, JAG. Joel’s inspiration has led me down a new path in my life with a little project in Oklahoma. The neighbors think I am crazy. I know better. It is people like him that give me some hope for our future.
Thanks guys.

I Have put the kettle on and shall listen to the podcast now.
A picture tells a thousand words, and your two pictures are eloquent.

The farm is real wealth. Joel is in fine fettle. He must be doing something right.

I Have put the kettle on and shall listen to the podcast now.

A picture tells a thousand words, and your two pictures are eloquent.

The farm is real wealth. Joel is in fine fettle. He must be doing something right.



St Joel the Wise.

The mind races like a squirrel harvesting nuts.

Have you read "The one straw revolution"?

The reason we have to go through a crisis is because the western mind has become dominated by the Left hemisphere. Our models have become our Reality. Our left hemisphere "knows" that if the model is wrong, Reality itself will disappear in a puff of smoke. Hence we need a crisis af greater magnitude than the disapearence of Reality to destroy the dud model.

This is why I commented on the pictures above. Pictures are a gestult, Right hemisphere response. And the Right has a monopoly on Insight.

Chris, Excellent interview! I first saw Joel a month or so ago when watching Food INC. He is a vast source of knowledge, humour, and plain old common sense. His commentary and the documentary changed our perception of what constitutes a sustainable diet…And consequently the way we eat, live and plan for our future. Thanks for a great interview.

Wow - this is just what I needed today.
Again, I’m reminded I need to be able to grow more calories than I consume and this was a perfect interview with a great thinker and fore-front to getting back into sensible ways of living.  There is so much I like about Joel’s way of thinking and way of life. But here in the north we have to do things a little differently and a lot of it requires working over the growing seaon to put away what is needed until next harvest. This means incorporating any and all energies Jole talked about but I think he left  out the draft animal as a resource.

I know we can’t all get back to living the "good" life but here’s a little teaser (food for thought) on the lost art of living:

I  remember reading about the old ways and how beforel the 1800s, most towns shared the cost and expense of the local draft animals as they provided service for all the people's needs (plowing fields, clearing land, logging and as transportation. We hardly have enough animals as it is to meet the demand we use now, but it seems a good investment to learn or invest in local working animal skills. . .in a romantic sort of way. But I think it adds one more option to the alternative energy list that is not openly addressed.


And Joel touched on why my neighbor’s chicken raising distubed me. They pay for grain. If we have chickens, hopefully soon, they will be fed scraps. Honestly, grain will be too expensive to spend on animal feed. For that, we plan to have non-picky, herbivore rabbits.
Joel sort of validated our plans for our small suburban homestead, that that felt wonderful. I’ll look forhis book now, too.

   EGP   ,The reading room in the  Rural Heritage  just tickled my funny bone  .        I am more grateful than ever that  my family has passed down these traditional ways .  
  Last week  my  7 yo grandson was big talk  when we were butching roosters  and very disapointed that he did not  have the strength  to whack  heads . He did OK with the feathers … hightailed it for the gutting .     I am thinking there may be a lot more vegetarians in the future  or  Butchering will be a  man in demand job .    Train your children well is all I can say .
  I was encouraged to see that the public school was offering classes in food preservation  and baking classes  … and opening it up for adults .  That they now have a local growers co-op and that the Superintendent’s wife has purchased the local greenhouse business and  is opening it for people to come plant in during the winter months .  Offering  Hunter Safety courses and    now has an AG  teacher with family farming back ground replacing one that  was just a welding teacher .
  Baby steps  but  steps forward none the less .

Just a little response to Safewrite’s comment:
I think it’s not a bad medium-term strategy to import a little bit of nutrients and biomass in the form of chicken feed if you understand that it might not be available at an affordable price in the long term, and plan accordingly.  You will get a LOT more egg or meat production by feeding the chickens, I mean the difference between a few eggs a week and eggs every day.  Every year, you will be improving your soil, and that will make it a lot more productive over the long term.

Salatin himself used grains in his chicken operation in its earlier incarnation (the "Salatin" portable pens he featured in his book, Pastured Poultry Profit$.)  I don’t know if he still does, but I do know that he transitioned to the day-range system.  It’s a testimony to the man that, when he saw a system that worked better than his own, he changed to it.

Now there are a few ways to supplement the chicken’s feed without buying commercial feed or even making your own from exogenous grains.  If you have enough land, you could put in a corn or soybean patch, recognizing that you are still probably going to need to come up with a way to bring in fertility.  Amaranth and quinoa can be grown in backyards, and while I have never known chickens to be very fond of them, they could probably be prepared in a way that they would utilize them.  Maybe you could partner with a small local market gardener for the production of a few acres.  You could salvage grain foods from local bakeries, grocery stores, or restaurants.

Anyway, just some food for thought.  Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Great interview. I think one thing North Americans should be doing is promoting bison as a meat source, since they are ideal out on the range and they are healthier than beef. This would also be a way to bring back prairie ecosystems that have pretty much been lost since we converted virtually all the prairies over to mechanized plant production, to supply feedlots. We could have kind of semi-parks, where big swaths of land are returned to natural processes with roaming bison which are culled X% on a yearly basis to provide meat for us. The other benefit of bison is that they tend to congregate in higher ground so they don’t spoil riparian areas, whereas cows like to make a mess down in the mud.
And speaking of sourcing your nutrition locally, an interesting tidbit is that the deep rich soils of the great plains are actually largely the result of the loess deposits from dust blowing off the Sahara and getting deposited in North America. But it is easily degraded by poor agricultural practices, and we have diminished our inherited ecological captial over the last 100 years in our poor treatment of our farmlands.

And Joel touched on why my neighbor’s chicken raising distubed me. They pay for grain. [/quote]
Mr. Salatin pays for grain for his chickens, as well.   He has special mixtures for both his pasture raised broilers and his layers.  Chickens in most settings cannot live well on grass and bugs alone.
Cattle still rule for converting sunfed grass to tasty protein !

It’s true that Joel does use chicken feed, but my understanding is that it is purchased from a local supplier.
The feed is not "certified organic" but it is GMO-free.

[quote=patrickhenry]Chickens in most settings cannot live well on grass and bugs alone. [/quote]Old-fashiioned dual-purpose birds can do just fine on forage and bugs.  What you won’t get is rapid growth or high egg production.  If all you want are a couple of eggs a week, or just to celebrate a holiday once a year with a home-grown hen, then a couple of yardbirds around the property are a fine thing to have.  Heck, even if you never get a thing, they can perform valuable eco-functions around your garden.
If you want more than that, or are raising meat birds like the Cornish Cross, you’re going to need to feed them.
My point was that most of us are never going to be totally self-sufficient, so you need to choose wisely what you want to import.  Concentrated, high-energy foods like meat and eggs, or cheaper grains that you can feed to an animal and reap the benefit of the wastes?

Great interview! Amazing insight.
One thought though: In 2050, let’s produce LESS food, not double.  Population growth is not like gravity or magnetism or time. It happens because people are made of food, and more food means more people. Conversely, less food means less people. Poverty and hunger have social origins – they have nothing to do with a dearth of food.

The amount of food being produced is a really key issue that we all need to wrap our heads around. Spread the word!

~Was spam here. Now there’s none~

I was taken aback to find out, at a bookselling site, that Joel Salatin is a fundamentalist Christian creationist, a very far right wing Libertarian, and an antiabortionist who does not believe government should be involved in education or a host of other services. Too whacky for me!

A man of strong faith, someone who thinks people should take responsibility for themselves, should live and let live, and realizes the more that government gets involved in our schools, the worse our children are doing relative to the world ?   That does sound whacky !   :wink:

at least a mennonite tradition and gene pool. This, my partner tells me, is what the Virginia "Farmers Market" circles claim. That would explain the Christian and libertarian viewsrobie