I’ve noticed over the past few years, since Michael Pollan published his book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, that people I meet from around the country are curious about whether I’ve visited Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farms. They know he lives somewhere around here and they think of Polyface as being something like Monticello: an illustrious local attraction that any Central Virginia resident would be crazy not to check out in person.
Which isn’t far from the truth. And actually, I have been to Polyface—about seven years ago, before Salatin was nationally famous and before I myself had much of a clue about local food or sustainable farming. A friend from D.C. was savvy enough to know about Polyface and to set up a visit, which she invited me to join.
We drove out to Swoope and were greeted by the man himself, wearing (as I recall) knee-high rubber boots. I had the impression that he was slightly weary of giving tours, or maybe just not in the mood at that moment, but he nonetheless took the time to show us all around and patiently answer our fairly dumb questions. We saw the Polyface setups for pigs, rabbits, turkeys and, I believe, chickens, and got thorough explanations as to how all the farm’s various systems interact. And we met Salatin’s mother and son—it is, after all, a true family farm.
I’m glad I’ve been there. The place has become nothing less than an epicenter for a revolution in small American farming. (It’s also become a bit more expensive to visit than when we took our free tour—quite understandable, given the level of interest the Salatins must receive since Pollan’s book put them on the national map.)
Now, Salatin has won a Heinz Award for sustainable farming: $100,000 in recognition of the new techniques he created. It’s a nice feather in his cap and it’s another reason to be glad he’s a local. (I don’t think one of those MacArthur Genius grants would be out of line, but then I’m not on the committee.)
I think the farm tours are probably well worth the fee, but if you just want to meet the man you can do that tomorrow, September 17, when he’ll give a 7:30pm talk at UVA’s McLeod Hall Auditorium.
Anyone else visited Polyface, or adapted any of Salatin’s ideas in your own backyard?