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Joel Salatin

Farmer Matt Reviews the film American Meat

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Farmer Matt Reviews the film American Meat

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Joel Salatin, Polyface Farm. Wednesday nights screening of American Meat at CWU’s S.U.R.C. Theater was well attended by students as well as local farmers and ranchers. The film covered issues that concern conventional farmers as well as organic farmers and the push/pull between the two worlds, but mostly the content focused on the instability of our current food system and what this means to our national security and economy. Interviews with conventional poultry and hog farmers reveal how agriculture has fallen to the hands of large corporations that act as the middlemen of the food system, leaving the farmer and the consumer to struggle with the economics and quality of the whole system. Much like our current health system, it is nearly an impossibility for the consumer or the producer to receive a fair deal while there is a line between the two parties whose goal and obligation it is to maximize profits for its shareholders. Under this model, the farmer doesn’t receive a fair price for his labor and the consumer doesn’t receive a quality product. Meanwhile, taxpayers are unknowingly picking up the bill for this system in the form of crop subsidies that benefit the corporate agriculture businesses more than the tax paying consumer/producer.

The film spent a good amount of time with Polyface Farm in Virginia, the home of Joel Salatin and his family. They have become an icon of local food and small farm movement with their back to basics approach to production and direct to consumer marketing. As a result, Polyface produces a superior product over the conventional system both in taste and nutrition without government subsidies or large fossil fuel inputs. The film also presents some statistics regarding what it would take to move all of agriculture back to a system such as Joel’s, a system that was essentially well established before World War II and points out that the average age of farmers today is 57 meaning that fewer and fewer young people are going into agriculture as a way of life or a means to support their family. To get away from what agriculture has become today it would be necessary for a portion of americans to move into agriculture but also for consumers to find it beneficial to pay more for quality food, a tough sell for many americans who struggle to make ends meet. The bottom line is that it will be a grassroots effort for americans to impose a new food system for their country by getting involved. More small farms need to be founded outside of all metropolitan areas rather than crops and livestock being produced on large farms, in concentrated areas and being trucked around the country every step of the way to the consumer. We currently spend 10% of our income on food as a nation while other developed countries spend 40% and until the economics between subsidies and land issue are resolved, it is unlikely that americans will be able to make the tough decisions to pay more for quality food produced by small local farms.

Finally, Tip Hudson offered an article written by Jerry L. Holechek titled “National Security and Rangelands” where he explores what it will mean to reach peak oil, a threat that is likely not far away. He considers this more threatening than global warming and terrorism in regards to our security as a nation and our way of life. The costs associated with globalization, transporting foods and goods around the globe on a constant basis, farming less at home and depending heavily on imported crops while we devote more and more range and farm land to sprawl and preserves will leave us kicking ourselves if not starving, leaving americans holding the bill for our current choices in agriculture.

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What moves us

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What moves us

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Or what keeps us moving might be the better question to ask. When starting a farm was just a small glimmer of an idea, we had a friend over for dinner that had just started working on a farm for the first time. She said her favorite thing about farm work was all the real problems that need to be solved throughout the day. There is no busy work on a farm, it all serves a purpose. We thought we understood at the time and it sounded appealing but we didn't really grasp how much of our days would be filled with problem solving. This has partly to do with us learning how to farm at a rapid pace while at the same time building infrastructure on the farm, but it also seems like it will soon feel like the normal state of our lives as farmers, whether it be five or fifteen years from now. Applewood

I'm not complaining because I love a challenge, especially one that involves research.  Matthew (or Farmer Matt as I sometimes call him) is more motivated by learning through trial and error after some research. He has more practical knowledge than I do from years of teaching himself and learning on the job a huge array of skills. Useful skills like carpentry and mechanics all the way to the other end of the spectrum, things like how to procure taxidermy mountain goats on a deadline. So he can start a project with a basic idea of how he thinks he wants it to go and improvise. I on the other hand will want to research all problems or projects before we make a move, finding multiple resources and narrowing down which way is the best or at least what I think fits our farm the best. Having these two very different approaches makes for a ridiculous amount of talking and compromising but ultimately I think this dialog keeps us moving forward. I try to learn from his practical knowledge and admire his willingness to fail and try again until he gets something just right. While he is open to my research and opinion even if it's partly based on intuition.

Chicken Shadows

I get the same questions all the time "Do you guys have any farming experience or did you go to school for farming?"- The answer is no, no we did not. We met in art school and we have spent the last 12 years remodeling two houses, starting a small business, and obsessed with cooking from scratch and growing our own food. We felt confident we could handle the challenges of starting a farm because this is not the first challenge we have faced together. Our first challenge many years ago was Matthew teaching me how to drive stick, and I admit I was surprised he still wanted to marry me after all the weeks we spent in empty parking lots . One challenge that we still haven't figured out is our need for more hands on the farm. With three small boys under five there is just not enough time in the day. We are lucky to have found an intern for our first season who is interested in starting his own farm, so the fact that most of this first season will be all about building and learning is something of a plus. We also will have to learn to just let go of some of the more house related chores and learn to live with a fine layer of dust and dirt on everything. Luckily the boys don't seem to mind.

ChickensInGarden

It's amazing how many resources are out there for new farmers, from blogs and YouTube videos to more traditional forms like books, small publications, county conservation districts and state extension offices. One of our favorite publications right now is The Stockman Grass Farmer monthly newspaper. It has regular articles written by farming iconoclasts like Joel Salatin and Allan Nation, and they work hard to stay at the forefront of current farming issues and finding practical solutions for small farmers. They don't have an online subscription which is refreshing but we also find the many online resources a huge source of inspiration and amusement. So if on a whim you are contemplating growing your own grains and threshing them by hand like we were, there are hundreds of YouTube videos out there that show you the process in excessive detail. A couple years ago I would have told you YouTube was just a place for cat videos and performance artists who need an audience, but today I am in awe of what you can learn from it.

Treasures

Then there is just the beauty of what surrounds us. The small bits of natural treasure that the boys collect and bring to us or being dumbstruck by the enormity of the night sky. It keeps us moving forward on those days the hoop house is being battered by the wind and Lulu has gotten into the hoop house and eaten all the eggs.

FarmHouseAtNight

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City Chicken, Country Chicken

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City Chicken, Country Chicken

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As we move ahead getting our family settled at the farm we also have 1 dog, 2 beehives, 10 hens, and one adopted Rooster to  trek over the mountain pass and find new homes for. The beehives have been nestled into a corner of an old horse corral. The dog has found at least a dozen new napping places, but the chickens need a whole new home. Their old city home was a part of a garden shed that could not be moved and wouldn't be practical for the rotational grazing we are interested in practicing on the farm.

We need a new kind of home for them in the country, one that's more mobile and easily moved to greener pastures every week or so. Something inexpensive that we can easily replicate because we are also going to have a new brood of chickens and turkeys coming at the end of the month. We need a Chicken Tractor. We originally saw some at a slide show and lecture that Joel Salatin gave at the Mother Earth News Fair. We liked the concept but we wanted something with a little more space for the chickens to roam around in and perches for them to roost. There are a lot of Chicken Tractor designs out there but most of them are too complicated and expensive and we eventually will need to build a half a dozen or more. We finally found one on Rainy Creek Pottery and Poultry Farm's website. They used inexpensive livestock panels to create a hoop and wood to create a lightweight sleigh like base and door frame. We had some salvaged wood to make the nesting boxes and perches, then all that was left was to put their feeder and water in there.

Now our City Chickens are officially Country Chickens

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