Farmer Joel Salatin isn’t your typical local food activist.
Though his agricultural preaching has been featured prominently in the liberal-esque documentary Food, Inc., a recent feature story in The Christian Science Monitor brings out Salatin's more environmentally conscious, farming evangelist side.
Salatin is the owner of Polyface Farm, a 550-acre testament to the local food movement that has been growing steadily across the country.
What makes Salatin so powerful on the local food scene, writes the Monitor, is a “unique mix of ingenuity, faith and business savvy.”
Salatin believes farmers should give back to the Earth by creating a farming ecosystem where all the animals interact in an ecologically connected way.
“What we’re looking at is God’s design, nature’s template, and using that as a pattern to cut around and lay it down on a domestic model to duplicate that pattern that we see in nature,” Salatin told the Monitor.
To preserve the land for future generations, Salatin employs several methods around his farm.
For starters, he has his cattle graze in different areas of the pasture every day. Next, the chickens pick through those fields, eating bugs and spreading the cows’ manure. The farm's pigs then top it all off by rooting in a mix of hay, cow manure and wood chips while generating fertilizer that can be spread over the fields.
Local food advocates are hopeful that Salatin’s broad appeal helps bring in those from the religious right who are typically turned off by the movement's liberal followers.
“His position as a darling of the environmental left but with increasing cachet and respect from the religious right may make him the catalyst in bringing the two groups together,” writes the Monitor.
David Evans, who owns Marin Sun Farms in California, agreed.
“Buying food as a community is a very fundamental Christian value. It’s a value of many religions, and it’s a value of the liberal community as well,” he said. “I like to believe that around food production is where we can become more politically neutral. Everyone should be around the table on these issues.”
To help spread his message, Salatin spends half of his time preaching his agricultural evangelism to farmers who have largely depended on those outside of agriculture for guidance on their farms.
“Hearing him talk is like going to a revival meeting,” said Jo Robinson, a journalist and founder of eatwild.com, a clearinghouse for information on pasture-raised animals. "He takes people who have never been farmers and inspires them to become farmers.”
But though Salatin has been widely successful in his farming efforts over the years, he's adamant that farmers should only grow big and savvy enough to make a decent profit while staying small enough to remain part of the community.
“His model is not scalable in terms of getting bigger and bigger. That defeats what he’s doing,” said Robinson. “It can be multiplied — there can be many people that do what he does. There are people who are scaling up so that they can sell to restaurant chains and Whole Foods, and he’s not a part of that.”