Sunday, November 19, 2006

It's all starting to come together

I experienced a rare treat Friday night. Joel Salatin from Polyface Farm came to speak at the Ag Hall. During the winter months I am lucky enough to have access to Polyface products at my local farmer’s market in Virginia. I’ve been eating Joel’s chicken for 7 years. The Smithsonian Magazine did a special spread on him 5 years ago and he is something of an icon in the Shenandoah Valley.

Then this summer he was catapulted into the national limelight when Michael Pollan’s Ominivore’s Dilemma highlighted the integrity of his operation at Polyface. So it was a great closing of the circle for me to be seated in the Ag Hall here on the island and to hear Joel live for the first time. There were about 100 locals there to hear the gospel according to Joel. It is a bit like sitting through a lively sermon about “Holy Cows and Hog Heaven” as you get rolled along through his slides and his unbounded energy to the only conclusion you can manage. We have GOT to shift the way we raise animals for food in this country.

For me it was a return to a message I have been getting closer and closer to over the past few years. Arriving at a commitment to these principles is a recursive process. I credit so many of the blogs I read, particularly Liz at Pocket Farm for solidifying my own journey. What impressed me about this particular moment in time is how ready the island is to hear this message. We have three new organizations and one old one pushing this trend. This night was sponsored by the newly formed Island Grown Initiative, Slow Food MV Convivium, The FARM Institute, and the long established (1859) MVAg Society. These new organizations have only been around a few years and they represent a coalition of consumers and farmers who are acting on a set of common principles to bring about change here locally.

It also struck me as I looked around the room that this change is also being empowered by a new generation of farmers here on the island. In a place where construction is the driving force of the economy, island families have been under tremendous pressure to break up the parcels that make this such a rural paradise. It is a great act of faith, commitment and personal courage to use this land for agriculture, and I admire these young families and their willingness to stay the course.

There was talk this night of working Joel’s principles into the Island Plan. There was talk of establishing an island slaughterhouse. There were young girls curious to know if they could use the “pigerators” in their horse stalls. There was talk of how we only need to use 7% of our 64,000 acres to become fully self-sufficient.

It is an exciting time here.


El said...

It must be so gratifying for Mr. Salatin to realize that his sage ways are gaining a foothold in the world. Or maybe not: he seems the kind of fellow who's so convinced by his convictions that he'd gladly tell you how dumb you are to not also "see the light." Personally, I have been so happy by this (albeit tiny) seachange in food perception and eating...I don't feel like such a freak any more, and it's blokes like Joel and Michael Pollan that I should thank. But I am glad you've given voice to him here, as well as young sages like Liz.

Pyewacket said...

Thank you for this post - it's so uplifting to see so much going on. Things are changing, fast, even if sometimes I despair of things EVER changing. I am looking forward to your updates and am thrilled to hear that your community is with you.

Patrick said...

Great post! Thank you for spreading the word on this very important topic, and letting us know what's happening in your community.

For some reason I've never noticed your blog before, but I'm looking forward to reading more.

Liz said...

What a wonderful post, Leslie. I am alternately insanely jealous that you got to hear Joel Salatin speak, and humbled that you see me as playing a small part in your food awakening.

Pyewacket is right... this is an exciting time for food. Personally, I'm thrilled that farmers are becoming the new "rock stars", and rightfully so.

And only 7%? What a beautiful number.