Monday, March 30, 2009

Joel Salatin - Ballet of the Pasture

The auditorium is abuzz with the bubbling excitement of a beehive. The lights dim ever so slightly and the buzz slowly turns into a low hum. I scan the audience and see that the number of college students, worn farmers, and families are roughly in proportion. It impresses me that so many different groups have come together to learn about the same thing. Joel Salatin is here, and we are hungry for his point of view.

Salatin is the farmer of Polyface Farms, featured and made notorious by Michael Pollan's book, The Omnivore's Dilemma. Self-described as a "Christian Libertarian Environmentalist Lunatic", he's here tonight, at Appalachian State University, to present his lecture "Ballet of the Pasture". With a witty delivery, and first class pictures, we take a virtual tour of Polyface Farms, where "plant-animal symbiosis heals the landscape, the community, and the eater." Truly this common sense approach to farming and animal husbandry shouldn't be so revolutionary....but sadly it is! Huge, corporate agro-business has taken over the global market, and we've been suckered into thinking bigger is better and more efficient. But it has instead given us sub-par food, a disconnect from our own communities, and rampant disease. However, "it's not enought to say NO to what we don't like-we must say YES to the good, " according to Salatin.


What is our food culture as a whole in this country? There are stories of corporate greed, polluted environments, mad cow disease, salmonella outbreaks, genetically modified organisms, and bankrupt farmers by the hour. Can this be normal? Can it be normal for the average community to import 95% of its food? Can it be normal that the average hamburger has meat from 400 cows in it?! Joel put it poetically when he said, "If we think in our cleverness we can outbid nature-nature bats last." We don't have a relationship with our food, instead Salatin describes it as a "one-night stand of prostitution."


There is another model. A local, sustainable and noble model. It is a model relationally oriented and ecologically healing. The land, and animals are not creatures that are just to be manipulated however we please. Instead, Salatin offers a different point of view, celebrating "the pigness of the pig." When we let the animals do work they enjoy, we fully honor and respect them. As Micheal Pollan puts it: "The pigs on Polyface Farm have a happy life, and one bad day." The cows rotate grazing fields, the chickens follow behind them picking out bugs and parasites, whilst leaving ecologically sound fertilizer, and the Ballet of the Pasture is played out. Instead of exploiting our resources, we instead steward them, and preserve them for future generations. Ecology and Economy are not at odds-we can have both. Polyface Farms provides food for 1,500 families, 10 retail outlets, and 30 restaurants through on-farm sales and metropolitan buying clubs. The yields per acre are up to 4 times that of current farming practices. You tell me what makes more sense.

There will be more and more farmers willing to change their models, and even new entreprenuers entering the scene, if we support our local food structure. The corporate power influences the top....and is only concerned about keeping the status quo. Salatin warns that as this movement gains ground, there is an equal push back from the opposite side of the fence. He encourages us who care about our food, our health and our land, to be vigilant and build our local food system faster. Local, grassroots efforts will create successful innovation. Let's do what's relationships with your food and in turn with your community.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Update on Mountaintop Removal

I watch this video and weep:

And then I read this, and feel hope.
Read more about mountaintop removal at
Despite your politics, I think most Americans agree that we need to be looking for renewable energy sources that work and can sustain us while keeping our communities clean. This is a good step in the right direction.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle Book Discussion

I can't recommend this book enough! Written by best-selling author, Barbara Kingsolver, it documents a year of local eating. I live in the same county as the author, and couldn't wait to pick up this book to get some tips that would certainly apply to my local eating options. I was surprised at the quick pace of this book, and how it pulled me in and kept me reading. Peppered with country anecdotes, and sobering statistics, AVM is a book that will likely change the way you eat. Every chapter is followed with numerous recipes, that keep me going back throughout the growing season for inspiration. After reading through it once, I am now enjoying reading it for a second time for the Sound Mind, Sound Mom Book forum hosted by Simple Mom. I do hope you'll join the book forum, and read this groundbreaking novel!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Guide to Your First Recession Victory Garden

In this economy, more and more of us are contemplating starting a backyard garden. If ever there was a “shovel-ready” project, this would be it! From saving money, to eating healthier, the reasons to start your own garden are plentiful. In fact, during this recession, seed sales have been up 25-40% for every seed company! Starting your own garden is a great way to pinch pennies while loving the planet.

Last year was our first garden, and beginning was very daunting! When to start, how to plant, how to avoid pests, what to choose, how much to water.....there's so much to learn in the beginning. But begin you should, because gardening has so many benefits. Most of our food travels an average of 1500 miles before it gets to our table. This requires the produce to be picked before it is ripened, which in turn makes it less nutritional, and frankly bland. Growing your own produce will help save billions of gallons of gasoline, a non-renewable source of energy which is growing scarcer by the minute. Also, by growing your own produce organically, we can collectively reduce the amount of pesticides that eventually run off into our water sources. Victory Gardens are being revived all over the country! So where can you begin? Here are some of my recommendations:

Read & Learn
There are so many great resources out there, you can get lost! My two favorite books that I am constantly returning to are: Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew and The Gardener's A-Z Guide to Growing Organic Food by Tanya L.K. Denckla. As a busy mom of 4, working at home, I don't have much time to fuss with a's just not an option. The Square Foot Gardening Method is so easy to grasp, and learn, which makes it perfect for beginners. No soil testing, or thinning plants, and even weeding is nearly non-existent. There are also a plethora of gardening forums and helpful websites. Some of my favorites:

Decide what you would like to grow by taking into account what you love to eat. Our family eats tons of squash, zucchini and green beans. I knew these would be the staples of our garden. However, your space or climate may restrict what you can grow. We don't have room for corn, so this is something I buy in bulk at our farmer's market, and then can & preserve. Read up on your favorite veggies and what it takes to grow them. You will start some plants by directly sowing the seed outside, but others you will either need to buy as transplants, or start indoors yourself. If something seems too complicated for your first year, commit to buying them locally and focus on a small amount at first. Last year we started with 4 raised beds, and will expand to 8 this year, along with some blueberry bushes and potted herbs.

Once you've decided what you want to grow, next comes the when. You Grow Girl has an amazing spreadsheet that will help determine your planting times specific to your climate zone. Prepping your ground comes next. For the SFG method, it's as simple as building some raised beds, and making a soil mix affectionately dubbed “Mel's Mix”. Mel's mix includes 1/3 vermiculite, which normally is sold in small bags. Call around to your local, family owned garden centers to see if you can buy this in bulk. This will make it easier to mix, more cost-effective, and create less waste. Also, call your local extension agent for local compost sources. There are local sources that will deliver a load of compost, often for less than you would spend on buying by the bag at a box store. Freecycle is a great source for wood scraps that can be used for your raised beds. Finally, plant! Your local farmer's market is a good place to buy plants to transplant in your garden. Your local nursery will also have a wide variety to choose from, as well as seeds. Other trusted seed resources:

photo: rigib

Commit to spending ½ hour, to an hour each day to maintaining your garden. Pests will come, but the best defense is a good offense! Buy resistant varieties, and use row covers whenever possible. Watching your garden carefully will help you stay on top of disease and pests before they are unmanageable. Visit Garden Forum for specific remedies to problems you may encounter.
I hope you're inspired to start a garden, whether it's just some tomatos and herbs on your porch, or several beds in your backyard. Next post we'll discuss some advanced gardening skills, including composting, water collection and organic pest control. Get started today!