Joel Salatin: The Promise Of Regenerative Farming

Front man for the sustainable/regenerative farming movement, Joel Salatin, returns to the podcast this week.

Next month on April 23rd, he'll be joining Adam, the folks from Singing Frogs Farm, permaculturalist Toby Hemenway, and Robb Wolf at a speaking event in northern California. He'll be speaking on the power that's in our hands to make much smarter choices regarding the food systems we depend on: 

Joel Salatin: Farmers get beat up for a number of things: producing what they produce, the way they treat animals, they way they treat the land . I want to point out that the power is not in the farmers. From a voting standpoint, prisoners/inmates are a lot more powerful of a constituency block in the culture than farmers are. So let’s put this in perspective: the power is in the customer. And so if you want things to change on the landscape, if you want things to change regarding chemicals, pesticides, GMO – name your issue -- if you want change, well, you've got to make a change.

I think that too often consumers take the convenient way out and say 'Well, if farmers would just do things differently, everything would be better.' The truth is that farmers have always followed the market. If people refuse to buy genetically modified organism food, farmers won’t produce it. It's really that simple. It doesn’t take a government agent, a bureaucracy, a police state, a new law. I mean, all of this could be changed just by consumers taking a more active and aggressive role at financing what they say they believe in from the outset.

Chris Martenson:  The part that I really love about what you are up to -- that the whole regenerative movement is about, what permaculture is about -- is this whole idea that people can choose do things better. That we can both farm and be regenerative at the same time. That we can be in symbiosis with the larger landscape. We see how industrial agriculture is the opposite of that with collapse in bees butterflies and other pollinators, butterflies, poisoned streams, disappearing soils -- all of that. One of the critiques of sustanable farming that keeps popping up in the media is 'That's all nice and everything, but we really can’t feed the nation, let alone the world, with such farming practices.' How do you respond to those charges? 

Joel Salatin: At no other time in human civilization have we thrown away 50% of edible human food. We're doing that right now. Nobody in the world goes hungry because there's not enough food; they go hungry because they can’t get to the food. They can’t access it: they're too far away, a bomb blew out a road, somebody held up a Red Cross truck with an AK47 -- name your thing. But it's socio-political stuff, logistical stuff, transportational stuff -- it has nothing to do with the fact that there's not enough food. There is absolutely plenty of food on the planet. That's Nnumber One.

Number Two is that there's a tremendous amount of unutilized or underutilized land. I mean just take the US: we have 35 million acres of lawn and 36 million acres used for housing and feeding recreational horses. That's 71 million acres. That's enough to feed the entire country. And I haven’t even gotten to golf courses yet. I’m not opposed to horses, I'm not opposed to lawns, I'm not opposed to golf courses. What I am suggesting is that any Chicken Little running around shouting 'The sky is falling! We can’t feed the world!' is simply not true. There's a tremendous amount of available land that can be utilized.

Number Three: the land that we are using for farming, we're using it in an extremely inefficient way. Monocrops/monocultures are extremely inefficient. What is efficient is what nature does using very intricate, complex, relational polycultures. The beginner’s backyard garden is more productive per square yard than the most elite monocrop industrial operation that just produces one crop. Why? Because even in a rudimentary backyard garden where you're mixing plants and vegetables, there's a symbiosis and a synergy and an increase in productive capacity that happens there. So we can grow a lot more than we are. And that's especially true with how we raise our cattle. Our beef and diary raising is extremely inefficient because we aren't managing our pastures in a choreograph the way bison and wolves evolved to float across the native American prairie. It should give us all pause to realize that, 500 years ago, there were more pounds of animals being produced in what would become the US than there are today -- even with chemical fertilizers and John Deere tractors. There were way over 100 million head of bison, over a million wolves, 2 million beavers -- the antelope, the elk, the prairie chickens, the pheasants, the turkeys, the water fowl, the prodigious amount of life on the landscape and waterscape was just far beyond anything we can imagine today. What we have done is we have taken all of this amazing life and we have relegated it to the fringes -- trading it all for our nuked suburban lawn, a monoculture of nothingness.

The truth is we can be far, far more productive. On our farm, by moving the cows every day to a fresh paddock to model the animal movement in nature, we're getting 5x the county average production per acre. That's without planting a seed or buying a bag of chemical fertilizer in over 50 years. These principals work. Imagine if the neighbors all got 5x the county average, and then their neighbors got 5x, and then the whole state. My goodness, the truth is that we haven’t even scratched the surface on production. Not only can our system feed the world, ultimately it is the only system that actually can. 

For more information about the speaking event Joel will be keynoting in Petaluma, CA on April 23, click here.

Click the play button below to listen to Chris' interview with Joel Salatin (56m:49s)

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

eating at the top of the food chain is inherently inefficient and unnecessary. there are other ways to grow food which do not include animals. we improve our soil fertility using permaculture cover cropping and composting. 

 I do think there was sabotage in the Chipotle incidences which shows how threatened the industrial agriculture mafia is with consumers becoming aware. Watch your back, Joel.

You say that there are other ways to grow food which do not include animals. I would consider that quite unnatural. Ideally, one should use poultry to control insects, and then eat eggs and poultry to keep flock sizes manageeable.
Worms and fish have their place too, even crawdads and frogs. If you’re going to grow an ecosystem, it’s got to have animals. If you’re not going to grow an ecosystem, it’s got to have chemicals. And if you’re managing the ecosystem, you’re going to have to eat at the top of the food chain (unless a mountain lion claims the spot from you).

Joel pointed out, that if we refused to buy GMO, they’d stop offering it. However, quite often the middlemen find it advantageous to deny information, or (worse) choice, so that the choice becomes either “maybe GMO corn” or “no corn”.
So then my thought is to raise my own corn, but for that I need land. Not being a veteran (no downpayment, no motgage insurance, and the tab for defaults picked up by non-veterans), that is actually a very formidable problem. Forget that I can afford five or maybe eight percent down and have a stellar credit score: if the loan isn’t guaranteed by the government, the lending agencies fail the appraisal based on land-to-house value ratios.
And meanwhile, because I am NOT a landowner, my earnings are taken and taxed and abraded away so that I still won’t be able to own land or grow my own food ten years from now.
So only veterans or the super-wealthy are permitted that choice.
I object.
I object.
my voice may have no power, less power than prisoners with their voting rights denied (I love that comparison you used!), but regardless
I object.

and if ___[00:52:36].
"and if He owns it all." (Capitalized because from Joel's perspective the "he" is a deity.)

@shastatodd Comment #1

eating at the top of the food chain is inherently inefficient
Depending upon how you define inefficient, this is a false statement. It may take a while for a cow (or other herbivore) to get to slaughter weight, but when it does so by eating grass (a low-input, low-maintenance plant) the process is very efficient compared to humans eating that grass. Human crops require a lot more maintenance and fertility. Also, there is plenty of marginal land that will grow grass but maybe not much else. So using it as pasture is efficient.

@Michael_Rudmin Comment #4

However, quite often the middlemen find it advantageous to deny information, or (worse) choice, so that the choice becomes either "maybe GMO corn" or "no corn".
Our local grain supplier only offered traditional feeds which we knew included GMO corn and soy. But at least they were locally grown, so we used them. But as we became more educated about GMO, we tried to find a source for non-GMO grains. We were able to find a local farmer who grows some on a small scale basis. Too small a scale for the big mills to bother with, but big enough that he has plenty to sell to small farmers like myself.

So for the past few years I have driven over, manually loaded a thousand pound feed tote, hauled it home and hand-unload it. So it was more work and more expensive, but it was actually available, still locally grown, and we can advertise as non-GMO fed.

We checked in with the local grain supplier this year and lo and behold, they now offer both an organic feed and a non-GMO feed. We'll consider using that for specialized purposes like getting our chicks started, but will probably stick with the local farmer for the bulk orders.

So keep searching for an alternate source and when you find it, use it. The more of us that can do that will help send the message.



'ave you ever lived off the land?  yeah we all do, some more than others. 



I find it somewhat coincidental and ironic, that as we approach the Easter season and another revolutionary anniversary, October 31, 1517, that Chris's interview harkens back to something that is as predictable as the seasons. When it comes to the human condition, evolution is really revolution. There will always be an undercurrent of resistance to orthodoxy, whether it be religious, political, scientific, artistic or have what you may. The PP team has chosen well in presenting a cogent and timely podcast that we should all reflect on. Joel's unabashed declaration of his bias towards his spiritual orientation is welcomed and appreciated in these tumultuous times. Perhaps the phrase, ". . . forgive them, for they know not what they do" might be a fitting admonition to us humans who continue to plunder this planet for our own myopic interests. Give 'em Hell, Joel. (Hope that isn't sacrilegious). The New Testament is filled with agricultural examples that were spoken to make us think. I wonder why?

I'll start off by saying that the majority of the ideas presented were easy for me to listen to.  Most I will consider building into my practices going forward.
Having said that, I struggled with one point, population.  It is entirely possible that we can feed 7.3 billion people and counting, solely by better distribution of what we already produce.  It's possible that we can keep up with the growing population by growing food on golf courses and in our front yards as well as our back.  However, keep in mind that these ideas are being talked about, in large part because we have decided to try out 7.3 billion people on a small planet.  Perhaps the next step, in a very few years, is growing food in cemeteries and national parks.  You get where this is headed.  Here's the problem and it's not projected to go away.

The example Chris makes of a stadium filling with water, or Al Bartlett makes of bacteria filling a jar, still apply.  If you don't deal with growth, the problem is going to sneak up on you.  No amount of currently available land is going to postpone the consequences for long.

I calculated the current doubling time for the Earth's population over breakfast this morning.  It's 58 years. If nothing changes, we will have 14.6 billion people on the planet by the year 2074.

Finally, I'll mention the 6th extinction.  We may be able to feed 7.3 billion people, but we are taking all the land that we are supposed to share with coyotes, jack rabbits and Javelinas, to name just a few of the critters that we should be sharing the planet with.  It's their only home as well.

Perhaps the biggest issue I have with the Christian community is being demonstrated in Texas right now.  Birth control clinics are being closed state wide.  Their closure is not just affecting Christians.  People of other beliefs are loosing access to these services as well.


I'm not sure how you calculated your doubling time, but hope you factored in the decreasing rate of population increase.

Source (choose Probabilistic Projections; Population; Total Population; World)

In the chart I included the 2100 number is 11 billion, which is your median range.

The chart is scary enough, but the doubling time gives you a better understanding of what a small growth rate can do, when applied to a large base.

The doubling time is simply 70 divided by the growth rate.  That's Al Bartlett's shortcut, approximately 100 divided by the natural log of 2.  I used 1.2% growth, which may have been 2014.  2015 may have dropped to 1.1%, which would yield a doubling time of 64 years.  64 years should still scare you silly.

Regardless of the number, the point I was trying to make is that population definitely is a problem, a huge problem that has gone vertical on the exponential curve.

The good and bad news is that, in my opinion, we will never reach 11 billion.  World wide famine will do what we have not done.


Joel says it all, and so well. It is always a pleasure to listen to him again.  Joel is the living evidence that condemns the industrial food system, we are indeed part of the fabric of the planetary ecosystem, we need to stop believing that to be human is to be destructive to our environment.  Transcendence comes from humility, acceptance, compassion and cooperation, not dominance and rejection. We are indeed blessed to have Joel in our midst.

Joel Salatin for President!

Great conversation, and also thanks for announcing the events in Petaluma!
I probably wouldn't have learned about them in time if not for this post.  So happily, I'll be going to the keynote and farm tour in April.

And on the topic of events, with Rowe coming up… please add me to the list of people / families who'd be interested in a Rowe-like event on the West Coast  :)

Here is a permaculture course, looks pretty cool.