Although Polyface Farm has been
glowingly featured in countless national print and
video media sources, it would not exist if the
USDA and the Virginia Department of Agriculture
had their way. From a lifetime of noncompliance,
frustration, humor and passion come the behind-the-scenes real stories that have brought this little
family farm into the forefront of the non-industrial
food system. Asked recently where he thought
America’s food system was on a continuum of history,
one observer responded: “We’re at Custer’s
Last Stand. For all the foodie fluff and eco-local
buzz, in the final analysis the embedded, heritage,
transparent, truthful food system is in danger of
Today, those farmers who are trying
to heal their land, their neighbors and their food
are marked for destruction. Using actual, factual
stories as a springboard to the broader philosophical
issues surrounding food choice and
entrepreneurship, the author comes across as a
modern-day food evangelist—but not a fanatic.
You may not agree with all of his conclusions, but
this book will force you to think about things that
most people didn’t even know existed.
“But is it legal?”
This is by far and away the most common question I am asked after doing a
workshop on local food systems and profitable farming principles. My blood
boils every time that happens. Not at the fearful farmer, but at the system
that thinks we’re a successful culture because we have more prisoners in
America than farmers. To applaud ourselves for such a statistic is despicable.
Would-be local food
farmers literally spend their days looking over their shoulders wondering what
bureaucrat will assault them next. And yet, what could be more noble, more
right, more good than neighbor-to-neighbor food sales?
If a little girl
wants to make cornbread muffins and sell them to families in her church, why
should the first question be “but is it legal?” As a culture, we should praise
such self-motivated entrepreneurism. We should be presenting her with awards
and writing stories about her creativity.
Our farm, Polyface
(the Farm of Many Faces) has been featured in countless publications and media.
Most recently, we starred in the New York Times runaway bestseller Omnivore’s
Dilemma by author extraordinaire Michael Pollan. All this notoriety has vaulted
our family farm into the spotlight, the darling of local food advocates around
the world, poster children of artisanal foods. Indeed, Pollan would never have
written about us had we shipped him a grass-finished steak. That is how serious
we are about local and bio-regional food systems.
What many people do
not understand, however, is that at every step on this journey toward success,
government officials have unceasingly tried to criminalize us, demonize us,
dismiss us, and laugh at us. We have fought, clawed, cried, prayed, argued and
threatened. The point is that if it had been up to public servants, Polyface
would not exist. And the struggle is not over. Some battles, as you will see,
we did not win. Some we refuse to fight. The war goes on.
My heart breaks for
others who did not start as early as we did (1961) on this local food journey,
or who are not as legal savvy, who get routinely pummeled by these government
officials. Many give up. Survivors emerge battered and frustrated; often angry.
And justifiably so.
Supporters of local,
heritage, artisanal, organic, ecological, sustainable, humane, bio-dynamic food
need to know that every day, their food farmer friends receive visits, phone
calls, threats, summonses, confiscation, and criminal charges. The harassment
from government officials would make your hair stand on end. This book is about
one such farmer’s lifetime of dealing with these issues. Real stories. Real
I am not an attorney.
Do not expect this book to offer legal advice. In fact, I’m sure some aspects
may be technically incorrect. Or my perception may be incorrect. But my
perception is my reality. The fact is that if I believe it’s illegal, it
affects my decisions. Most farmers won’t spend $500 to get an attorney’s
counsel for these things. Besides, most attorneys have no clue because they don’t
know about these issues.
What I have tried to
do is layout, as accurately as possible, my side of these stories. I haye
purposely stayed away from legal minutiae in order to make it more enjoyable to
read. If I have overstated something or missed a point, it is an oversight and
not maliciously or consciously intended. I have also purposely stayed away from
similar incidents involving friends and acquaintances. Some are currently being
litigated or otherwise negotiated. The average person would not believe the
things going on out here in the countryside. They are horrendous. But dumb
small farmers don’t make the news much.
I know that many
small businesses deal with similar issues, but my background is farming and
that is the context of my stories. And it’s a good context, because what could
be more basic in any culture than its food? If this is the way we treat our
food producers, heaven help the rest of the small businesses.
I’m sure some people
who know how upbeat and optimistic I am will think this book springs from anger
and bitterness. Anger yes; bitterness no. But I do think anger aimed at evil is
a good thing. I do not think it helps any culture to dismiss elements that
deprive the populace of righteousness.
I hope that this book
will awaken deep within your soul a righteous indignation against the
entrenched political-industrial-bureaucratic food fraternity and a deep love
for farmer-healers who love their land, plants, animals, and patrons. Each
emotion is necessary for balance.
Another reason I
wrote this book is so that my grandchildren will know their legacy. I don’t
know if their farming world will be easier or harder than mine. Much depends on
how this slug-fest between the powerful industrial forces and the grassroots
local food movement turns out. Armed with this book, I hope our side will
become more passionate and articulate in this struggle. And ultimately prevail.
But I wanted to set
the record down, in black and white, to preserve the stories, preserve the
struggle, preserve the history. As I write this with tears running down my
cheeks, thinking of those’ little guys growing up into a world more
centralized, more globally-oriented, more Walmartized, I want them to know what
was and what could be. I want them to catch a vision of a righteous food
system, a healing agrarianism, a local farm food ministry. May it never vanish
from the earth.
—Joel Salatin, Summer