After leaving the interstate and driving for a good 30 minutes on narrow and winding roads I arrived at Polyface Farm. Polyface is the home of Joel Salatin, New York Times best-selling author and Time Magazines “World’s Most Innovative Farmer”. Joel is an advocate for local food systems and is widely regarded as one of the best farmers in the world!
My first impressions were that this was a normal country farm with abundant sheds and the usual farming gear scattered around. The farm has an open door policy so you can wander anywhere you wish and what made this farm different was at every turn there was another farming enterprise: including pigs, chickens, eggs, turkeys, beef and rabbits. All looked happy and healthy and I was able to observe the efficient processing of approximately 50 Turkeys. The farm is also active in forestry, vegetable gardening and farm tours.
Polyface Farm is approximately 500 acres and located in the lush, rich soil of the Shenandoah Valley. This part of Virginia has a warm humid temperate climate with hot summers and no dry season. The area is beautiful and spoilt with humid summers, good rainfall and snow-covered winters, which work symbiotically to create a very fertile environment. I visited in the middle of the Virginian summer and whilst walking through the paddocks on a 35 degree day I could still feel the moisture in the air and my feet were getting wet even though there had been no rain for some time. There was an abundance of wild flowers and insect life, which you rarely see here on productive farms.
The basis of Joel’s farming philosophy is the rejuvenation of the soil through a synergic cycle of feeding. Cows are cell grazed in small areas and moved regularly and then chickens in portable coops or ‘chicken tractors’ follow behind the cows. The chickens dig through the cow poo and receive nutrients whilst further fertilizing the paddocks with their own manure.
The Salatins will not send food anywhere. They are dedicated to supplying the local area and operate through established buying clubs and their on farm store which turns over more than 2.5 million dollars annually. The farm employs over 20 people and utilizes a system of internships and apprentices which are oversubscribed by budding young farmers from all over the world.
Joel Salatin, his family and Polyface Farm feature prominently in Michael Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma (2006) and the documentary films Fresh and Academy Award-nominated Food, Inc. Joel is a regular visitor to Australia and especially our region so there are numerous opportunities to hear his philosophies and methods.
There are many Australian farmers either contemplating or trying to implement the Salatin methods and after visiting Polyface Farm I can understand why!
For further information, head to their website