HOUSE BILL 1430 PRESS CONFERENCE JAN. 8, 2013
REMARKS BY JOEL SALATIN
I am Joel Salatin, co-owner of Polyface Farm near Staunton in the Shenandoah Valley. We own and lease about 1,500 acres and produce salad bar beef, pastured poultry--eggs, broilers, and turkeys, pigearator pork, forage-based rabbits, and lumber from our 450 acre forest, selling everything directly through our on-farm store and our own distribution network to some 6,000 families and 50 restaurants within four hours' drive of the farm.
My mom and dad purchased the farm in 1961 and we now have four generations living and working the farm, in addition to a 20-person staff--that's a lot of jobs for a little family farm operation.
We're zoned agricultural, which means it's illegal for us to have a woodworking shop to turn our own trees into children's toys or furniture. It's illegal for us to process our own beef and pork. Indeed, calves born and raised on the farm must be exported from the county in order for us to sell a T-bone steak to a neighbor. We'd like to cure our hams, but not only can we not process the pork on the farm; we can't cure the ham because that's a manufactured product, illegal in agricultural zones. Some of our staff of fulltime bright eyed bushy tailed young farmers want to live on the farm--we have lumber, garden space, and why commute from town?--but housing for them is illegal on agricultural land.
I could go on in this vein at length, but I hope you get the picture: almost everything I want to do is illegal! But these illegal activities are critical for farm viability. Anyone desiring to preserve farms must preserve farmers first. Encouraging profitable farmers is the cornerstone of farmland preservation.
Our current Right to Farm legislation only preserves the right of farmers to produce raw commodities at low margins to be value added by off-site processors, marketers, and distributors. The result is a few gigantic farms and a fundamentally segregated food and farming system.
How did we go from a historically normal integrated system--the kind that attracts millions to Colonial Williamsburg -- to today's abnormal segregated system? The change occurred naturally as our culture moved from an agrarian economy to an industrial economy. With cheap fuel and transportation, and a limited accounting system that did not measure resource depletion or pollution, agriculture followed the industrialized factory manufacturing model. The farm-sized industry of yesteryear gave way to mega-sized smelly not-in-my-backyard neighbor-insulting factory producers and processors.
The combination of repugnant factory farms and mega-processing facilities stripped traditional farm value adding enterprises from the definition of farming. The butcher, baker, and candlestick maker historically practicing their crafts proximate to animals and grain were summarily dismissed from their rural roots and relocated to mega-processing facilities far away. In today's legislative and cultural lingo, farmers have been relegated to peasant status producing only raw materials for the lords and barons of commerce; a feudal economy. Peasants can't have festivals, parties, recreation and education--those activities can't occur near cows, sows, and plows.
Today, this factory food and farming paradigm is breaking up as surely and profoundly as gunpowder destroyed feudalism and the Guttenberg press fanned the Reformation. As democratization, micro-sighting, business transparency and anti-fragility move through our culture, farmer entrepreneurs and savvy, connected consumers are creating a tsunami of integrated localization interest.
From micro-breweries to backyard commercial kitchens, neighbor-friendly, appropriately-scaled integrity and artisanal farm food businesses yearn to be free from a fundamentally segregationist mentality--that farms are not hubs of economic activity, but simply places to produce raw commodities for further processing elsewhere. HB 1430 emancipates entrepreneurial farmers like me from a segregationist enslavement, and frees us up to process beef near the field where the cows live, to make chairs near the forest where the trees grow, and to make quiche near where the chickens lay their eggs.
HB 1430 is back to the future. That we even have to enact a law that allows the kind of rural economy exhibited only in living history museums like Williamsburg speaks to how far our culture has strayed from common sense. I beg that these shackles that bind our farm businesses, that keep us from ministering to the food and fiber needs of our community, be unlocked. I expect opposition from two quarters.
The first is the factory farming or industrial agriculture community that fears market competition from entrepreneurial farmers like me. Such opposition is of course selfish and myopic for the greater good. The other quarter is the environmentalism by abandonment crowd, the radical earth muffins and preservationists who believe nature is too sacrosanct to foul with human breath. These folks would rather see farms revert to wilderness areas for Bambi and Thumper. I guess they'll get their food from China's leftovers. I think participatory environmentalism is best, and populating our land with community-sensitive, ecologically imbedded viable farm businesses is the best way to satisfy the needs of the earth, the economy, and everybody.
Everyone else--and that's most of us-- should see the value in HB 1430 as axiomatic, akin to assuming it would be a good thing if the sun rose tomorrow. So let's give ourselves some freedom in order to better enjoy tomorrow's sunrise. Thank you.
Pamela Holloway and her husband, Douglas have created an awe-inspiring program called “Go Farm U (University)” which teaches sustainable farming techniques and methods to beginning farmers so their farms will be socially acceptable, ecologically friendly and financially solvent. They believe in experiential learning through a structured classroom environment followed by hands on application. Go Farm U primarily markets to young farmers seeking entry into the food production process. It relentlessly strives to educate the consumer on healthy food choices. Go Farm U also believes that veterans deserve special treatment for their dedication to duty and selfless service. As such, Go Farm U has developed a five phase program that helps not only wounded vets but veterans in general who would like to learn about farming and take advantage of the numerous farming opportunities available. It is Go Farm U’s beliefs that through farming veterans have the opportunity to heal from their spiritual and/or physical wounds while engaging in an occupation that solidifies the entire support of the family structure. Go Farm U fully believes and operates under the vision that healing our veterans through farming will heal our communities and ultimately heal our nation. Go Farm U recently orchestrated and conducted a Wounded Warrior Reconnaissance tour to nationally renowned Polyface Farm in Swope, Virginia owned and operated by farmer and author Joel Salatin whose support for this program. Following this visit numerous veterans have lined up to obtain the farming education this organizations offers. One recent Go Farm U educated and trained USMC Major has even gotten so proficient at his farming skills that he fully runs Snow Hollow Farm for the owners when they have required business trips. He is also currently looking for his own farm with the intention of fulfilling his lifelong dream, all made possible by the dedication and devotion of the Go Farm U instructors. Because Go Farm U has a reputation for commitment to the veteran’s overall welfare, the Disabled Veterans Committee on Housing has asked them to be the primary instructors for disabled veterans that the committee enrolls in their training centers. Go Farm U works tirelessly in support of their vision for beginning farmers, consumers and veterans and is truly worthy of the Heart Award.
In meetings before large national farm and business groups, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack often speaks about how agriculture continues to change and innovate. He notes how it has transformed from a two-dimensional approach that used to focus on production and livestock, to a multidimensional approach that now also emphasizes specialty crops and niche market opportunities, exports, developing fuel and energy crops through a bio-based economy, supporting local and regional food systems, and committing to conservation and outdoor recreational opportunities.
All of these components represent an unprecedented opportunity to economically revolutionize America’s rural towns, and communities. For example, USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Initiative is supporting the expansion of farmers markets and community-supported agriculture by linking local production with local consumers like schools and other institutional purchasers. Our efforts have helped to increase the number of farmers’ markets to 7,800 nationwide, a 67 percent increase since 2008
About 98 percent of Americans live off the farm and more than 80 percent live in metro areas. Unfortunately, this means that the concerns –and the opportunities–associated with rural America are not being heard as well as they should be. My goal at the Farm Credit Council and in other meetings I attend is to engage my fellow citizens in proactive conversations of how TOGETHER we can support the innovative and inspiring work in rural towns and cities and by doing so, keep America strong and prosperous for years to come.