Friday, November 21, 2008

Welcome to Polyface.

The guy you see in the picture is Mr. Joel Salatin, he runs a farm in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, the Polyface farm. As you can notice from the name and the picture, this is not the kind of feedlot plant we are usual to consider the meat we eat to come from.
Joel's father, William, was an ingenious and very interesting man, after flying planes in World War II he earned an economics degree from Indiana University, after that he bought a farm in Venezuela, simply because, he thought, he could farm the way he wanted there, with no crazy conventions and regulations. In 1961 William and his family were forced to leave Venezuela because of the guerrillas and because this great man refused protection from local authorities (in change of nobody knows what). Mr. Salatin Senior was very determined to start over again, he needed to buy some acres close to Washington, D.C. in the way he could continue petitioning the Venezuelan Embassy for compensation. He ended up buying 550 acres of badly eroded and hilly farmland on the western edge of Shenandoah Valley, in the small town of Swoope. William quickly discovered the farm couldn't support both a mortgage and a family, so he took a job as an accountant. Many of his clients were struggling farmers and one look at their book convinced Mr. Salatin that all the advice he'd been hearing from consultants and extensions agents -to build silos, graze the forest, plant corn, sell commodities- was the perfect recipe for financial ruin. This man was very smart, creative, visionary and inventor, he quickly understood that the key to success on a farm was (is) first GRASS, and second MOBILITY. When William noticed that in hot days the cattle gathered under the trees, concentrating their manure in one place, he built a portable "shademobile", he could easily induce the cattle to spread their manure evenly over his pastures, simply by towing the car to a new spot every few days.
Joel had returned to the farm in 1982 after four years at Bob Jones University, 6 years later William died of cancer, and his proud son took charge of the farm continuing the great job of his father and bringing it to the top.
Polyface raises chicken, beef, turkeys, eggs, rabbits, and pigs, plus tomatoes, sweet corn, and berries on one hundred acres of pasture patchworked into another 450 acres of pure forest. The diversity -unfortunately- of the Polyface consists on the fact that if you wonder what Joes Salatin does for a living he wouldn't tell you he's a cattle rancher or a chicken farmer, he would tell you he's a grass farmer. There should be a lot of things to say about the fondamental importance of grass in animals' diet. As i already wrote in a previous post, cows are normally fed corns, or better corn paste with hormones, vitamins, syntetic proteins and liquefied fat coming from animals already processed. Cows and cattles are not supposed to eat this kind of shit, but they're supposed to eat grass and hay. You know, the reason is very simple, and of course it comes from the sun, it comes from the main source of energy ever discovered. Plants normally process the powerfull energy of the sun, the step to get the sun energy into food (meat) is very short. That's why we could also call Joel as a sun farmer, his daily work is to try to substitute grass with petroleum as a sun energy collector. Photosyntesis versus fossilization. So: if you cannot avoid to eat meat just try to buy from people like these. The right ones.
One of the guiding principles of Polyface is that the farm has to provide a habitat that allows plants and animals to express their psychological distinctiveness, that means they are considered as individuals, with the respect their individuality deserves. Forget about Polyface to ship you food, they should all seek food closer to home, in their foodshed on their own bioregion. GREAT. Polyface repeat again the truth that cows are herbivore and not omnivore, that's why Mr. Salatin never feed his animals dead cows or corn and hormones like the United States Department of Agriculture has been encouraging for long time, that created Joel's professional life many problems with stupid inspectors and other sub-persons like them. DISGUSTING. Basically at Polyface they want every animal to eat as much salad (green material) as its full genetic will allow.
Looking the many pictures in their web site i felt very joyful and peaceful, people working there show beautiful smiles, and the atmosphere looks so light and collaborative. The team is amazing, Richard, the delivery driver, has been many things before, a medical illustrator, an aerospace designer or a college-level design instructor, Polyface farm helped him very much: eating Polyface's fresh food he lost kind of 150 pounds. No diets, just amazing and natural food, the one in peace with God. Wendy, the farm phone representative is a very nice youg blond woman, she's a young mom and when became pregnant she left the pr/marketing world to stay home with her baby. I LOVE THESE KIND OF MOMS, they remind me mine. After reading about the farm in "Omnivore's Dilemma" she was so excited and she talked them into hire her. Andy is the young full-time apprentice, after graduating with honors from the Idaho Coalition of Home Educators, he worked at an organic diary and at an Apple reseller as a technician. Andy's dream is to run a farm that produces clean, healthy nutricius food, he's so young, he will realize it for sure, and it's so beautiful to finally see a young man and not the usual stupid 20 yo i-phone addicted. Ben is the other full-time apprentice, he's one year older than Andy, he is a graduate of Walkersville Christian Family Schools and attended Towson University until his move to Polyface, he's able to play a fiddle and he plans to work toward setting up his own farming enterprise based on the Polyface model. Finally we've got Matt, the tour guide and apprentice manager -even if the word "manager" in a kind of environment like the Polyface one sounds to me a little bit weird-. After he graduated with a degree in Environmental Studies he spent a year as a full-time apprentice after which he confirmed his choice becoming manager and responsible for the tours the farm guests. He works with two beautiful white dogs, Jack and Faith, part of the team as well as Polyface's poultry guardians. These people seem the classic kind of people everyone would love to meet with.
There's many other interesting things to say about these great guys, for example their web site is absolutely not interactive, i guess how many people, no getting the whole philosophy behind Polyface projects, bothered them requesting food by e-mail or other crazy requests like catering and so... -tomorrow I'll send them a fax to let them know about this post-, notice also, the site map to reach the farm is totally hand made. FANTASTIC and finally authentic, so unusual in last years, above all in this country.
Writing this story i never used the world organic just because Polyface is not organic, they use to say they're beyond organic. This means many things but I'd love you to read the authentic point of view of Mr. Joel Salatin from "Omnivore's Dilemma":

"Me and the folks who buy my food are like the Indians, we just want to opt out. That's all the Indians ever wanted, to keep their tepees, to give their kids herbs instead of patent medicines and leeches. They didn't care if there was a Washington, D.C. or a Custer or a USDA; just leave us alone. But the Western mind can't bear and opt-out option. We're going to have a refight the Battle of the Little Bighorn to preserve the right to opt out, or your grandchildren and mine will have no choice but to eat amalgamated, irradiated, genetically prostituted, barcoded, adulterated fecal spam from the centralized processing conglomerate" .

Thank you for you time and attention.

- The Omnivore's Dilemma, Michael Pollan - -

1 comment:

kk said...

I have been blessed with a set of idealistic parents who pushed education and service to community, foremost, to their three daughters. My father’s values which were impressed upon me throughout my childhood are that the most important things in life are Health, Heart, Mind and Sustained Effort. In that order. He taught me that without good health, my life and other dreams would be, to put it mildly, a very difficult challenge; that a good heart is important to look at the world through the eyes of compassion; a good mind would help to achieve any dreams I may have and sustained effort, in spite of life’s challenges would garner some form of accomplishment in knowing that I tried my best, whatever the result – the beauty of the struggle.

To me, the efforts of Polyface farms and other “beyond organic” farms embody these ideals. I am an open and broad minded but traditional person who grew up in a traditional, old fashioned family with modern ideas. I was raised and cared for by a community of people. My parents, grandparents and neighbors in Japan and NY took care of me and my sisters and were concerned for our welfare. We didn’t eat processed foods, we rarely had candy and everything we ate was made from scratch by my mother or my Italian neighbors whose families, even now, remain an extension of my own. This kind of community and care for children, family and neighbors are values that I hold dear to me and miss seeing, very much. On a daily basis, I am bombarded by advertisements for fast, cheap food in unnatural fluorescent colors wrapped in fanciful, eye-catching packages and I’m disheartened because I realize how tempting it is to buy it. It’s easy, people are tired and their children whom they love but can’t spend enough time with, really want it and no parent wants to see their baby’s sad face, when they want the latest candy or unnaturally shaped and colored food -especially when the time you spend with them is limited to begin with. I’m disappointed in the choices that are available to people who want the best for their family but have to be extremely careful and discerning in reading labels and in some cases, have to use extraordinary efforts to seek out the best choices for their families when the market is flooded by a bevy of items that make you feel like you have a lot of choices but really, it’s the same company and same lobbyists that want you to buy their goods because the government manipulates the ability of small farms to sell and consumers to purchase what would be a better choice for them. Community Sustained Agriculture (CSA), biodynamic farming, heritage breeds, humanely raised and drug free meats and produce are important to me and I hope, to many other people. And I don’t believe that it’s simply about food. It’s about community and care and concern for people, the environment and children. It’s about being aware, responsible and respectful. I learned these lessons about life around my own dinner table each night growing up and I think it’s a wonderful place to start. The concept of the marketplace of ideas can thrive in the food market, where I hope that people with their small grass roots efforts to sustain good health, heart and mind will overcome what may be the most available but not necessarily the best for them and their children.

These are links to some farms, run by some wonderful people in the NY area: