Building a local food system requires that everyone do their part, Salatin says
By Jean Caspers-Simmet
Date Modified: 05/14/2012 3:49 PM
GRINNELL, Iowa —Soils were built on principles of herbivores and grass, the kind of grass that covered the prairie when Laura Ingalls Wilder and her family built their sodhouse in the 1800s, said Joel Salatin, owner of Polyface Farm, during a speech at Grinnell College.
Tillage and corn and beans destroy the soil, Salatin said. It's no sin to grow grain but extractive tillage must be followed by several years of perennial cover.
"On our farm, where we practice this bio-mimicry with herbivores and perennials, soil organic matter has gone from 1 percent to 8 percent in 50 years, and places that were once nothing but shale rock now have built an inch of topsoil," Salatin said.
Pastures in his Virginia county average 80 cow days (the amount a cow will eat in one day) per acre. On Salatin's farm, pastures average 400 cow days per acre without any chemicals, seed or tillage. The farm serves more than 3,000 families, 10 retail outlets and 50 restaurants with grass-based beef, poultry, eggs, pork, rabbits, turkeys and forestry products.
The people who "poo poo" him and say he wants half the world's population to die are drawing on flawed information, Salatin said.
Many studies that compare organic and chemical farming and conclude that organic is sorely lacking don't use organic farming methods when caring for the organic research plots, Salatin said. When comparing indigenous and chemical farming methods, the benefits of the entire local system aren't considered. He gave the example of locally produced rice in Thailand where vegetables, ducks and fish are part of the system. Comparing that holistic food system to a field of genetically modified rice is "intellectual schizophrenia," he said.
"The most inflammatory statement I'll make is that science is not objective, and that's why you need a liberal arts education," Salatin told the Grinnell students. "You study philosophy and history and morality and theology that act as an ethnical/moral boundary against what we are clever enough to do. We need prophets to ask, but why should we?"
When looking at "the feeding the world" question, people need to consider that 50 percent of the edible food produced is never eaten, Salatin said. It is thrown out.
"If we could click our fingers and double production worldwide tomorrow, it would not feed one more person," Salatin said. "People are hungry because we can't get food distributed to them. As we globalize the food system, we waste more and more."
Localizing the food system, ends much of the wasting.
"Feeding the world is going to require an imbedded, integrated food system not a segregated, separated system, and it's going to require our active participation," Salatin said. "We need more people involved."
He called for rock star farmers and Jeffersonian intellectual agrarians so that soccer moms will think it's awesome for their children to be farmers.
If everyone who could do something would, what would emerge "we can't even imagine," he said. It has to start at the bottom. Government can't make it happen.
Plant a garden, join a CSA, go to the local farmers market, cook meals from scratch and enjoy them with family, he said. Grinnell and other schools could convert their expansive lawns to edible landscapes and locate chicken houses outside their kitchen doors.