So what does a clueless farm hand/wanna-be farmer do on vacation? Why visit farms, of course! And what better small farm to start with than the one that rose to fame (bringing the cause of good food and natural farming practices to the attention of conscientious eaters everywhere) via its homage in Michael Pollan’s little book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma?
I’m talking, of course, about Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farms, in Swoope (rhymes with “hope”), Virginia, in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley.
My husband (my wanna-be farmer soulmate) and I have been devouring the words of wisdom in Salatin’s book, You Can Farm, (Really? Me? Good news!), and have decided that yes, indeed, he can be the spokesperson for the likes of people like us. I mean, he says things like: “If you want government food, go to the supermarket and buy government food. But for those who want to have a relationship with their food, and the accountability that inherently comes with voluntarily and informatively opting out of the supermarket to go ask around, smell around, sniff around, look around and opt out of the government food system, they ought to have that right.” (from Everything I Want to do is Illegal by Joel Salatin)
And this: “Me and the folks who buy my food are like the Indians–we just want to opt out. That’s all the Indians every wanted-to keep their teepees, to give their kids herbs instead of patent medicines and leeches. They didn’t care if there was a Washington, D.C., or a Custer or a USDA; just leave us alone. But the Western mind can’t bear and opt-out option. We’re going to have to refight the Battle of Little Bighorn to preserve the right to opt out, or your grandchildren and mine will have no choice but to eat amalgamated, irradiated, genetically prostituted, barcoded, adulterated fecal spam from the centralized processing conglomerate.” (a “salty” Salatin quote from The Omnivore’s Dilemma.)
Okay, we’re maybe not quite as on board with that last quote, I mean I like having some sort of government and all, but I mean, the guy is cool. A radical. A farmer. A Christian Agrarian. And he writes well.
So we didn’t mind making the 90-minute drive to Swoope from the civil-war era rustic (but plumbed and wired) cabin in the mountains where we were staying. As we got closer, I got a little nervous. I mean, what if we saw him? You know, HIM, our buddy Joel? Should we get him to sign his book for us? If we get a chance to ask him a question, what would it be? Would he let me hug him? Take a picture with him?
We parked near the store at 12:08pm–8 minutes after closing for the day. Lots of construction was going on as they expanded the workspace behind the shop. We took ourselves on a self-guided tour and saw the Rakin (rabbit-chicken house), the sheds, barns, chickenmobiles, chicken tractors, and miles of rolling pasture, complete with a herd of cows along the edge of a creek. As we walked back towards the car, we saw a truck come speeding along towards the parking lot. A man got out, a man wearing tan pants, a white shirt, suspenders, and a straw hat–Salatin’s signature farm uniform. Could it be? He walked fast. Fast like Joel, who considered fast walking a necessary part of farming efficiency and supposedly judged wanna-be interns on their ability to keep up.
He disappeared behind the store. My husband headed for the portapotty. I headed to the car. I reached for our copy of You Can Farm. For a moment, I sat there. Do I dare? I mean, he was a busy man. We didn’t even own land yet. Would he care to meet yet another one of his followers? How would I introduce myself? As the Clueless Farm Hand?
Book in hand, I approached the back of the store. It was then I discovered that the Salatin-attired man was indeed a Salatin, but the next generation, judging from the thick wavy brown hair protruding from under the back of the straw hat. I quickly turned around before he could see me, slightly relieved that I didn’t get the opportunity to make a fool out of myself. And we satisfied ourselves with a photo session in front of the entrance to Polyface.
Stay tuned for part II of our vacation small farm visits, where we search for our place in the small farm universe and participate in the harvest of native organic grapes made into wine!