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I may be turning into an old geezer, but I’m still loaded with dreams for the future. The editors at Mother Earth News have asked me to share some of those goals, so here are 10 farm projects I’m hoping to achieve in the future:
1. Add enterprises to our farm. What? You mean a dozen aren’t enough? No, we haven’t even scratched the surface. We’d like to partner with an autonomous produce entrepreneur. We have land, compost, equipment, market, labor. Although Polyface is known for pastured livestock, we eat potatoes, blackberries, and zucchini too.
Success in any enterprise requires passion; few people are equally passionate about animals and plants. That dichotomy even extends to annuals versus perennials. Developing complementary enterprises with collaborative interests is the backbone of community, which is the path to resilience and security. Rounding out the grocery bag leverages our customers into bigger buyers and increases their dependency on us — the one-stop farm.
Photo by Adobe Stock/Richard Semik
I’ve picked out several perfect sites for orchards. We have animals to keep them mowed and chippers to handle prunings. How about a vineyard? Specialty berries? Although we have most of this, it’s not enough to feed our entire farm crew, and we have plenty of customers who beg for more. I’m looking for a partner.
Photo by Getty Images/Maica
2. Start a food truck. This may actually happen this summer, but I’ve wanted to enter the value-added food space for a long time. The farther down the food chain we can take our production, the less pressure there is on volume. Receiving income from more pieces of the food chain could help stabilize income. A mobile food venue that can travel to festivals, ball games, and catering events could take our brand further into the marketplace.
From a marketing standpoint, our farm team knows two sure ways to find customers: having them visit the farm or eat the food. You either have to see it or taste it; once you do either of those, you’re hooked. Some people can’t imagine that I still have to think about marketing. Oh, yes. Every day. All the time. My personal Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse always threaten: divorce, death, disenfranchisement, and dislocation. The day you quit marketing is the day your business fails.
3. Launch “clean food, fast food.” I’ve dreamed about this farm project for 20 years, so it’s not new. Wouldn’t you love to be able to grab a grass-finished burger, with locally sourced, chemical-free sweet potato fries and a kombucha drink, wherever a McDonald’s currently exists? This is a big dream, but if you don’t write your dreams down and never talk about them, they’ll never materialize. So I keep talking about this, hoping that someday we’ll be able to launch a prototype.
4. Fill up the land base. Our farm has infrastructure, expertise, and resources that could double production tomorrow if we had the market. We’re working on the market, but the ship will come home when we actually leverage everything in our wheelhouse.
At some point, a greater portion of the population needs to embrace authentic food. I’m not talking about faux organics that include factory chickens and desert mega-dairies. When Burger King announces a plan to start using cage-free eggs years from now, why doesn’t someone shout real loud, “You have a location 10 minutes from Polyface with eggs way better than cage-free; why can’t you make the change today?” But no, the press and stockholders go gaga over something as vapid and tepid as a chain going cage-free in a decade.
The capacity for truly authentic food production is huge; I’m waiting for consumers to demand the real stuff and quit praising outfits that can’t buy a real egg right now. We need to fill up our potential.
5. Write more books. I’ve got a bunch of titles dancing around in my head. With two planned for release this year — both co-authored tomes — my next one (I think) will be titled something like The Homestead Livestock Handbook. You saw it first right here, folks. When I first began giving presentations more than 30 years ago, I’d finish, and people would say, “Oh, that’s cute, but how does it scale up?” Today, when I finish, people say, “Wow, that’s awesome, but how does it scale down?”
Having been both tiny and, today, a bigger outfit, I have no trouble moving seamlessly between large- and small-scale. But most folks can’t make that shift. What does proper grazing management look like if I only have two cows on 3 acres, and not 500 cows on 1,000 acres? What about health and hygiene? These days, I spend a lot of time trying to apply Polyface principles to 5-to-10-acre places; this book will do that. I’ve always written to what folks ask about, their hot buttons. This book will be no different.
But other book titles include marketing and funny stories: “This really happened to me; it’s funny today, but it wasn’t funny then.” (Such as, you know it’s going to be a bad day when 911 calls you.) I got four chapters into a novel a couple of years ago and gave up; fiction is tough. With nonfiction, I don’t have to invent anything. With fiction, I’ve got to invent everything, and that’s hard. So, we’ll see.
Photo by Adobe Stock/predragmilos
6. Construct a composting toilet. We have 15,000 visitors a year to our farm. In 2020, with the Mother Earth News Fair coming, that might spike. I hope you’re planning to come. (See, I’m always marketing.) We’ve used port-a-potties for years, but I don’t like those things. Regulations regarding composting toilets all but prohibit installing them in our area.
Our farmstead is on low ground, so installing a water-based septic system is problematic; we’d have to pump everything uphill. I love composting toilets and have seen some great designs that would work. They’re not legal, but I’ve never worried too much about that. I want a true gnome structure: a living roof with cascading cucumber vines growing all around it, so users are entering a jungle to do their business. And it’s all hidden from bureaucrats.
7. Close McDonald’s and Chick-fil-A. This is the only negative goal on here, but I’m waiting for the day when these bastions of everything that’s wrong with our food supply finally begin closing their doors. I’m going to be a happy camper that day. Right now, I don’t care if it happens, because people can begin eating at home or at my “clean food, fast food” alternative. All I know is that as long as these outfits keep expanding, we’re continuing to go the wrong way.
8. Polyface Hot Pockets. Integrity convenience is an accelerating segment of the food system. Thirty years ago, I predicted that by now everybody would rediscover their kitchens. I was 100 percent wrong. Goodness, even with meal kits, people say they don’t have time to cook the kit.
But do you know how hard it is to release these convenient foods? Government regulations are a nightmare. They certainly don’t give us food safety; they give us market access to large and well-connected processors. One day, though, we’re going to have Polyface Hot Pockets.
9. A new amendment to the Bill of Rights guaranteeing every American citizen the right to acquire the food of their choice from the source of their choice. I’m waiting for the day when we kick the government out of our stomachs.
When will consenting adults practicing freedom of choice be able to purchase raw milk, homemade charcuterie, and backyard summer sausage? The apparent abundance in today’s supermarkets is a pittance of what could and should be available if cottage industry entrepreneurs were unleashed on their neighborhoods in true food sovereignty.
Recently, I spoke at a California university, and I asked the students, “How many of you think a government official should inspect and license your ability to eat a carrot from your own garden in order to ensure food safety?” A quarter of the hands in that lecture hall went up. I was stunned. The detractors looked incredulously at these folks wanting that level of governmental oversight. Where has freedom to participate in neighborhood food commerce gone?
10. Build more ponds. Hydration is the foundation of functional ecology. Water is the beginning of life. Most of the planet is aridifying; you can almost feel the Earth’s mouth parched, dry, and begging for water. It’s time to restore our abundance-generating landscape.
I have pond sites picked out all over our farm. Every time we get a couple thousand extra dollars, I call in our favorite excavator and build another pond. Functionally, these ponds reduce flooding and offer irrigation in dry times. Beyond that, they offer spectacular riparian habitat for wildlife and aquatic plants and animals. They stimulate cloud formation and ambient temperature stability. And they’re beautiful.
Ultimately, we can never finish making our landscape more beautiful, resilient, and productive. Nature always has more to give than we can imagine.
Those are some of my farm project dreams; what are yours?
Joel Salatin took over his parents’ 550-acre farm in 1982 and now runs Polyface Farm. He regularly writes and speaks about nitty-gritty how-to for profitable regenerative farming, as well as cultural philosophy on farming and life.