An evening with Joel Salatin

I just spent an evening with Joel Salatin–and 150 of my other best friends–at a local screening of the movie FRESH, followed by a short Q & A with Mr. Salatin.  He’s a hoot–using that word as a complement–in the way that only an utterly sincere and passionate man who doesn’t give a “sheep’s dit” about what anyone things.

Joel is known from his numerous movie and printed appearances for his work on Polyface Farm in Swoope, VA.  While the evening overall gave lots of intellectual fodder, there are a couple of things that are most relevant to our work here.  During the Q & A, an audience member asked: “If I had to choose either organic or local, which should I choose?”  Now, Joel self-describes as libertarian, a term which I would also have to apply based on his explicit distaste for the government (this having been one of his qualities I enjoyed the most, I picked up a copy of his book Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal, which I imagine spells out some of the contributing events to this distaste).

What followed in his answer to the question, however, was very interesting.  He immediately disclosed that his farm is not organic because he absolutely refuses to participate in something run by the government.  He then moved on to detail an answer that I think more people could relate to (many of us agreeing that government can be and is helpful…).  The term “organic”, he explained, became government regulated as soon as it grew in popularity with the masses.  And, organic certification is pass/fail–and he asked, who among us had ever been motivated to do more than the minimum to excel in a pass/fail class?  Because, he explained, an A is the same as a D+–both producers can brand their product as “Certified Organic”.  (For the record, Joel calls his farm “Beyond Organic”–and they eschew hormones/antibiotics, but choose not to be certified.)  So, he concluded, “organic” doesn’t offer much of a guarantee in terms of the quality of the product and the sustainability of its production (according to the government, he exclaimed, “You can have organic Twinkies!”).

Contrast this to local products.  Within a community, there is a degree of accountability–word of mouth, and if it’s really local, you can visit the farm or talk to someone who has.  A poorly-produced product isn’t going to sell very well once people find out and spread the word.  A local farmer makes a good product because his livelihood depends on it, and the health of his community depends on it.  And, here’s the good thing about us, Off The Vine Market–we’ve done the legwork for you.  We don’t sell products from producers we don’t know.  Tess visits our farms, and her business is built on relationships.  It’s a big step toward a healthier food system with greater accountability.  That’s one of the goals of this blog–eventually–when your blogger, the elementary teacher, claws her way out of the state testing season–bring the farms to you, virtually, so that you become a connected and informed stakeholder in our community food system.

Better food = better communities.

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2 comments

  1. I vote that I or my family would go the extra mile to do more than what is required in a class….Joel & Polyface is an excellent business model for today’s young farmer’s, but I find nothing wrong with a farm who chooses to go the certified organic route.

    Very interesting and entertaining, blog as we found this site on Off The Vine Market’s Facebook page and recent info emails!

    1. Thanks for your comment! When talking about this local, sustainable foods movement, I can get overwhelmed when I think of all the more I could be doing :o) I think though that this grassroots local movement is more fully entering into the national consciousness, and I believe that our consumer choices now will pay off in policy choices in the future. I hope, at least!

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