Sunday, November 28, 2010

Polyface Farm

I have no idea where the fall went. It feels like just yesterday school started and now as I look around Christmas decorations are up. Way back in September we went out to Polyface Farm, seen in movies such as "Food, Inc" and "Fresh" and the spot where Michael Pollan had his epiphany for "Omnivore's Dilemma". I have been fortunate to meet and talk Joel Salatin, 2nd generation farmer at Polyface, before. He presented "Fresh" to Congress and I, along with my mother in law, attended the reception afterwards.
We chatted about the laws and the agents that have tried to shut him down over the years and we talked about my upcoming farm tour in a few months. It was a night of great people all there for the same cause and also Ana Sofia Jones', Director of "Fresh", birthday. So spirits were joyful, despite the lack of actual Congress members actually in attendance to learn/change our food system.

My husband has patiently listened over the past year and half as I educate myself further and further, morphing just what action I want to take in this movement. It started one day in between diaper changes and spit up that Martha Stewart was on in the background talking about a must see movie, "Food, Inc". I filed it away deep in the back of the brain until a few months later we were in Ocean City and I forgot my beach book. I went in to a little book shop and there was one copy of "Food, Inc". I picked it up along with a much lighter beach read about a man on Nantucket and headed to the beach. I couldn't put "Food, Inc" down. I knew from working in restaurants that use local farms the joys of having local food and meeting the farmers as they bring it in through the kitchen, but never stopped to think just how damaging and gross the alternative was. So with anything I do, I researched, I like to read many opinions in order to form my own. My husband says I can't just do one thing, it has to come in at least fives. Try a new recipe, I make it five different ways, learn a new craft, do it five different ways. So as I researched this Food, Inc thing I kept going in further and further finding myself making different decisions at the grocery store, coming across events such presented by Animal Welfare Approved and screenings of movies like "Fresh" and "King Corn" and reading countless books and talking to countless people, getting to know my local farmers. I have also found myself going back to school for sustainable agriculture. At the very least I want our own hobby farm, at the very most I want to reach as many people as possible to educate them as to what they are putting in their bodies. The very thing that gives us life many of us just want faster, bigger, cheaper. One person at a time. I can say in the last year our family has changed and we are 90% barcode free, using local farms and farmers markets in hopes to using our own backyard even more. So heading out to Polyface Farm was for research to see how it really works.

We went out September 16, 2010. It was a nice warm Virginia day and Joel was just flying in (from saving the world, one charasmatic Joel speech at a time) as we were arriving. Everyone with anticipation "would HE arrive in time for the tour", including the camera crew who was there filming for a documentary to be shown in S. Korea. KOREA! This guy, Joel, has reached that far!

First we headed out to the pastured poultry, riding the hay ride as Michael the Arch Angel (the loyal farm dog) followed behind. Now I am typing this from notes written almost 3 months ago, so they won't nearly have the enthusiasm or the flow that I felt that day, but they will have the facts.

Out there in the pastured poultry area Joel showed us that 1 person can move a shelter in 60 seconds. There are no flies, amnonia smell, mass waste, it was just the chickens chilling eating up the bugs and feed.

Joel presented his operation as a "food system with integretity...everyone can see what goes in the front door and out the back door". They are portable lightweight shelters and it can be done anywhere, in schools, cities, etc. At this point he asked "what do you think of when you hear the word 'farm'?" Instead of thinking of our manmade creations as silos, barns, think instead of soil, earthworms, land, sun. There are those critics that say we have to do it in factory farms, we need more food, we need to feed the world. After attending the AWA panel I wrote this on the Future of Farming and Joel is supplying to consumers, many restaurants in Virginia, Maryland, DC, including Chiptotle (a good read if you have a moment), he's even in talks with Sam's Clubs. Joel runs his farm by "building forgiveness in the land". It can be done right, but people have gotten so greedy for bigger, cheaper, faster that we don't stop to think if it's working or not.

Off to the hayshed, the famous hayshed where Michael Pollan has his epiphany for "Omnivore's Dilemma".
And Michael takes a nap

Cows drops 50lbs of manuere a day. A DAY! Mix that with old hay, peanut shells, wood chips, sawdust and it all gets sopped up. This thing is so steamy that is 50 degrees in the middle of winter, but has 0 smell. They build the bedding pack, add corn to ferment, then come spring the pig"erators" come in seeking the fermented corn and airate the bedding pack. It's the animals on the land working for you as you work for them. Everyone has a job on the farm. When you take away and only focus on one crop is when there is a breakdown and disease and illness step in. Joel says "don't be afraid to make mistakes, but be afraid not to fix them" and "balance the How with the Why".
As we headed out to the cows my 3 year old dropped my pen straight down into a cow patty so my notes are limited from here, but pictures should get the point that it can be done right, and it can be done clean, and it can be done for "the masses", and it can be cost effective. Polyface Farm has NEVER bought fertilizer or chemicals, they plant grain thru perennials to build the soil. No structure is a permanent structure. And every animal on the farm has a job.
Joel picking up 14 different grasses that the cows eat.

 Our day ended in rain so we didn't get out to see the feather pen where the layers are, but my husband did get interviewed for the documentary so I can't wait to hear his voice dubbed over in Korean. And of course we took home some Polyface Farms' meat.

"What we need is a mob-stocking herbivorous solar conversion lignified carbon- sequestration fertilization program"- Joel Salatin, "Fresh"

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