Everything He Wants to Do is Illegal

What should you know about food, farming and the meat you eat? Farmer and writer Joel Salatin sounds off on government regulations, pasture-based farming and more.

  • Joel Salatin
    Joel Salatin raises pastured poultry and grass-fed beef at Polyface Farms in Swoope, Va.

  • Joel Salatin

Joel Salatin is a farmer at the forefront of the trend toward local food and grass-fed meat. Many people first became familiar with Salatin’s complex and eco-minded approach to farming when he was featured in Michael Pollan’s bestselling book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. But Salatin also is well known within pasture-based farming and libertarian circles. He’s especially vocal about government regulations that make life difficult for the small farmer — his most recent book is titled Everything I Want to Do is Illegal. He’s also the author of You Can Farm and Holy Cows and Hog Heaven (excerpted here in Mother Earth News). Salatin kindly agreed to answer some questions for us about Polyface Farms. Hold onto your hat! Here are Salatin’s candid thoughts on government regulations, high grain prices, vegetarians and making money at farming.

Grass Fed and Beyond Organic

Tell us a little bit about Polyface Farm.
We’re located eight miles southwest of Staunton, Va., in the Shenandoah Valley on 550 acres (100 open and 450 forest). We also lease four farms, totaling an additional 900 acres of pasture. We sell “salad bar” (grass-fed) beef; “pigaerator” pork; pastured poultry, both broilers and turkeys; pastured eggs and forage-based rabbits.

Your livestock and poultry are grass-fed, and your farm is “beyond organic.” Do you find people are familiar with those terms? 
More and more people are aware of the compromise and adulteration within the government-sanctioned organic certified community. Weary of 6,000-hen confinement laying houses with 3 feet dirt strip being labeled “certified organic,” patrons latch onto the “beyond organic” idea. It resonates with their disappointment over the government program. When Horizon battles Cornucopia, for instance, to keep its organic-certified industrial-scale dairies, consumer confidence falls.

Intuitively, people understand that the historical use of the word “organic” identified an idea and a paradigm rather than a visceral list of dos and don’ts. And now that the high prices have attracted unscrupulous growers who enter the movement for the money, people realize that no system can regulate integrity. That is why we have a 24 hour a day, 7 day a week, 365 day a year open-door policy. Anyone is welcome to visit at anytime to see anything, anywhere. Integrity can only be assured with this level of transparency.

When someone asks if we’re certified organic, we respond playfully: “Why would we want to stop there? We go beyond organic.” That response generally leads to an info-dense discussion and people come away with renewed awareness, rather than just another case of hardening of the categories.

How has the public’s attitude toward your products changed in the last few years? Do you find it easier to sell grass-fed meat now?
Public awareness is definitely up. In the 1970s when I was selling grass-finished beef and pastured poultry, nobody had even heard of the word “organic,” much less “grass finished.” Now, thanks to New York Times bestselling authors like Jo Robinson and Michael Pollan, the awareness is huge.

12/5/2019 10:34:54 AM

I am a fan of Joel Salatin and of his humane treatment of animals due to provide food for human consumption. He is an example for all farmers. Critisism of the vegan/vegetarian/animal rights communities seam to believe that if we just stopped eating animals, all the animals would live happy care free lives. That is absurd. In the natural world , there are no carefree lives. Animals of all types have no fencing, no protection from predators other then their own ability to out run them or that which is part of a herd strong enough to defend the herd. Even the strongest eventually age to where they can no longer run fast enough or to sick to do, or are injured and fall prey to the predator species where they are torn open and often feeding begins while the victim is still conscious. Many of the young of most prey species are killed long before they reach maturity. Even smaller animals, rabbits, squirrels, quail, are frequently swallowed whole white still alive. Then the predators themselves, whether they be Bobcats, coyotes, foxes, wolves, cougar, brown bears, Grizzlies or any other will eventually age or weaken to where it also falls to predation and dies a painful death. There are no nursing homes or hospices in the wild for wild animals can go in their declining years to receive death calmly. Death is always painful and terrifying. Even the most primitive of human cultures offer a more humane death to their prey species. Many of the offer some sort of prayer or ritual honoring the sacrifice of the life that was ended to preserve their own. They live so much closer to the natural world then modern man that they recognize that they also live among predators of themselves. Even the largest slaughterhouse of today offer a quicker more humane death to animals than a wolf, lion, tiger, bear, etc would offer to their prey. Still, improvements can be made. Salatins dedication to raising animals, providing them a life where they can Express their natural instincts, habits etc while living with little danger of the wild predators is very honorable. Compared to their wild counterparts, as has been expressed by others, they live a wonderful life and have one bad day. I think that a reality check is necesary for those who believe that animals would all live happy carefree lives if humans didn't eat them.

5/2/2018 9:28:33 AM

how do I prove to Hobart Village in wi that I have right to raise chickens for food. Presently have 18 chickens on 8 plus acres but am considered residential so am allowed only 6 and I am not suppose to process for food.

9/7/2010 6:48:44 PM

(Continued) I knew something wasn't right, something had to change. So after much turmoil I went and read up on the "evil" Weston Price website. When I overcame the conditioned reflex of disgust at the notion of eating an animal, (an actual living moving KICKING SCREAMING animal!) the message, the studies, the data, all began to make sense. I've only been eating meat for the past 4 months, and I already feel more energetic as opposed to the old lethargy; my health checkups have been looking up as well. My mom even said I'm "glowing with health," now looking at photos from the past years, I have to agree. The weight is coming down as well, slow and steady. The things Salatin say are true, but he is also a good salesman/preacher, so the way his message comes across might turn some people off. The best we can do for the animals is to let them express their nature; and the best we can do for ourselves is to allow ourselves to express our own nature, and always be thankful. Some recommended reading: http://www.westonaprice.org The Omnivore's Dilemma *The Vegetarian Myth (eating plants won't stop animals from dying, organic does not equal to humane treatment of animals, etc. important, terrible things.)

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