Polyface Farm is a farm located in rural Swoope, Virginia, run by Joel Salatin and his family. The farm is driven using unconventional methods with the goal of "emotionally, economically and environmentally enhancing agriculture". This farm is where Salatin developed and put into practice many of his most significant agricultural methods. These include direct marketing of meats and produce to consumers, pastured-poultry, grass-fed beef and the rotation method which makes his farm more like an ecological system than conventional farming. Polyface Farm operates a farm store on-site where consumers go to pick up their products.
The farm has numerous criticisms published about it, including that Salatin does not do enough to be sustainable, has unrealistic standards, or does unnecessary damage to the environment in the operation of his farm.
Practices and background
Salatin says that his Christian faith informs the way he raises and slaughters the animals on his 500-acre (2.0 km2) farm. He sees it as his responsibility to honor the animals as creatures that reflect God's love, and believes his method is to honor that of God. Salatin is quoted in the book The Omnivore's Dilemma (p. 331) as justifying the killing of animals for meat because "people have a soul, animals don't...When they die, they just die."
Salatin bases his farm's ecosystem on the principle of observing animals' activities in nature and emulating those conditions as closely as possible. Salatin grazes his cattle outdoors within small pastures enclosed by electrified fencing that is easily moved each evening in an established rotational grazing system. Animal manure fertilizes the pastures and enables Polyface Farm to graze about four times as many cattle as on a conventional farm, thus also saving feed costs. The small size of the pastures forces the cattle to "mob stock", or to eat all the grass.
Polyface raises pastured meat chickens, egg layers, pigs, turkeys, and rabbits. The diversity in production better utilizes the grass, breaks pathogen cycles, and creates multiple income streams. The meat chickens are housed in portable field shelters that are moved daily to a fresh "salad bar" of new grass and away from yesterday's droppings. All manure is distributed by the chickens directly onto the field. His egg-laying chickens are housed in mobile trailer-style coops (called "eggmobiles") that follow four days after the cattle, when flies in the manure are pupating; the chickens get 15% of their feed from this. While scratching for pupae, the chickens also distribute the cow manure across the field.
Salatin feels that "if you smell manure [on a livestock farm], you are smelling mismanagement." So everything possible is done to allow grass to absorb all the fertilizer left behind by the animals. If animals must be kept inside (to brood young chicks for example), Salatin recommends providing deep bedding of wood chips or sawdust to lock in all the nutrients and smell until they can be spread on the field where the compost can be used by the grass.
Salatin's pastures, barn, and farmhouse are located on land below a nearby pond that "feeds the farm" by using 15 miles (24 km) of piping. Salatin also harvests 450 acres (1.8 km2) of woodlands and uses the lumber to construct farm buildings. One of Salatin's principles is that "plants and animals should be provided a habitat that allows them to express their physiological distinctiveness. Respecting and honoring the pigness of the pig is a foundation for societal health."
While Salatin does not sell to supermarkets or ship long distances, Polyface products are available at restaurants (including Chipotle and Staunton's Zynodoa) and local food sellers within a half-day's drive of the farm.
Polyface Farm was featured in the book The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan as exemplary sustainable agriculture, contrasting Polyface Farm favorably to factory farming. An excerpt of the book was published in the May/June 2006 issue of Mother Jones. Pollan's book describes Polyface Farm's method of sustainable agriculture as being built on the efficiencies that come from mimicking relationships found in nature and layering one farm enterprise over another on the same base of land. In effect, Joel is farming in time as well as in space—in four dimensions rather than three. He calls this intricate layering "stacking" and points out that "it is exactly the model God used in building nature." "The idea is not to slavishly imitate nature, but to model a natural ecosystem in all its diversity and interdependence, one where all the species "fully express their physiological distinctiveness."
Polyface Farm is a participant in Humane Farm Animal Care's Certified Humane Raised and Handled program.
Salatin and his farm was the main topic of the documentary Polyfaces.
Salatin is criticized by poultry farmer Frank Reese in Jonathan Safran Foer's book Eating Animals for raising industrial birds, not heritage birds. Reese says of Polyface, "Joel Salatin is doing industrial birds. Call him up and ask him. So he puts them on pasture. It makes no difference. It's like putting a broken-down Honda on the autobahn and saying it's a Porsche." Salatin maintains that this statement is not entirely true. Polyface uses heritage breeds for its egg production. However, for meat birds Salatin uses the Cornish cross, the same type of bird used in the industrial system. Salatin candidly admits in his book, The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer, that the meat bird operation is currently the least sustainable aspect of the farm. Salatin goes on to say that he looks forward to the day that customers are willing to buy (and he is able to raise) a non-industrial meat bird. Reese's critique also aims at Michael Pollan's view in his book The Omnivore's Dilemma that depicts the farming principles of Polyface as exemplary and sustainable. Salatin confirmed, in an interview with The Observer, that he raises non-heritage breed chickens. He explained that he had raised heritage birds for several years, but the poultry from these birds had gained little interest from consumers, and was therefore not economically viable for him.
The New York Times indicated critics have felt that Salatin was cheating the idea of sustainability, by using grain-based feeds that he did not grow himself. Other criticisms the newspaper described were that Polyface's pasture grazing causes damage to the environment, and that confined animals are the only practical means for feeding the population worldwide.
- Laura Bly "Down on the Farm"
- Business Week, August 10, 2007 Archived May 23, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
- Polyface Farm principles Archived 2009-03-24 at the Wayback Machine.
- Pollan, Michael. "No Bar Code". No Bar Code. Mother Jones. Retrieved 21 November 2011.
- Black, Jane (26 March 2008). "In Trial Run, Chipotle Heads to the Farm". The Washington Post. Retrieved 21 November 2011.
- Michael Pollan. Omnivore's Dilemma
- Everything He Wants to Do is Illegal - Mother Earth News Aug/Sept 2008
- Escapes: Touring Polyface Farm, Which Uses Sustainable Farming Practices - washingtonpost.com
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-01-24. Retrieved 2010-05-04.
- Jonathan Safran Foer "Eating Animals"
- Wood, Gaby (31 January 2010). "Interview: Joel Salatin". The Guardian. London.
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