Field Day at Polyface

TJ

According Joel Salatin, Polyface is the farm of many faces, but to the people who follow grass-based farming, people who are involved in farming politics, or people who have seen the film, Food, Inc., it has become a farm associated with one face – Joel’s.

I had never met the man.

He gave me permission to copy his material, sent me two cases of books to use in my classroom, responded to my letters, encouraged me, and wrote a forward for my book. All of this for someone he did not know.

So when Fred Walters, my publisher from Acres USA in Texas, said he was going to be at Field Day at Polyface, we decided we should go and take advantage of the opportunity to meet both of these men.

We stayed just outside of Staunton, VA, and had about a 25 minute drive to Polyface. The farm is situated down some narrow, twisty back roads. We arrived around 7:30, and I could not believe the line of traffic coming into the farm. I knew it was a big event, but I hadn’t realized exactly how big. When I saw an RV pull in, my jaw dropped. All I could think was that it was a good thing there wasn’t a vehicle coming in the other direction! I do not know how the driver navigated those roads.

About a minute after we got out of the car, I saw Joel. He was headed toward the barn. Many people were stopping him and from the posture, it looked to me like they were impeding his progress – he had someplace to be and couldn’t get there. Instead of pursuing him, we went to the registration table and got our name-tags. One of the cool things about the name-tags is that underneath our names, it stated a place, towns and states, so we knew where everyone came from. My daughter started a list and came up with 30 out of the 50 states being represented, plus a guy from Australia.

The tour started at 8, and we walked out to the pasture where the meat birds were living. Since I have read Joel’s books, seen him in a few documentaries, and buy from farmers who use Joel’s techniques, I was familiar with how much of this worked. However, to hear him speak was amazing. He has a great energy and passionate enthusiasm for his craft. He calls himself a lunatic farmer, and sometimes passion that borders on zealotry can look like lunacy, but in reality he is talking sense. The problem, the reason others make him sound like a lunatic, is because, in a sense, he is saying that the emperor (Industrial Ag) isn’t wearing any clothes. And he isn’t using metaphors.

As we walked to the next stop on the tour, the beef pasture, I noticed the variety of people who were in attendance. There were Amish and Mennonite, obvious from the traditional dress; there were a lot of John Deere caps, and Cabela’s T-shirts; there was a woman wearing monogrammed mucks (who knew they even existed), on her blinged-up cell phone; there was a family that looked like the Von Trapps, with all 8 children in matching outfits (jeans and red-check shirts – not a bad idea in a crowd that size); there was a man in a t-shirt advertising his radical Right Wing politics, assuring me that he votes; there was a couple with dreadlocks in tie-dyed shirts; there was a group from New York City who we overheard discussing how to scale down Joel’s processes to fit on abandoned urban lots; there was a couple from Oil City, PA, in line behind us for lunch who were living on a farm and ready to give some of this practice a try. Joel spoke a lot about diversity in the biomass… there was amazing diversity in the population mass!

We walked off the tour a little early and headed back to the book tent, so I could introduce myself to Fred Walters. There were but a few people looking at books, and we spent a good half hour chatting. I walked away from Fred and it finally hit me that I wrote a book that is being published. He was showing me different formats that they do, and what their books looked like. There was a sense of pride in each volume that he showed me. And I thought that next year, my book will be on the table at some event or other. Next year. My book. It was a little overwhelming.

Then we went to where lunch was being served. That was when the magnitude of the crowd really hit me. It was double the size I thought it was. And I kept saying, “How do you prepare a meal for this many people?” I was exhausted doing a cold supper for 80. As I mentioned earlier, in line behind us was a couple from Oil City, PA. It turns out that she is also a teacher, and we spoke about the need to “Salatinize” the education system. That will be a series of upcoming entries on my other blog, On Education. My only regret is that I lost track of them after we went through the lunch line. So, if you are the woman from Oil City, please contact me! You are so interesting!

Just as I finished my lunch, Joel was walking by to go get his lunch. I stopped him and introduced myself. Fred told him (warned him?) that I was there, so he knew who I was right away, which made me feel really good and he congratulated me on my book coming out next year. Hearing that come out of someone else’s mouth was very cool. That the someone was Joel Salatin was mind-boggling. I thanked him profusely for all of his help. I knew that a handshake was not enough and asked if I could give him a hug, and he said, “I would never say no to a hug.” And we hugged, and my daughter took a picture, and then he went off to have his lunch and I floated through the rest of the day.

It was fortuitous that we attended. In the literature we received, we found out that this is probably the last Field Day event that Polyface will host. While he will still do Lunatic Tours, and maybe that is a better small group learning environment, for me, to see the number of people motivated to come and learn from Joel, makes it more real that this movement toward better food is on a roll. The more people who commit themselves, even in a small way, to better food, the more likely we are to see a change in the food industry.

If you ever have the opportunity to see Joel Salatin speak, take it. If the man hadn’t been a farmer, he could have been a master orator.

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