March 19, 2010

Just got back from hearing Joel Salatin speak

Rob and I first heard about Salatin when we read the Omnivore's Dilemma together (a book by Michael Pollan). I was particularly intrigued by him not only because he's a brilliant farmer, but because he's a Christian who takes great care in his job particularly because he realizes he is a steward of God's earth. More often than not, Rob and I have been in the minority in the churches we've been a part of because we make pro-environment decisions (like driving less, eating organic/local, etc). So it's exciting not only to hear about a like-minded Christian, but to find out about one who is an icon in environmental and sustainable circles. Joel Salatin is leading the way in building a sustainable farming model that grows a large variety of food in such a way that it improves the land rather than degrading it.

I've also seen Joel Salatin on Meet the Farmer (segment 1, segment 2, segment 3 -- if you only have time for one, watch the second, but they're all good), and we recently saw him in the movie, Food, Inc. (which I highly recommend). Though Salatin has been writing and getting the word out for awhile now (he's been publishing articles in Mother Earth News for decades now, I believe), it seems that he's recently been hitting the public consciousness and local food movements are eager to follow his example.  That's why The Front Range Permaculture Institute invited Salatin out to speak on Change We Can Eat. They had originally planned to have him speak in a local church, but the response was so large that at the last minute, they secured a room at the Lincoln Center for him to speak. (Though there were still some open seats, there weren't many. This was a pretty significant turn out considering that Fort Collins (the university as well as the public school system) is on spring break and many people are out of town.)

Joel was, as always, eccentric, hilarious, practical and brilliant.  He wasn't shy about sharing his opinions, even when he suspected the crowd might not agree. And he made some really great points about food in America. He says that we've confused sterility with safety. We believe that the answer to pathogens is sterility rather than growing healthy, sound, safe food that is alive and nutrient dense. Many of the laws regulating food growers (in addition to not making a whole lot of sense) are about controlling market access, not about enabling food safety. 

He talked a lot about metabolizing innovations as well as enabling innovation among small farmers, but I couldn't even begin to do justice to all that he said on those topics. He'd love to see a constitutional amendment allowing for Freedom of Food Choice so that people could buy raw milk, or home made (as in, made in the home) baked goods or jams, without it being illegal and without the food producer having to jump through industrial food corporation sized hoops to sell their food items legally. (It's legal to give a friend or neighbor a home made food product.  But it is not legal to sell that same home made food product to that same friend or neighbor.)&nbsp

Things that he talked about that I'd like to do more research on:

1) Right of Private Contract: He says that in America we have the right to make a private contract with another individual without the government butting in, and that through that right of private contract, we should be able to make baked goods that we then sell to end users.  I don't question this so much as I just know absolutely nothing about it. I think it's time I dug a little deeper. 

2) Monsanto: He mentioned that Monsanto is suing Ojibwa Indians in Wisconsin because they're harvesting the same rice that they've been harvesting for centuries. This sounds a lot like the mentions of Monsanto's activities as described in Food, Inc. I was already thinking of doing some more study on Monsanto because a friend of mine has another friend who works at Monsanto, and when we started talking about the movie Food, Inc. on my friend's Facebook page, she jumped in to say basically that Monsanto was above reproach in that matter.  She gave me some links to check out and I haven't had the time. So I'm hoping to dig a bit deeper into the Monsanto mystery and Salatin gave me an additional path to follow on this. 

Though the folks introducing Salatin waxed rather long (It took them at least 30 minutes to introduce the guy.) his talk was well worth attending. I'm glad we made it back from our spring break misadventures in time.