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Provocative ideas about agriculture from a Christian farmer II

“A farmer’s advice for happier hens, healthier people and a better world.”

Provocative ideas about agriculture from a Christian farmer II

Folks, This Ain’t Normal by Joel Salatin (Center Street, 2012)

Joe Salatin is not only the author of numerous books but a renowned speaker both at home in the United States and abroad. He loves his 300 acre Polyface Face Farm in Virginia: its land, his family and the animals. He is what Wendell Berry calls “a true husband of his land.” Educated at Bob Jones University, a Christian liberal arts college, he describes himself as “a Christian libertarian environmentalist big on personal responsibility.” He fearlessly criticizes both the left and right side of the political spectrum. Common sense is what frames his thinking. He promotes Folks, This Ain’t Normal as “A farmer’s advice for happier hens, healthier people and a better world.”

Salatin argues that there are good farmers and bad farmers. The “bad farmers” are those that are being controlled by the agricultural industry and work for profit. “Good farmers” – who do make profits but are guided by stewardship and service as fundamental norms – usually have smaller farms that supply and support the local community with their products. Numerous examples and anecdotes are given why Polyface Farm qualifies as a good farm. Just four decades ago, Polyface was an eroded, decaying plot of land, but now it’s become the envy of its neighbours, through use of soil management, pasturing and composting. Neighbours want to know what kind of chemical fertilizers he has used to make the fields so lush and  productive. Salatin explains that he does not use fertilizers but manages the pastures: “We move the cows every day from paddock to paddock, letting the grass regrow and get tall before mobbing it down,” and says that nature can only be tricked so long. Land has to be cared for properly. No civilization can be healthier environmentally or economically than its soil. The farm makes no use of GMO crops or pesticide sprays. Deer and other wildlife find a home there as well; the land that is dotted with forest and ponds.

Salatin spends lots of time discussing and giving anecdotal accounts of  the problems he has had with government and how it affects small farmers. He sees the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as not being normal, behind the times, lacking common sense in implementing policies, and generally making life miserable for the small farmer through the use of what he calls the Food Police. He believes that government policies that provide consumers with cheap food result in cheap farmers and cheap landscape policies. The Food Police enforce endless regulations so American consumers can have safe food, though Salatin believes that people have been brainwashed by the government to believe the Food Police are protecting their food supply. As evidence, he shares numerous unpleasant regulatory personal experiences with these Food Police and describes how many of those regulations are designed for large corporate agriculture farms driven by profit motive. He writes that government agricultural and food regulations, plus zoning and inheritance taxation laws, make it more and more difficult to be a successful small farmer.

Those who enjoy reading the “Flowers and Thistles” and “Country Living” columns in Christian Courier will finds this book enjoyable, informative and insightful into what it takes to have an environmentally-friendly farm. Although Salatin gets a bit long on the constant bashing about the USDA and FDA Food Police and other government regulators, the reader will realize that lack of common sense can make it frustrating to deal with the authorities. He concludes by writing, “The intensity of my feelings spring from the intimacy of my knowledge of this place, its surroundings, the weather patterns, the seasons. I believe this is historically normal and I covet that for others. Now go be a normal person.”  


About the Author
Provocative ideas about agriculture from a Christian farmer II

John Franken

John Franken is a long time resident of the Bulkley Valley who enjoys chickadees feeding out of his hand every morning and monitoring a 100 next-box bluebird trail for the last 26 years. He and his wife also enjoy meeting guests at their Bed and Breakfast famously known as Chickadee Acres B&B.