2011— What a great day at the Polyface Farm Field Day near Swoope VA. The program was run flawlessly with upwards of 2000 people at $100 per person in attendance. Every detail was impeccable. Even the cream for the coffee was from real milk (non pasteurized).
I don’t think there were many vegetarians in the crowd judging by the line for a wonderful barbecue featuring the Polyface products of chicken, beef and pork. The only vegetarians were the cows!
Joel Salatin is amazing. Actually, he is a rock star! There were people who were actually seeking and getting Joel’s autograph, one guy on his back!!!.
But Salatin is not some hokey internet media star. Anything but that. This guy is articulate, well spoken, passionate, an expert in his field and downright funny. I actually found him to be less critical of the government agencies than I expected even though he skillfully pointed out that the USDA actually encouraged adding dead cows to cow feed for 30 years before the mad cow disease mostly stopped the practice. (I added the mostly). I have seen the films of feed lots and factory farms, the disgusting conditions in a chicken processing plant and I have driven by disgusting smelling pig farms.
Polyface is at the other end of the spectrum. On a different planet really. It is so clean and oder free that you could do surgery here. They often do. The open air area where they process the chickens (by hand) is immaculate. Maybe that’s why Polyface chicken is 25 times cleaner than the chicken you buy in the grocery store (according to a comparison study done by a major U.S. university).
Walking the farm is an amazing experience. You would think walking down the middle of feeds with grazing cows, chickens and pigs that you would smell the foulest of smells but somehow even though you see the poop, the ground seems to absorb it and it just doesn’t smell. By moving the various “herds” daily, their release of nitrogen is spread out evenly over every square inch of the farm and the ground absorbs it and revitalizes. You get the feeling that Joel is actually making the ground better, not taking away from it or depleting the soil. No pesticides, no non-animal fertilizer, no growth hormones, no antibiotics. No animals standing in inches or even feet of manure. This is what a farm should be (and really what they used to be)—A biodiverse system that yields healthy food and heals itself as it goes along.
I walked all over the farm in my Sanuks. I walked the fields, into large, spacious pens, fenced in holding areas and various barns and farm buildings. Salatin let’s you go anywhere, anytime. Salatin uses rotation and chickens and pigs to clean up after cows.
It was fun for me to be up close with pigs, piglets, cows, chickens, turkeys and rabbits. The little ones are really cute especially the chicks and piglets. Am I starting to sound like Bill Crystal in City Slickers?
If you haven’t seen a video or read one of Joel’s books, you owe it to your health. Joel came into national prominence with Michael Polan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma and then in Food Inc. Salatin is a walking encyclopedia, has everything well thought out and he has implemented his ideas into every square inch of the farm. From capturing rain in man made ponds and ravines to inventing Eggmobiles and Pigaerators.
For example, he has the pigs feeding in the woods to clean up the forest floor (and save money on feed) and chickens cleaning up after rabbits and cows. He keeps the animals moving almost daily in an innovative manner involving lightweight but effective fencing. In a Virginia county where 80 cow days per acre is the norm (the number of cows that can eat per day on one acre), his shepherding and nomadic rotation yield an amazing 500% increase to 400 cows per day on an acre. That is significant but it also keeps the fields “mowed” but not too short. Furthermore, he actually waits exactly 3 days to bring the Eggmobile around with chickens who pick the protein out of the cow pies, eat the worms and eat the shortened grass.The Eggmobile is a portable chicken coop that lets the chickens rome freely and allows Salatin to transport them wherever he wants to.
The result is healthy, tasty meat that is grass fed without hormones, without cages, without stress. http://brianstpierretraining.com/index.php/category/nutrition/
I am a marketing and communications professional and believe me, Joel is a master marketer. After a morning of great talks, tours, and a tremendous lunch, he brought out his head of the buying club so you could sign up. The retail store was also running out of $15 T shirts and they had to keep restocking the freezer as people kept buying and buying.
The Buyer’s Club is run by Salatin’s daughter-in-law Sheri Salatin. Custom online ordering from a tremendous selection of every Polyface product and delivery. She built up the Buyer’s club into a major food distribution system and now Polyface delivers food to over 5,000 people 8 times a year in their Buyer’s Club. http://www.polyfaceyum.com/ You need to be within a couple of hours drive. Salatin is a locavore so he doesn’t ship food further than that. During the final Q&A session someone asked Salatin about a succession plan (he’s only 54). After hearing Sheri speak and seeing what she has accomplished, Salatin should consider her to take over some day. I sure Joel’s son wouldn’t mind!
So the big question is: What about the Food?
How does it taste?
I found the beef to be tasty and not too “gamey” as some grass fed beef can be.
The hype about Polyface chicken is true, it is the best I have ever had. Hands down, bar none.
I came out of there with a cooler full of chicken, beef and pork. I will let you know how it all tastes.
If you want to thrive and not survive, you need to find a good local truly organic farm near you. If you are in Virginia and Maryland, you need to visit Polyface Farm.