Inside Joel Salatin's Polyface Farm

Inside Joel Salatin's Polyface Farm

Cambria Bold
Jul 26, 2011

Every three years Joel Salatin—"Christian-libertarian-environmentalist-lunatic farmer," as he describes himself—hosts a farm visit for farmers, foodies, and travelers. Two weeks ago 1,700 visitors traveled to Polyface Farms, which spans 550 acres in the Shenandoah Valley, to hear Salatin talk about his view of local, sustainable agriculture and to see his practice first-hand.

A writer for The Atlantic was one of the attendees, and she shares her impressions of the farm in this week's issue:

Walking up a gentle slope, we come upon a herd of cows "mobbed" under a shady canopy, nibbling grass and depositing patties of natural fertilizer in the acre-or-so where they have been herded for the day. Tomorrow the white plastic electric fence—so thin it is hard to see in the brilliant sunlight—will be moved, the cows transferred to a new paddock so they can feast on a fresh "salad bar." Nearby, the chickens, in their big, floorless, corrugated tin-and-mesh mobile playpens are pecking at the cow patties left by the previous day's mob, picking out the fly larvae, aiding the composting process. Like so much on the farm, it is a virtuous cycle, the cows and chickens working together to create the rich soil, grass, and insect ecosystem...
One of the most striking things about the Polyface operation is its remarkable cleanliness. There are relatively few flies or mosquitoes—a surprise, considering the hundreds of grazing and pecking animals. Nor are there any obnoxious odors...
Polyface, with 900 head of cattle and about 700 pigs, is growing fast. Revenues this year will top $2 million, nearly double the figure five years ago, says Salatin, who has expanded by leasing seven local farms, which are run by former Polyface interns and apprentices, many of whom are at field day, identifiable by their matching sky-blue polo shirts. Salatin is not sure when it will be time to stop growing, but he's sticking to 10 core values that he says will keep him from ever being "Wall Streetified," including never setting a growth target and selling only to customers within a four-hour drive. The field day pilgrims, of course, have traveled much farther...

Have you ever visited Polyface Farms? What was your impression?

Read More: Inside Polyface Farm, Mecca of Sustainable Agriculture at The Atlantic

(Image: Transition Staunton Augusta)

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