By Joseph A. Davis
The "Healthy Foodshed" tour left Roanoke at dawn with a full bus, headed for the farm of Joel Salatin, in the woody foothills of the Appalachians, where meat cattle seem to be grazing in every field.
Salatin gained fame as poster-child for sustainable farming when he was featured in Michael Pollan's book The Omnivore's Dilemma. He has invented (and inherited) a unique form of agriculture, the polar opposite of large-scale corporate farming and CAFOs. Salatin quickly established that he considers most livestock and poultry production in the U.S. as the moral equivalent of the slavery that was practiced in Virginia 200 years earlier.
Not only are Salatin's chickens "free-ranging," but he has invented "egg-mobiles" (mobile houses) to ferry them around from spot to spot in his fields so they can forage and fertilize evenly. He has invented a number of other methods for raising pigs and cattle in ways that require minimum input (no fertilizer) and still produce more output than conventional hi-tech agriculture.
His pigs are finished with a month in the woods, where they forage on natural acorns -- the food that makes $35/lb Spanish Jamon Iberico taste like it does.
Salatin held his SEJ audience spellbound. He is guru, inventor, farmer, philosopher, biologist, ecologist, solar engineer, economist, political scientist, and Christian libertarian.
He told us he would like to abolish the USDA. Some in the group ended the tour convinced he should be Agriculture Secretary.
One thing is for sure: his ideas may hold keys to the future of agriculture in the U.S. and abroad.