Ten years ago I began reading every Joel Salatin book I could get my hands on.
Joel is America’s most famous farmer, owner of Polyface Farm, author of “Everything I want to do is illegal” and “Folks this ain’t normal” among other legendary titles.
I began dreaming, scheming, sketching and saving, and slowly over time built up my own diversified farm, always announcing to guests that we are based on the Polyface model.
Visitors from all over the world have now come here to see my intense rotational grazing model and take notes. And always, in the back of my mind, I wondered how close to Polyface my ideals were?
Finally, after 10 years I got to spend the weekend at his farm in Virginia. Highly recommended!
I have been planning this trip for months now – not making any changes or purchases for the farm this year, in anticipation of seeing a bunch of things I would need to change when I got home.
My biggest takeaway, however, wasn’t a unique spin on chicken feeders or animal rotations or product pricing – – instead, what impressed me the most was the people.
Joel is in the farming business. But the most spectacular part of his farm is not the land and the animals, it is the young men and women he is mentoring and growing each year, who then go on into the world and begin their careers and their families.
He has an intern education system that he’s well known for and often publicly criticized for. I was curious.
After a truly breathtaking sunrise drive through the Shenandoah Valley, my husband and I arrived on the farm Saturday morning at 7:00 AM to help set up for our event (Food Freedom Fest).
Like many 70+ year old farms this one has numerous old buildings that have been constructed where needed and are STUFFED with all the goodies a farm needs. Stuffed yet uncluttered, tidy and well-organized. Clean. Neat.
About 25 – 30 staff consisting of interns, apprentices, and employees were bustling about in matching gray monogrammed polos with clean jeans on. We were in awe to meet these famous interns talked about ’round the world!!
Each one of these young people looked me in the eye, smiled, was well-groomed, fit, well-spoken, confident, polite, encouraging, helpful, humble, with not a hint of arrogance for the fact that their boss is America’s most famous farmer.
(I’ve met arrogant waiters who work for America’s most famous chefs and ruined my dinner. And arrogant interns who work for America’s most famous politicians that ruined my day. And arrogant clerks in expensive stores. You get the idea.)
It’s not easy to be accepted as a Polyface intern – the Salatin family selects 8 men and women applicants out of over 200. They screen for many qualities. These young people start out as good people and exit the program as some of the most honorable, trustworthy, morally and ethically excellent citizens and contributors to our society!
Yes they can definitely farm.
Maybe not all will choose to farm, however, and that would be the good fortune of any other industry.
These are not just people who are well-trained farmers, which they are, but people who are good people, who will go on to marry good people and raise children who grow up to be —– good people.
And thanks to a visit to his farm I have a new standard of behavior and a more upscale existence to aspire to and expect on my farm, too.
Once again, Joel Salatin has raised the bar in my life. This time it wasn’t the beef-grazing bar or the pastured poultry bar – we got that. This time it’s the bar on the level of expectation of my own and others’ behavior.
This will do wonders in the healing of our land and our people. Just as much healing as putting our animals back on grass where they belong.
Farming in your service,