Ten questions with Joel Salatin
Regionality is bringing Joel Salatin back to Australia for Farm2Plate Exchange 2020.
Joel wowed audiences at our inaugural Farm2Plate Exchange with his great sense of humour and straight up compelling content. We sat down with the man also dubbed “the world’s most famous farmer” to dig a little deeper. He spoke to us about his approach to farming, why collaboration and freedom of choice is key to transforming the food and farm landscape and the legacy he’d like to leave for future generations.
10 Questions with Joel Salatin
1.What is the single most important message you would like people to take away from the Farm2Plate Exchange
I’d like people to take away the message that you have to develop relationships, you have to develop partnerships and relationships because none of us is good at—strong at— everything that needs to be done. If we’re going to get everything done from the financial and the how-to, to the marketing to the whatever, it’s going to take a team.
2.How do you deal with the critics?
The nay-sayers, or the critics, they just aren’t in my tribe. They’re outside my control anyway, so it’s a big world, they can do whatever they want to. My dad used to say there’s no point pushing on a string, you’ve got to pull on a string — lead by example and be faithful and we’ll do a good job.
3.What are your thoughts on the agricultural landscape of Australia? Are there any regions you’ve seen, or any farming practices that have stood out as role models?
The thing about Australia is that it is a fragile but wealthy country and so, for me, I mean, some of my greatest mentors come from here. From PA Yeomans’s Keyline to Bill Mollison and Dave Holmgren with permaculture to Colin Seis’s pasture cropping, some of the best land-healing systems of the planet have come out of Australia. While there are certainly fabulous farms in Australia, unfortunately they’re still a minority, like in the US, and because the Australian landscape is so fragile the conventional, orthodox industrial system is deteriorating things a little faster.
4.Is there a potential to adopt the Polyface Farm model in regional Australia.
The Polyface Farm model of stacked enterprises, direct marketing, in situ carbon and animal integration can be done anywhere on the planet, regardless of culture, economics or isolation. The big problem comes if you live a day away from a Coke machine, because then direct marketing is going to be difficult. I don’t have every answer for every person but if everybody who could, would, it would probably change the agricultural landscape so much we wouldn’t recognise what it looks like. So let’s not be stymied by the extreme, let’s take the early fruit first and then we’ll see what the tree looks like.
5.Tell us more about the modular farming system and why it needs collaboration skills?
Collaboration, also known as creating a team, is critical for day-to-day functional working. My position is that a farm is actually not sustainable until it generates two different salaries from two different generations. If this is just a one person show, what happens if that person breaks a leg, gets sick, has to go away, burns out? The people who say, well he wants his big farms, I say there’s a lot of latitude between a three-person income and an empire.
I’m after resilience, I’m after farms that are resilient enough to handle shocks and to build one of those resilient foundations… do you want a team or a single person?
6.You’ve talked about freedom of choice in the food system. How can farmers and people —both regional and urban— reclaim that freedom?
Freedom of choice in the food system seems like a no brainer, that we ought to have the freedom to choose what to feed our own microbiome. Unfortunately there are a lot of people who are not giving us that choice. There are certainly things to do. Firstly we need to push back on that regulatory environment to carve out some wiggle room there and, another avenue is to create circumventive platforms for example, the raw milk herd shares where I can buy a portion of the herd and they give me the milk. There are arrangements in the marketplace that allow us to redefine the transaction … there are numerous ways to get around things but at the end of the day some just don’t have a good answer yet and we have to keep pushing back until we see a change.
7.You speak about story-telling and how story tellers lead their trade. How much do you attribute your success to storytelling and is this something that can be replicated by the members of our farming community?
Storytelling is the heart of marketing. It’s really hard to market without telling a story. I’m the first to admit my communication ability in business is an unfair advantage! When I talk about farmers’ marketing, not all farmers are good marketers—communication is not their forte. My point is that someone in your organisation needs to fill that role or you don’t have a sale, and nothing happens until you have a sale. So, if you want a sale you need to hook up with somebody who’s maybe running another business or somebody on commission who can tell your story. This is not something to get chills about, thinking, oh no, I’ve got to knock on doors. But you need to realise until there’s somebody in your organisation that is a storyteller, the market is not going to move for you!
8.How important is value-adding and diversification on a farm?
Diversification in marketing portfolios is critical for customer development. People want to leverage the investment they make in stopping at your venue, whether it’s a web page, a farmer’s market stall or a farm stand. Wherever your venue is, it takes energy from a customer in their hurried, harried life to stop and say, I’m going to stop here at this venue. Once they’ve made that investment the more you can leverage the “stop” the more they can leverage the “stop” and the happier everybody is. The reason the supermarket works is it’s where you can get your oil, diapers and bananas at the same place – it leverages that “stop”. So we, as direct market farmers, need to appreciate the same principle applies to us. It’s very hard to run with a profitable operation with just one item. So if you don’t want to raise more than one item hook up with somebody who does and then you can collaboratively market so that your customer gets a couple of things.
9.What’s your vision for the greater farming system?
I would simply like the agricultural landscape to be abundantly increasing in the commons —and what I mean by the commons is the soil, air and water… and relationships, too. I’d like to see that abundance increasing. Our slogan is “Healing The Land One Bite At A Time”. I’d like to see consumers understand that what we eat today creates the land our children will inherit. Whether the land is desert or water, ultimately it comes back to the food choices we’re making on a daily basis.
10.What are your thoughts on the Farm2Plate Exchange?
You know, what it takes to change the food and farm landscape is not just one thing, we’re on a big ship, an aircraft carrier. It takes a while to turn that big aircraft carrier around. There’s a lot of moving pieces. I’m all for empowering farmers and consumers to get together and go do it. The policy makers will gradually see we’re going that way and they’ll jump on our ship.
The Farm2Plate Exchange has been one of the best run, energetic, interesting shindigs, one of the best gatherings I’ve had the privilege of being involved in. The theme and the threads that Rose is bringing to the talks, is truly profound and couldn’t be more enjoyable or more helpful to the agenda we are on
Regionality is an independent consultancy providing a comprehensive range of business development programs supporting farmers, individuals, organisations and communities throughout regional Australia. If you need to solve a problem or maximise an opportunity within your farm, community or organisation, call Regionality today 0266 741 056.
Photo credit: Polyface Farm