Mother Earth News Fair
Our FAIRS bring living wisely to life with hands-on workshops in organic gardening, country skills, renewable energy and more.

Points of Interest on the Salatin Family Farm


Although the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR team is currently “hunkered down” in response to stay-at-home guidelines related to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are still planning to host the FAIR at Polyface Farm in July! One of the things we are most excited about for this unique event is the opportunity to highlight in-person several special facets that are critical to the successful operation of the farm. We are calling these areas “Points of Interest.” They will be on display ongoing throughout the two days, and we will schedule special gathering times around each one so that a Polyface representative can discuss how they are important to the fabric of the entire operation.

Points of Interest

Management-Intensive Grazing
At Polyface Farm, farmers move cows to a new paddock every day. That requires portable water, portable fencing, and portable shade. Those are the tools of the trade. The art is knowing how much area to allot, computing cow days, and giving adequate rest periods. On most farms, moving cows is a bit of an ordeal; at Polyface, a simple call brings them running. The result of this system is increased fertility, increased production, and a vegetative mosaic that stimulates pollinators and wildlife.

Hoop Houses
Most hoop houses are built for vegetable production, but at Polyface, hoop houses provide comfortable winter housing for poultry, rabbits, and pigs. The other 250 days of the year, the hoop houses shelter vegetables or — as will be obvious during the FAIR — serve as great staging areas for events and seminars! Built for both plants and animals, these dual-purpose structures are relatively cheap housing alternatives that can generate cash year-round from widely different enterprises. Plus, diverse enterprises help reduce pathogens and encourage cash flow throughout the year.

Starting chicks is both science and art. In both stationary and portable brooders, you’ll see techniques for comfort and hygiene to get both chickens and turkeys off to a good start. Bedding, temperature, water, grit, feed, and ventilation all come into play with these simple home-built structures. Anyone who sees these functional brooders will realize that scaling up is doable.

The ‘Raken’ House
Multifunctional infrastructure is a theme across the Polyface landscape. This combination rabbit-chicken (“raken”) house uses the permaculture stacking concept to enjoy cubic footage rather than just linear floor footage. Rabbits in hutches at eye level and chickens on the floor provide symbiosis. Chickens aerate the rabbit bedding to stimulate composting, and rabbits enjoy an ammonia-free living environment. In winter, pigs practice deep tillage and ready the structure for spring cleaning.

Carbon Shed 
Polyface integrates forest and open land as the foundation of its carbon economy. A commercial-scale wood chipper turns crooked and poorly formed trees into chips that form the basis of animal bedding during winter housing. This deep bedding offers a carbon-rich absorbant habitat for good bugs to keep bad bugs in check. Stockpiling carbon where it can dry down ensures that its pores can uptake the urine and nitrogen in livestock waste. According to Joel, “If all the money spent on chemical fertilizer were repurposed to forest management, we would have a brand new sacred industry to honor folks who enjoy working outside, and we would have higher organic-matter soils.”

Millennium Feathernet
Using an “X-truss” skid structure and Premier poultry net, this 1,000-layer portable setup offers truly pastured eggs at scale. The quarter-acre netting oval leapfrogs across the field in three-day moves. A guard goose protects the chickens from aerial predators. These chickens don’t have to be closed up at night, and their perimeter fencing keeps them controlled. This land-intensive system is good for smaller areas where total free range can result in damage or unhappy neighbors. The skid structure is wind-resistant, never slides down a hill, and can’t get a flat tire — all positives. The Millennium Feathernet is located in the south field (outside of the FAIR footprint), and attendees can view it on the way from or to their vehicles.

One of Polyface's most iconic innovations, this portable henhouse follows the cows and provides sanitation in the pasture. The chickens scratch through cow patties, spreading them and eating out fly larvae. The hens also pick up newly exposed crickets and grasshoppers, turning all this abundance into top-grade pastured eggs. Attendees can stop by the Eggmobile to learn how to train hens to go in at night, and to hear about moving logistics and densities. This model is land-extensive and not recommended for acreages under 50.

Pastured Pigs
A silvopasture featuring pastured pigs highlights all the components necessary for a successful operation. Land requirements, moving regimens, resting protocols, fencing, and water all need proper attention. Many people struggle to control pigs with electric fence; at this stop, attendees can see how Polyface handles hundreds of pigs a year, even in remote pastures. Since pigs can’t see very well, a highly visible fence is a key to success.


Poultry Processing
Under Public Law 90-492, the Polyface open-air poultry abattoir is and has been a keystone of the farm's success. While the current structure is more sophisticated than the first one, it still shows the simplicity of design that makes this a doable enterprise. The Polyface setup, with a well-trained eight-person crew, can run 160 to 200 birds per hour. Two people can do 40 to 50 birds per hour.

Egg Washer
Polyface currently handles about 200 dozen eggs per day. This is too many for the little $200 bucket-style washing units, and too small for $50,000 commercial units. A local farmer in the Shenandoah Valley spent several years designing and building a midsized washing machine for operations in the 100 to 500 dozen per day production category. It has many unique features, not least of which is a U-turn so it occupies a small footprint; the same person who starts the eggs into the unit can retrieve them from the same spot. Ingenious.

Andrew Salatin, Joel's grandson, has been keeping a small flock of sheep for several years. This flock of about 50 ewes and lambs has not been wormed for five years; they’re hair sheep and crossed between Katahdin, Dorper, and St. Croix. Andrew moves the sheep frequently, and Polyface is experimenting with numerous ways to incorporate them into the greater farming operation. These sheep are as close to goats as sheep can get, offering excellent weed-control opportunities.

Travis Salatin, Joel's grandson, has been raising Khaki Campbell ducks for several years. This flock of around 200 provides him with a steady egg income from folks (especially pastry chefs) who appreciate the extra richness. Ducks eat far more grass than chickens, which makes for deep-orange yolks and thick, creamy whites.

Pullets for Backyard Flocks
Lauryn Salatin, Joel's granddaughter, raises, hatches, and sells exotic pullets for folks who want small backyard flocks. Although she’s only 12, she can address fertility, mini-scale incubation, and brooding. She can hold her own in the chick department.

Pastured Broilers

If one things bears the Polyface signature the most, it’s probably the pastured broiler enterprise. The subject of Joel’s first book in 1991, Pastured Poultry Profits, this enterprise is still the heartbeat of the farm. Attendees can see the simple (some would say crude) portable shelters up close. Polyface staff ill move some during the FAIR so attendees can see the logistics and discuss density, water, feed, and other elements of this enterprise. The single biggest error people make when duplicating this proven model is to build shelters too complicated and too heavy. A demonstration will prove the efficiency of this setup, perfected over five decades.

For more information and to register for passes for the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR at Polyface Farm, please visit here

Salatin Family Models Non-Industrial Farming

With the 2019 FAIR season now in the rearview mirror, we are full speed ahead on 2020 planning. That includes the first EVER on-farm FAIR experience! Advance passes for the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR at Polyface Farm will be available for purchase on the FAIR website later this month, and they will include “earlybird” discounts. Check back the week of Nov. 11.

Further down in this posting are a few images featuring some of the “points of interest” that attendees will experience at this one-of-a-kind event along with captions written by Joel Salatin. First, here is a little history on the farm:

In 1961, William and Lucille Salatin moved their young family to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, purchasing the most worn-out, eroded, abused farm in the area near Staunton. Using nature as a pattern, they and their children began the healing and innovation that now supports three generations.

Disregarding conventional wisdom, the Salatins planted trees, built huge compost piles, dug ponds, moved cows daily with portable electric fencing, and invented portable sheltering systems to produce all their animals on perennial prairie polycultures.

Today the farm arguably represents America’s premier non-industrial food production oasis. Believing that the Creator’s design is still the best pattern for the biological world, the Salatin family invites like-minded folks to join in the farm’s mission: to develop emotionally, economically, environmentally enhancing agricultural enterprises and facilitate their duplication throughout the world.


Contented salad bar beef cows lounge under a portable shade mobile at Polyface on a hot summer day. The Eggmobiles follow closely behind, enabling laying hens to scatter cow patties and eat fly larvae.  Biological sanitation duplicating nature's bird-herbivore symbiosis is a foundation to health and hygiene.  The guard goose watches for aerial predators.  Polyface models mobile and scalable infrastructure for pasture-based livestock systems throughout its production.


On-farm processing at Polyface offers environmental bio-security (chickens don’t scatter feathers all over public roads) and value-added opportunity in pastured broilers. With simple, low-cost processing infrastructure available today, highly efficient small-scale farmstead production is now possible and profitable. Benchmark throughput is 20 birds per person per hour.


Mobile boiler shelters offer pastured birds a new salad bar, new lounge area, and new bugs every morning.  Vacated squares behind the shelters quickly recuperate in newly fertilized forages. At Polyface benchmark: one person can move 4,500 broilers an hour without any more equipment than a small, customized hand dolly. To date, the farm has never lost a broiler to a hawk.  This model facilitates debt-free embryonic entry and subsequent scaling.


Pastured turkeys enjoy expansive paddocks defined and protected by electrified netting.  The “Gobbledygo” offers mobile shelter and roosts for flocks of 400 birds. Moved every couple of days, the turkeys stack an additional income to broilers, cattle, and laying hens. The multi-enterprises substantially increase income per acre and offer pathogen control through biological diversity.

2020 Mother Earth News Fair at Polyface Farm update!

Sawmill and dining pavilion.

The Mother Earth News Fair team could not be more thrilled to collaborate with the Salatin family on this one-of-a-kind adventure! The FAIR at Polyface Farm will take place July 17-18, 2020. (That’s a Friday/Saturday, by the way.)


On Tuesday, July 9, I had the opportunity to visit Polyface with my colleague and senior producer Robert Riley for a day of strategic planning along with some delicious food and kinship. The day was very productive! The team spent the morning walking the grounds, bouncing ideas around on how we would handle what we anticipate to be a substantial crowd. We connected our experience managing large events with their intimate knowledge of the land, roads, and structures around the farm. By lunch time we had an inspiring, collective vision on what this amazing event would look like.

The legendary egg washing machine.

After lunch, the discussion moved to programming. Ever since our first conversations with Joel and Daniel, we all recognized that hosting the Mother Earth News Fair on a working, living farm would present some unique opportunities to highlight some of the elements and procedures that are critical to the operation (many invented by them and now replicated at farms around the world). Sitting around the kitchen table, we talked about this opportunity to create a mix of traditional “staged” workshop areas combined with “Points of Interest” around the farm. Attendees can expect NEW workshops from both first time and returning speaker-authors as well as unique interactions with active farm operations helmed by Polyface’s legion of interns and apprentices. This is your chance to experience live chicken processing, learn about the carbon shed, view egg mobiles, and discover Polyface Farm exclusives like Rakens (rabbit/chicken hutches) and the “Millennium Feathernet”—Plus so much more!


We will be posting periodic updates about this event here on this blog. Advance registration will be open in October. If you are interested in exhibiting, shoot us an e-mail at If you have ideas about the programming for this unique event or things you would like to see, we want to know! Take a quick three-question survey, which will also register you to win a pair of passes!

Talking though the wagon/shuttle drop off location.

5 Questions for Dawn Combs

Dawn Combs

What's the one thing that's a must in this world?

Common sense.

What is the best purchase you've ever made?

My (my husband disagrees and says "his") Ford F-150.

What brings you the greatest joy?

Gardening with my family.

What's your favorite smell in the whole world?

The woods just after a spring rain.

What is the best advice you've ever received?

Don't borrow trouble.

Dawn Combs is an ethnobotanist with more than 20 years of experience in her field. She is the owner of the herbal health farm Mockingbird Meadows, is a contributor for Mother Earth Living, and the author of Heal Local: 20 Essential Herbs for Do-it-Yourself Home Health Care Conceiving Healthy Babies: An Herbal Guide to Support Preconception, Pregnancy, and Lactation. Books by This Speaker:Conceiving Healthy Babies. For more on Dawn check out!

5 Questions for Rosemary Gladstar

Rosemary Gladstar

What's the one thing that's a must in this world?

Love and kindness (it's really one!)

What is the best purchase you've ever made?

Seeds, because they multiply and grow on forever.

What brings you the greatest joy?

Being in nature. And friends and family.  Being with friends and family in nature is the best of all.

What's your favorite smell in the whole world?

The smell of the woodlands in the fall, or maybe even more, a garden on a summer afternoon.

What is the best advice you've ever received?

I'd have to think about this...I've received some very good advice throughout my life....

Rosemary Gladstar has been studying and teaching about herbs for more than 40 years. She is an educator, activist and entrepreneur, serving as director of the Sage Mountain Herbal Retreat Center, the International Herb Symposium, and the Women’s Herbal Conference. Gladstar is the founding president of United Plant Savers, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the conservation and preservation of native American herbs. She was the original formulator for Traditional Medicinal Herbal teas and currently leads herbal educational adventures around the world. She is the author of many books, including Rosemary Gladstar’s Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health and Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide, as well as Herbal Healing for Women. She lives in East Barre, Vermont. For more on Rosemary check out!

5 Questions for Howard Garrett

Howard Garrett

What's the one thing that's a must in this world?


What is the best purchase you've ever made?

Trees by Woods.

What brings you the greatest joy?

Traveling and learning new things.

What's your favorite smell in the whole world?

Almond verbena.

What is the best advice you've ever received?

Read more widely.

Howard Garrett is recognized as one of the leaders in the research, education, and promotion of natural organic products and practices. Garrett was born in Pittsburg, Texas, graduated from Pittsburg High School in 1965, received a bachelor’s degree from Texas Tech University in 1969 and served in the United States Marine Corps Reserves from 1970 to 1977. He has extensive experience in natural organic gardening, landscape contracting, greenhouse growing, golf course planning and maintenance, and organic product development. Garrett provides state-of-the-art advice on natural organic gardening, landscaping, pet health, composting, pest control, and how to enjoy a healthier lifestyle. Books by This Speaker:The Organic Manual. For more on Howard check out!

5 Questions for Shawn and Beth Dougherty


What's the one thing that's a must in this world?

A determined and unwavering faith in the essential goodness of Creation!

What is the best purchase you've ever made?

Shawn loves his Stihl chainsaws, and Beth is a big fan of her Hoss wheelhoe.

What brings you the greatest joy?

Shawn:  Playing basketball with my kids (some of whom aren't kids anymore!)  Beth:  well, today it was blue speedwell along the path to the barn at six a.m. under a limpid sunrise.

What's your favorite smell in the whole world?

Fresh whole wheat bread just out of the oven, and new-grazed clover under a hot summer sun.

What is the best advice you've ever received?

"Have courage, this too shall pass . . ."  It applies to everything, from a dry spell of weather or an infestation of bean beetles to a bad case of poison ivy or a bout of discouragement.

Shawn and Beth Dougherty farm 45 acres of steep, rocky land in eastern Ohio, where they raise beef and dairy cattle, pigs, sheep, and various poultry, and run a small community dairy, Two Sisters Creamery. They write and teach on the topic of small-scale intensive grass-based farming and sustainable food production. Their farming practices develop from the conviction that truly sustainable farming is not dependent on purchased, off-farm inputs, but builds its fertility and productivity through good management of sunlight, soil, precipitation, plants, and animals. For more on Shawn and Beth check out!

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