Who could resist a book entitled, The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer, by Joel Salatin? I had been introduced to him via Michael Pollan’s book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, and the documentary film, Food, Inc., directed by Robert Kenner, starring Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser. So I was already fascinated by Salatin’s lunatic farming ideas and probably predisposed to selecting a book written by him.
Joel Salatin and his family own and operate Polyface Farm in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer encompasses the family farming philosophies, practices, beliefs, lessons learned, and successes from the time Salatin’s parents purchased the farm in 1961 to 2010.
Salitin’s enthusiasm for farming and talent for storytelling immediately draw the reader in as he talks about dancing earthworms, pigs expressing their pigness, an ingenious contraption called the eggmobile, and ballet in the pasture.
The book’s chapters cover everything from dirt to marketing and are organized into 4 sections with takeaway points summarized at the end of each chapter.
Nurture the Earth
In this section, readers learn about the importance of soil, perennial grasses, the benefits of a small operation versus Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) , why crooked fences are good, water management, and farming toxin free.
Produce Food and Fiber
These chapters talk about growing food that tastes good to eat, managing the land, preserving farms and farmers by giving them our business, and actual food versus food-like products.
Respect for Life
A variety of topics are covered under this heading. Celebrating the pigness of pigs, portable fences and shelters, animal health and fertility, and that a healthy farm smells good. Less machinery is better and older model equipment is cheaper and easier to repair. Knowing the land enables the farmer to nurture and take advantage of every inch. Honest pricing wraps up the section.
Here we learn to appreciate that farmers are smart, educated, hard working professionals, and deserve to be paid fairly for their work just everyone else. Other chapters discuss the importance of relationships built on transparent and open source production, direct marketing, the local economy, and farm business practices.
The Bottom Line
The author’s joy in farming and in life are woven throughout the book. Why does he call himself a lunatic? Many of the philosophies and practices employed at Polyface Farm are not accepted by industrial agriculture. I am thankful for lunatics like the Salatin’s and other farmers following a similar path.
Prior to writing The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer, Salatin had written 6 other books with equaling intriguing names like, Salad Bar Beef and Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal: War Stories From the Local Food Front. His latest book Folks, This Ain’t Normal: A Farmer’s Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World is sure to be informative and entertaining.
Resources: Polyface Farms
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