Owner of Polyface Farm Says that Small Farms are “at Wounded Knee”

By Sharon Baiocco


The message was dire from Joel Salatin to about 30 of TJMC UU’s and Sierra Club members at a hayride tour of his organic farm in the Shenandoah Valley June 15. “We are at Wounded Knee,” he said, but this time it is the federal government’s regulations that have small farmers surrounded.  A passionate spokesperson for sustainable farming, his life has changed dramatically, he says, since Michael Pollan wrote about him in The Omnivore’s Dilemma.  Several congressmen have tried to enable his testimony regarding new federal farm bills, but have so far been unsuccessful.


Above: Farmer Joel Salatin shows us his portable pens for roasting chickens and his battery-powered cattle fence.


Despite this, a visit to Polyface Farm is a treat in so many ways.  Salatin’s ecological farming pays tribute to “the chicken-ness of the chicken” and “the interdependent web of all existence,” as well as to modern environmental science.  His farm, set into the rolling hills of the Shenandoah, is a carefully planned system--not of crop rotation--but of animal rotation. 


Our tour, organized by Deborah Judson-Ebbets, chair of the TJMC Environmental Concerns Committee, began at the cow pasture, where a small herd was grazing on part of a hillside field surrounded by a battery-powered, moveable fence.  Salatin daily moves the pasture across the field, followed about four days later by a moveable chicken coop and its residents of insect-devouring hens.  In another battery-powered fenced field, a dog and two geese patrol a moveable chicken pen and coop for laying hens.  They guard the chickens from underground predators (like weasels) and overhead predators (hawks).  Salatin moves the coops frequently to give his chickens fresh, clean fields to live in. 







Left: Laying hens guarded by a dog and two geese.


A winter hay barn for cattle has an ingenious feeding trough on a pulley, so that as the animal manure piles up, the trough can be raised.  Meanwhile, the manure is mixed with straw and corn which together produce heat from the composting, keeping the cows pleasantly warm while they eat. In the spring, Salatin’s pigs arrive to enjoy the hunt for corn amidst the compost, aerating it cheaply and getting fat too. 


On a lovely June day, the green valley below Staunton is dotted with centuries-old farms, but it is unlikely many of them can sustain as much as Polyface Farm, which Salatin boasts produces eight times as much per acre.  Salatin sells his meat and eggs through Rebecca’s and his own farm shop.  The author of many books, his next book, titled Everything I Want to Do is Illegal, describes – he says in a humorous way -- the government’s regulations that he views as most destructive.  It is scheduled for release in July.  For more information, go to www.polyfacefarms.com