For me to be speechless is almost unheard of really. I seem to have an opinion about everything and rarely take issue in voicing it. If I love it I show it, and if not, well, you’d know that too. Well a few months ago a group of bloggers posted a field trip opportunity to go to Polyface Farms. I was no stranger to Polyface but had never been in person before so I figured this would be a perfect opportunity to witness first-hand what I had grown to admire. Now I am no political activist and I am certainly no homesteader, but I do care where my food comes from in a BIG way and I also care about the quality and care of the animals I ingest.
As a blogger, I sometimes get digitally food obsessed – meaning I look at photos of food all day and I take photos of the food I make all day. I love it and I love sharing it – but it can also make you feel pretty boxed in. Living one stoplight from the nation’s capital, it is not often that I am surrounded by the serene countryside, or get the opportunity to visit the tranquil farmland where my food is grazing. It’s certainly easy to forget that the lives that were sacrificed for my nourishment start somewhere else besides the grocery store shelves, unless we educate and expose ourselves to that very environment.
The drive to Polyface is about 3 hours from Washington DC, where we live ,and is situated in a spectacularly beautiful setting amidst the Shenandoah Valley. As you approach the farm, cell phone service becomes nonexistent and yet, instead of panicking, you realize there is no need for it. What you need instead is to soak up every single molecule of that country setting – the gravel roads, the rolling farmland, and the stillness of it all.
We departed around 6:30 am for a 9:30 am arrival, which made me a little nervous knowing that our chitlins would have a rather long day ahead. As we arrived we were greeted by hay-lined tractor trailors, the personal homes of the Polyface owners, and lots of other grassfed enthusiasts, including some familiar blogger friends like Amanda from The Curious Coconut, Hayley from Health Starts in the Kitchen, Jaime from Gutsy by Nature, and Emily from The Urban Ecolife.
From there we loaded up and began our 2 hour tour visiting the layers (chickens who lay eggs), the turkeys, the broilers (chickens we eat), and the cows, or “salad bar beef” as Joel refers to them, as they graze only on the grass they were designed to eat. The most fascinating part of the tour wasn’t the exceptionally perfect weather (especially in August), or the extraordinarily vast landscape, or even the animals themselves….it was Joel Salatin – the mastermind and genius behind the farm.
You may have seen photos of Joel, no doubt sporting his “uniform” of blue jeans and cowboy hat; and you may have even heard him speak before on Food Inc. or another documentary. But if you have never heard him speak in person, you are truly missing out. I am not one to become captivated by another person speaking and I am certainly not one to nod my head in agreement to every word that drips out of another’s mouth – but I. Was. Awestruck. Even over 24 hours later, I am still thinking about Joel, his commitment to the animals and the earth, and his incredible unfaltering confidence and self-assuredness. No doubt has he been persecuted by many groups whether on a political, social, religious, or personal level and yet he stands there confidently with enough enthusiasm to echo through the acres and acres of farmland.
He says whole-heartedly, “No topic is off limits” and encourages his touring guests to ask him anything from religion to marriage to farming and is happy to share with them any part of his life. He explained how his mobile animal shelters and feed stations are completely transportable and allow him to move the animals to the best setting on the land, depending on their needs. He talks openly about working with big brands like Chipotle, Chic-fil-A, and Cracker Barrel, and the failures that come with corporate involvement.
And yet, with no ego, he chats amongst our little group of bloggers as he sits on a picnic table in the front yard of his personal home and is as enthusiastic for our work as bloggers as he is for his own work as a farmer. As devout and committed as he is to his way of doing things, and no, he will not be convinced of doing them any differently than the way he does, there is no sense of judgment or egocentrism . There is no feeling of “I am better than you,” there is only “let’s do this together,” which is quite an awe-inspiring feeling coming from a small town farmer with such worldly views. Extreme as he may be, there is no denying – this man’s heart is as pure as gold and his intent as honest as the day is long. Should you ever have the opportunity to go visit Polyface farms, don’t just consider it – seize it. It is an experience you will never forget and one that will forever change you.