Joel Salatin: A Grass Farmer

8 Mar

Question: What is a grass farmer?

Answer: Grass farmers grow animals- for meat, eggs, milk, and wool- but regard them as part of a food chain in which grass in the keystone species, the nexus between the solar energy that powers every food chain and the animals we eat (Pollan 2006: 188).

Pollan continuously discusses the interconnectivity and synergism between all matters on a farm.  Everything is connected to each other and moves in a cyclical fashion.  Joel Salatin is able to educate and enlighten Pollan on how everything evolves and transforms from one part to another (for example: the chicken guts from slaughter are transformed into compost, which is then used as a fertilizer for the grass to grow, which is then grazed by the animals that are then slaughtered for consumption).

What is it that creates such interconnectivity, synergism, and symbiosis? GRASS!

Joel Salatin describes himself as a “grass farmer” (Pollan 2006: 125).  Grass, so understood, is “the foundation of the intricate food chain that Salatin has assembled at Polyface, where a half dozen different animal species are raised together in an intensive rotational dance on the theme of symbiosis” (Pollan 2006: 126).  Salatin is the “choreographer” and the grasses are his “verdurous stage”; this so called dance has made Polyface one of the most productive and influential alternative farms in America (Pollan 2006: 126).  By the end of the season, Salatin’s grasses will have been transformed by his animals into some 25,000 pounds of beef, 50,000 pounds of pork, 12,000 broilers, 800 turkeys, 500 rabbits, and 30,000 dozen eggs (Pollan 2006: 126).

What is incredible is that this is an astounding “cornucopia” of food to draw from a hundred acres of pasture (Pollan 2006: 127).  But what is perhaps more astonishing writes Pollan, is the fact that this pasture will be in no way diminished by the entire process- in fact, it will be better for it, lusher, more fertile, and even springier underfoot (Pollan 2006:127).

AND none of this happens without the grass; it is upon the grass, “mediator of soil and sun,” that the human gaze has always tended to settle (Pollan 2006: 127).  All flesh is grass- we come here to eat the animals that ate the grass that we (lacking rumens) can’t eat ourselves (Pollan 2006: 127).

The “human-grass alliance” has two distinct phases:

(1) The human relationship with grass was mediated by animals that (unlike us) could digest it; hunter-gatherers deliberately promoted the welfare of the grasses in order to attract and fatten the animals they depended upon.  Hunters would periodically set fire to the savanna to keep it free of trees and nourish the soil.  In a sense, they too were “grass farmers,” deliberately nurturing grasses so that they might harvest meat (Pollan 2006: 129).

(2) The invention of agriculture- a phase that overlooks the role of the grasses themselves in revising the terms of the relationship (Pollan 2006: 129).

Pollan (2006) writes, “the animals come and go, but the grasses, which directly or indirectly feed all the animals, abide, and the well being of the farm depends more than anything else on the well-being of its grass” (187).

Here is a video of Salatin talking about the importance of the animal-grass interconnectivity.



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