Friday, October 24, 2008

Healthy Food Shed Tour

Joel Salatin exceeds his press! He was a delightful host and a charming advocate for integrated farming and food production on our tour. At right, he lectures the group on the deep litter management system he uses for his cattle.

In cold Virginia winters, they stay inside the covered shed, where they can eat their fill of the hay he has mown during the previous growing season. They manure is mixed with straw, building up several feet over the course of the winter. He tosses corn down along the way, so that the pigs will have something to root for after he turns the cattle out in the spring. They turn the litter over and it is soon composted fertilizer for the rest of the farm.

Dan Sullivan, senior editor at The New Farm, Rodale Institute,, Joe Davis, TipSheet and WatchDog TipSheet editor for the Society of Environmental Journalists,, and I organized the Healthy Food Shed tour for the recent annual conference. Since Virginia Tech was the sponsoring institution, visiting Joel's Polyface Farm was a natural. He welcomed us graciously.

We piled onto the hay bales on the trailer and he drove the tractor, pulling us around the farm to show us the sights. Joel had a lot to tell us, and we were an eager audience. We fell behind our time schedule and rushed past the chickens, but there wasn't much to see at this time of year. He had recently butchered the meat birds. The egg birds, apparently Rhode Island Reds, were at liberty but looked somewhat feather-bare. Perhaps they had been confined until recently. He said they were molting.

His pigs have got to be the happiest on earth. They greeted us and rolled in the sandy soil, lying down as they munched on the grass.

Craig Russell, president of the SPPA, accompanied us and addressed the group on the bus. Joel's doing a great job, but hasn't yet turned his attention to traditional poultry breeds. Craig talked on that subject, an idea unfamiliar to the tour participants.

Mindful of the pigs' fate, we enjoyed pork (or beef or vegetarian) burritoes for lunch, courtesy of Chipotle Mexican Grill, The company makes a point of sourcing local foods as much as possible. They have worked with Joel to expand his pork operation to provide enough pork for one restaurant. Joel is emphatic about encouraging other producers to explore such commercial ventures.

We concluded the day at the Frontier Culture Museum of Virginia,, where they have carefully acquired historically accurate chickens. They had Silver Gray Dorkings at the Irish Farm, Colored Dorkings at the English Farm and Spitzhaubens and Polish at the German Farm. The Colored Dorking rooster was magnificent, even if his tail lacked a few feathers due to molting. A regal fellow, indeed.

I am off to the APA National in Ventura, and will continue the tour, along with news from the show, on my return on Monday.

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