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Home Energy Pathways to Re-Localisation with Joel Salatin

Pathways to Re-Localisation with Joel Salatin

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Pathways to Re-Localisation with Joel Salatin

by Owen Hablutzel

Reposted from HERE

We begin where an exuberant Joel Salatin ended his two-day Pathways to Re-localization intensive; by declaring a simple benediction with far-reaching implications. The environment both outside and inside the large tent housing this event has been highly dynamic, refreshing, and bold. Sweeping swells and pulses of much needed rainfall have been pattering the rooftop these past two days. Aromas of moist leaves, air, earth, wood, and clothing are rampant. But Nature’s sweet wet furies outside have been unable to drown out the warm deluge of Mr. Salatin’s charismatic speaking inside. And like the droughted California soils outside, finally filling their pore spaces with the delicious torrent, the minds of course participants are just as vigorously imbibing the information deluge inside, drinking in everything from practical farming techniques to food issues, farm-scale marketing, and the philosophy of re-localization. The rain event will produce a flush of strong growth in the Mediterranean climate here. And we can predict likewise that Mr. Salatin’s far-reaching ‘intensive’ will produce an abundant proliferation of essential and inspired re-localizing activities from coast to coast and beyond. It is in a world made local and resilient once more through such a strategy that children may indeed rise up and call us all blessed.


A world thus renewed and re-localized is the vision, and self-described “ministry,” Joel Salatin has developed over a lifetime. During these two days he is sharing and communicating that vision to those assembled here, at Orella Ranch (where this event is batting ‘clean-up’ as the final module of the leading-edge Carbon Economy Course series). A packed house of fifty participants (including local and international farmers, eco-preneurs, Permaculturalists, local-foodies, ranchers, and assorted eco-adventurers) are definitely here to listen, question, learn, and to be inspired. A highly expressive and engaging speaker, Mr. Salatin elucidates his life’s work with all the fiery passion of a down-home religious revival. Call it “LUNATIC FARMING 101” and you would not be far from the mark (Mr. Salatin in fact relates that his next book will be titled The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer). With “Lunatic Farming” and a comprehensive strategy for re-localizing the world there is no shortage of indispensable advice, along with plenty of good humor, being absorbed and shared here.


Not merely a “lunatic farmer,” Joel Salatin is also a prolific author, front-line local-food activist, regenerative-silvo-pastoral-profitable-Permaculture farmer, sought-after speaker, marketing guru, agricultural innovator, eco-prophet, and general “bio-evangelist.” He has been written about quite extensively elsewhere, has appeared in worthy films such as Food, Inc. and Fresh, and well-deservedly ranks as something of a celebrity-dynamo in the eco-ag domain.

In 1961 his father moved the family to an abused, soil-depleted, de-vegetated, gully-infested, 550 acre block of land in Virginia called Polyface Farm. Beginning then, and continuing to this day, the Salatin family began a series of adaptive experiments in natural farming that regenerated Polyface and, to a large degree, aspects of the surrounding communities. Over the years Mr. Salatin has produced many ground-tested, tried-and-true, replicable models for profitable small farm production. Everything from pastured pork and poultry, to timber, to grass-finished beef (some of his books – You Can Farm, Pastured Poultry Profits, and Salad-Bar Beef – offer complete models of these enterprises, as well as lots of other juicy, hard-won, ecological farming tidbits). Along the way the Salatin’s have occasionally found themselves locking horns with insensitive bureaucracies, incompetent politicos and agencies, and incomprehensible legal issues (see Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal) that tend to keep sensible, locally based farms and initiatives out of important local markets (usually to protect far-flung, large scale agribusiness and multinationals from relevant local competition under the guise of ‘food safety’). This varied, agricultural life, specific set of experiences, cheerful personality, and wit makes Mr. Salatin uniquely qualified for such zealous pulpiteering on the topic of re-localizing our world.

So what pathways does Mr. Salatin suggest? How do we get to a thriving, locally based, community embedded agriculture – an agriculture that is neighborhood friendly, what he calls an “embryonic aesthetically aromatically sensually romantic farming model” – from the present degenerative state of affairs? To begin the journey requires recognizing where we are starting from. For Mr. Salatin our society is presently at “the zenith… of the Greco-roman, western, linear, reductionized, disconnected, democratized, individualized, fragmented, systematized, all-about-me kind of thinking.” His answer is to preach what he practices. “We need to engage… to be the ones that reach out,” says Mr. Salatin. It is this highly pro-active, interactive, social modality of engaging others that is necessary for farmers and for all agents of change to practice in order to begin to bring about the kinds and scales of changes that are needed. How do we accomplish this engagement? How do we complete such a monumental overhaul in the agricultural, farm, food, health, and economic systems? “We have to purchase our freedom,” he says, “with ingenuity.”

Indeed, an apt description of Mr. Salatin’s career thus far. After all, how many other farmers have used their ingenuity in so many function-stacking, marketable, and profitable ways while creating a healthy ecology and landscape on the farm? Some examples of Joel’s ingenuity and persistence (“if it’s worth doing it’s worth doing poorly at first” – Joel Salatin) at work:

  • “SQUEALER SEALERS.” A self-described “pond man” (like fellow fertility farmers in the grass-based, sustainable tradition, such as Louis Bromfield and Keyline® Design originator P.A. Yeomans), Mr. Salatin puts pigs to work… sealing ponds. (1.) Sprinkle empty pond with shucked corn (2.) Add 20 big pigs fenced in during damp season, and (3.) Viola! A well sealed pond.
  • “PIG-AERATORS.” In this system Mr. Salatin (self-described “carbon fiend”) continually composts the cow-bedding in-place on the barn floor over winter. As more bedding is added the pile gets deep. Once the cows go back to pasture the pigs dive in and aerate the entire lot in their attempts to dig out the tasty, fermented corn placed originally at the base of the pile. In this way his ‘farm equipment’ (pig-aerators) appreciates in value, instead of rusting, depreciating, and requiring labor to operate. Joel reckons this model could work at many scales, even municipal.
  • “SALAD BAR BEEF” comes from grass fed / finished cows that enjoy a ‘salad bar’ of clean, fresh pasture every day. Mr. Salatin has developed a grazing system quite similar to the highly effective Holistic Management® Planned Grazing, where the cows are mobbed up at fairly high-densities (routinely 400 head to an acre and a half in Mr. Salatin’s case), always moving to fresh grass while letting grazed areas recover, assured maximum rumination time to metabolise the grass, and handled using very low-stress (for the cow and the people) techniques. He uses portable energizers and aluminum wire (aluminum weighs less, so less fence bracing needed, and it conducts 30% better) for his electric fencing (which is a human invention that rivals the wheel in importance! – according to Mr. Salatin). His fences are on Keylines. He also calves just prior to peak grass growth (as nature does and traditionally the livestock industry does not).
  • “EGG-MOBILE.” Sort of a ‘mother-ship’ of chicken-tractors. Put 800 chickens to work sanitizing the pasture, move them 3 days behind the cows and the fly larvae (4-day fly cycle) are at their fattest… Feeds the chickens (you can produce more biomass pounds of insects on pasture than you can pounds of livestock – harvest this biomass with chickens and profit margins skyrocket), eliminates flies, creates a sanitized pasture environment, and produces 40 dozen eggs every day as well.
  • “GOBBLE-DEE-GO!” Another Salatin special. Basically, convert an old hay-wagon into a mobile Turkey roost by adding perch boards and shade-cloth roofing. During the day turkeys can roam through fresh pasture (turkeys will eat more grass than chickens), drink from water hung onto the wagon, and seek shade under the wagon.
  • “RABBIT TRACTOR.” Want to turn an acre of grass into $40,000.00? Sure you do. Well build yourself a rabbit tractor and put that grass through rabbits. Use slatted floors so they can’t dig out. Rabbits will eat 70% grass in their diet off pasture.
  • “HOOP-HOUSE LIVESTOCK TO VEGES SYSTEM.” Keep chickens, rabbits, and pigs over winter on carbonaceous composting bedding in a hoop-house ‘tunnel’ (the pathogens are kept in check and confused by the multiple species), then in summer plant the now highly fertile area to tomatoes, sweet-corn, etc…

Joel Salatin delivers the goods.

With this sort of pro-active ingenuity spiraling production to new and sustainable levels it remains to dial in your processing and distribution to develop a full marketing system for local economy. Altogether, Mr. Salatin reckons there are six major slices to the “Local Food System Pie.”

  1. PRODUCERS – Farms, ranches, scale up, use synergies, diversified products. Leveraging air, soil, and water with “stacked multi-speciation” and transparent integrity. Leverage existing machines and labor…
  2. PROCESSING – Abattoirs, community kitchens, value-adding, canning, curing, fine meats, etc…
  3. ACCOUNTING – Necessary to any successful business operation.
  4. MARKETING – Selling. Need a gregarious, storytelling schmoozer who can “sell a hat-rack to a moose”… Sell health, ecology, land health, connection, a story…
  5. DISTRIBUTION – Key is understanding that distribution is NOT farming. Rather, it is the transportation business… Full trucks each run… Should be thinking Nutrient Density here. Fruits and veges are 98% water, expensive to move around. Grow these throughout the local landscape everywhere and use transport more for nutrient dense foods…
  6. CUSTOMERS – Local food friendly. Like to spend time in their kitchens. Educate them… recipes, how-to’s, cooking courses, using seasonal foods seasonally… want real-time service.

Joel Salatin answers questions during a class break.

Finally, to give a local food system the kick in the pants it needs to really take off, Mr. Salatin suggests we model Wal-Mart super centers. Say what!? Yes, Wal-mart. “Take what works at Wal-mart and LOCALIZE IT!”

  1. ONE STOP SHOPPING – Lots of variety. Lots of choice. Consignment farmer’s market where all the products from your area can be sold. Farmer sets the price (consignment) so the business isn’t taking the risk. Many enterprises, diner, gift shop, crafts, etc…
  2. REAL-TIME CONVENIENCE – Open all hours. Anytime shopping. Good location (how about right across the street from the actual Wal-mart!). Farmers and customers can drop off or pick up when it is convenient for them…
  3. BUSY CASHIERS – Keep the cash register working, efficient, leveraged… Run multiple income streams through the same register (farmers market, gift-shop, diner, etc).
  4. VALUE-ADDED FOODS – Local processing, even at same location. Diner kitchen can also do canning for use and sale of salvage remainders from the farmers market. May also use salvage to make stews and soups for diner patrons… homestyle, local, breakfast, lunch, dinner, etc…

The idea is to create a local food buzz and story that connects customers to producers through a venue convenient for both. Make it easy to do for everyone. Reweave the fabric of a functioning local community and economy. This strategy uses high-transparency and local integrity to differentiate the products and quality while competing head-to-head with the current so-called ‘food’ system. Makes sense. Once they’ve tasted fresh pastured poultry (lacking the 10% fecal soup in the regular supermarket birds), locally sourced and available from farms they can visit and trust, folks will not soon go back!

We might call this Salatin’s “Local Super Center” model. This vision tops off many connected perspectives that have been examined throughout the entire Carbon Economy Course series. We may find it useful here to consider some of these aligned perspectives and to integrate them into our thinking about Mr. Salatin’s model, leveraging them together into a localized carbon-centered economic model. Particularly applicable to planning for a “local super center,” is the framework from the earlier ZERI Training module. While the modules for Soil Food Web and Sustainable Land Management (which includes Holistic Management®, Keyline® Design, and Broadacre Permaculture Design), as well as Mr. Salatin’s several profitable farming models, offer extensive and diverse techniques and know-how that support the success of a healthy, local, regenerative agriculture. These approaches can ensure the production of goods to supply our envisioned “local super center,” while at the same time contributing mightily to the land health of the region (which will, in turn, continue to support the ongoing agricultural production). We might then envision a thriving local economy with local-scale production, industry, processing (value-adding), and sales energized. These would likely be geographically clustered for minimum energy and resource use during the entire process (using a ZERI framework for planning, see image below). Thus our “local super-center” is born. Ironically, much of what works so well for Wal-mart can also work for a local food system and local economy (instead of working against these, as Wal-mart often does currently). We might notice here that, once again, “the problem is the solution.”

Taking off from Mr. Salatin’s “Local Super Center” model, and expanding it
a bit using aZERI-style system map. Darker straight lines are cashflows. Lighter
lines are inputs, outputs, or interactions between elements. Could add more to
the system, such as an energy generation station (bio-gas, etc) or waste-water
treatment plant, etc.

There is beauty and elegance in a system where relatively simple changes at a small and local scale can connect over a much larger scale to continually increase benefits to all. Ecosystems themselves exhibit such self-organizing dynamics and cross-scale interactions as part of their basic structure and functioning. In mimicking natural systems any local synergies we generate can scale up to address regional problems and issues. We know we are in the realm of systems thinking and action when a single solution simultaneously addresses multifarious problems and issues (hence the systems thinking adage: “change one thing, change everything”).

What if, for one example, we switched our beef and other meat production from the currently dominant concentrated feedlot system to the pasture based, grass fed and finished model (using Salatin’s Salad Bar Beef and/or Holistic Managment® Planned Grazing models). Thinking through the extended consequences of this shift we start at the farm scale. The results on the farm include improved pasture production, reduced tillage, much less land in corn (since 70% of U.S. corn production goes to the feedlot/non-pastured production), more land in sustainable pasture, less irrigation, less pollution, less fertilizer use, reduced topsoil loss (in fact, topsoil can be created this way), reduced erosion and so on. All of these changes contribute to an improved farm economy. Input costs are greatly diminished and profit margins increased (even before considering emerging profit potentials for selling carbon storage credits or receiving payments for ecosystem services – markets for both are growing fast – that will vastly improve under this form of management). There is also a substantial improvement in the quality of the meat produced (which contributes even further to improved economic margins). For just one example, the balance of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids in grass-fed/finished meats is nutritionally far superior to that in feedlot meats. All of this just at the scale of a single farm!

Widening our lens it is simple to see that effects will begin reverberating throughout a local region when many of its farms operate this way. Multiple improved farm ecologies will scale up to improve the land health of an entire area; increasing ecological resilience, and improving ecosystem services (cleaning air, providing more water, filtering and purifying water, providing improved and increased wildlife habitat and connectivity of habitat, reducing occurrence and effects of drought, flooding, wildfire, building topsoil, and increasing opportunities for recreation, tourism, and local biologically based industry). Regional ecological improvement would also result from the accompanying reduction in feedlot air and water pollution. The improved farm scale economies lead to more monies available in the wider local economy. Less money leaves the area and more stays put. This can lead to more local industry, more local jobs, and an increasing cycle of local investments that will positively feedback more of all of these.

Also, the improved quality of meat and other foods coming from local farms, being nutritionally superior foods (and especially as these synergize with simultaneously improving air quality, water quality, and ecosystem health), will scale up to a steady improvement for the overall level of human health in the local region. This benefit will mean, in turn, a great reduction in health-care costs as well as, potentially, education expenses (as the health of body and mind are not separate).

Here we have actively changed essentially only a single element of the system yet produced sizable improvements, eliminated many problems, and catalyzed wide-scale beneficial changes in a far larger system. If you think the ‘butterfly effect’ is powerful (to throw in a pop-culture chaos theory reference) how about THE COW EFFECT! And this only considers a single change (corn to grass-fed/finished). We haven’t even begun to incorporate all of the other positive changes possible in a re-localizing paradigm, which would tend to amplify all of the benefits we have mentioned. It is not so difficult then to see how simple changes and pro-active engagement, at a scale attainable for many of us, are able to link up with the ecological and social processes in our regions and have great potential to cascade incredible synergized improvements throughout the whole system. This process, partly through all of the positive feedbacks generated, becomes self-reinforcing, and even self-organizes to a larger degree than many assume. Ecologists, and others, sometimes refer to this as a ‘runaway process,’ or ‘snowball effect.’

Wisely leveraged, this effect could be a significant help in establishing Mr. Salatin’s “local super-center” model, and jumpstarting the local carbon economy. Food is the lever. Once a few local ‘early-adopters’ taste the immediate benefits of eating local food they begin to spread the word. As more curious local folks adopt the super-center for their shopping needs the wider benefits (economic, ecological, and social) to the local region will be emerging in tangible ways, becoming more obvious all the time. These results can lead many others to see and taste the many blessings that grow out of this arrangement, and cause it to grow further. At this stage the “local super center” is functioning as a strong system attractor, and the process can become a sort of tidal wave, runaway affair. As more and more ‘slices’ of this ‘local food system pie’ fall into place, and more and more local producers get involved, any remaining inertia for the old-model (big agri-biz ‘food’ system) is overwhelmed. The local system crosses into an entirely new, far more resilient, self-reinforcing, diverse, stable, healthy, and sustainable overall state.

Here is the graceful and harmonious system, the “ethical solution,” that Joel Salatin envisions, promotes, and wishes upon us all. With the rains whispering a soft retreat here at Orella Ranch, and the Carbon Economy Course series coming to an inspired close for 2009, participants head out towards their respective local domains. The group is filled with solid information, galvanized by fresh vision, and ready to start creating the conditions for emergence of a locally resilient world everywhere. Working together (this means you gentle reader, as well) it is up to this generation to prove Joel’s ending words prophetic: our children may rise up and call us blessed. That will happen only when we ourselves RISE UP, collaborate, and thoroughly engage. As Joel Salatin repeated multiple times over these past two days, “Are you with me?”

2009 Carbon Economy Course.

Many thanks are due to all participants and teachers throughout this series. A special thanks to Darren Doherty (originator of the Carbon Economy Course series), and to Orella Ranch and Quail Springs for all of their hard work and grace in making the entire series a top-notch reality (please consider a contribution to these organizations if you would like to support this work).


Owen Hablutzel performs international work in Permaculture systems design, consultation, speaking, and education. He is a director of the Permaculture Research Institute, USA, and can be reached at owen (at) permacultureusa.org

Also see Katie's article about the same event at this site: http://www.hopedance.org/home/food-news/1635



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