Lawn Farms and Kitchen Chickens

“The average morsel of food sees more of America than the farmer who grows it…”

Joel says that you cannot have a viable food system without a seasonal eating commitment.


Let’s discuss your ideas for a local food system. Is it realistic? Can it be done?

Imagine for a moment, what would the US look like with a completely local food system – each state, each county taking care of its own food? There are no wrong answers here, spit out what come to mind first. What would you not see?

I think that we should plant all of our interstate medians with fruit trees. Think of all the wasted space alongside the highways? What if each mile marker was known for the fruit or vegetable it produced. “Mile marker 294 has the best apples.Β  And 100 has the best peaches.”

What ideas do you have?

Is there anything else in this chapter that you would like to discuss?

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About Sheri Salatin

Sheri is married to Daniel Salatin. She is the marketing director at Polyface Farm and stay-at-home mom of three children. Sheri is passionate about clean food and is enjoying working the land along side her husband. When not farming, Sheri can be found reading, writing, sewing, baking and serving in her church family.
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26 Responses to Lawn Farms and Kitchen Chickens

  1. the fruit trees are an interesting idea. But who would plant them? Would it be a government project? Fruit trees can be kind of expensive…

    Every time I think about local food, I get caught up on bananas. I love them. πŸ™‚ But then I remember what it must have been like 200 yrs ago, when people ate much more locally, but there were still trade routes and cargo ships bringing spices, citrus, and maybe even bananas to people where those things were not native. I wish it could be like that. Diets would be based of off local and seasonal foods, but some non-local, foods would be available at a higher price because of their rarity and shipping costs.

  2. Also, is that first picture a Polyface garden?! It’s so picturesque! I’m bummed I won’t get to see the garden when I come in January…

    • Sheri Salatin says:

      Nope, it’s actually a picture of Thomas Jefferson’s garden at Monticello. Pretty isn’t it?

  3. Ms Barb Keeler says:

    When I was a girl, raised in the military, I was always excited to see whatever new place we would live. Almost every posting was planted with fruit trees. Every house had at least one fruit tree…an apple, a fig, apricot, nectarine, pecan tree, loquats, pomegranates, plums, ginger, something. One post had a full acre common orchard encircled by a loop of the neighborhood street.

    If we could encourage people with yards to plant one fruit tree instead of an ornamental, that would be a breakthrough.

    I personally have been encouraging the growing of sweet potatoes in pots on decks and patios. One pot can yield 5# of tubers on average, the leaves are edible, and they are a lovely vine with purple blossoms.

  4. Dorothy says:

    While I like the idea of fruit trees along highways, I think the deer they would attract, and the subsequent accidents they would cause would make that particular crop a hard sell. I like the idea of making them cow/goat pasture land, less mowing for the state, more pasture for our food. πŸ™‚

  5. I live in West Michigan and we have a great local food system. We can eat quite well from surrounding farms. But eating seasonally requires great reprogramming for most Americans. If you want strawberries in January then you would have had to think ahead and preserve them in June. I would want to continue to import spices, citrus, bananas and chocolate. I think local, seasonal systems are totally realistic and and viable for most areas but people would need to change big time. A friend was lamenting her lack of gardening space and when I suggested her front yard she looked at me like I had grown a third head. We need to be the brave “buckers-of-the-system” to guide people back to normality. I love the idea of using medians etc. for growing food but I wouldn’t want the federal government involved in it. Perhaps local or county governments could rent out the spaces like a community garden would or sponser out growing like they do for roadside up keep. Churches could tend plots and donate the produce to needy families. The sky’s the limit, but people will need to change and that will be one of the hardest things. After all it is so much easier to sit on your couch in front of the t.v. and pop a meal into the microwave. Not better by anymeans but easier and that is what Americans seem to be after these days.

  6. Lacy says:

    I think it would take a huge economic catastrophe (HUGE) to see even a decent percentage of Americans trying to eat local and produce some of their own food. The thought of people raising their own hens, meat birds, bees, and gardens is so exciting! But the last time that was a common thing was when America was a much more rural country. People have moved to the city, and though they could use their front yards for small gardens, it will be difficult for cities to produce what they need locally. It’s good to live in the country! πŸ™‚ It’s sometimes hard for people to see the value of eating local when locally produced food can often cost much more than food imported from far away lands for dirt cheap. That is the most difficult hurdle for eating local I think – money. I know it is worth it to eat healthy, and that is why we are producing much of our own food, but convincing the masses of this is the big challenge.

  7. AmandaLP says:

    The more I learn about industrial food systems, the more likely I am to seek out locally grown foods. My goal next year is to buy as many items as I can locally and in season.

    Here in NYC, there is a growing movement to have community gardens and spaces where residents can grow food. I would love to see more vacant lots and unused spaces used for them.

  8. ken anastasi says:

    Around the Baltimore beltway in the median that separates the inner loop and the outer loop is a huge blackberry patch. i loved to pick berries and make tarts and pies. freeze some for thanksgiving. the last few year the police shooed me off. this fall i planted 4 thornless blackberrys in my yard. problem solved. Smile!

  9. Since the government is “responsible” for us all these days, the powers that be would think it’s too dangerous to have people “farming” by busy roads. I would imagine that is why the police have been shooing off Ken from the black berries. Let’s just let food rot! Wonderful idea!

  10. EllaJac says:

    I love the idea of turning lawns into gardens, and keeping chickens…

    But I also love my bananas, and coconut oil!

    I’m not sure where I come down on the local thing. I DO encourage it, believe it, practice it – but not 100% (the aforementioned foodstuffs, for instance). The Proverbs 31 woman “brought her food from afar.” I’m not sure what that means; spices and things from the east? We know spices have many healing qualities; is this a testament to their health? Their wealth? Why is this mentioned among her praiseworthy attributes and practices? What should this mean for us, today? If you or Joel have any thoughts on this, I’d be glad to hear them. πŸ™‚

    Re: Cynthia’s comment about people ‘having to change’… maybe that’s where we are going, these days. If the economy continues this great “recovery”, perhaps even the mainstream couch potato will be forced to ‘change’ his thinking — and doing. If there ARE no microwavable meals on the store shelves (or they’re too expensive to eat routinely), perhaps people will start being more aware, and proactive…

  11. Susan says:

    I don’t think I would want to eat food that was grown so close to a highway. The exhaust from that many cars would contaminate the soil and the fruit.

  12. Shrader Thomas says:

    I love the idea of interstate median fruit trees and gardens. And your further idea of prison inmates tending them. Gets them doing something productive for society, something that can possibly reform them (more so than sitting copped up in a jail cell watching Oprah), it’s a win-win.
    We have become so accustomed to the convenience of readily-available year-round trucked-in produce, it seems like it would take something major (like a spike in the price of oil) to get people to see the real cost and make a change.

  13. sheila Mayberry says:

    I just read this book and am overwhelmed. I live in the city on a lot 60×195 I started with chickens and ducks almost 2 years ago. I have always had a small hobby garden but this spring will be different. I have been for the past 2 months buying raw milk from an Amish farm nearby, which I love. My goal for this next year is by the end of summer to have grown and processed everything I can from as big a garden as I can do. I am going to start broilers and turkeys this year. My broilers will be in tractors in our front yard. This is going to be a joint effort with my neighbor. I have found a local farmer that is going to sell us grassfed beef and pork. I tell everyone who will listen to be about the benefits of buying local and growing your own. I see all the lots in our town that could be used for food. That is my next project to petition the city council to free up this property for food growth. This book has inspired me. Spuring me on to actually do the things I have been thinking of. Thank you Joel for this book and being an inspiration for all of us and to give people something to think about.

  14. This is such a great descution! I have yet to read this latest book by Joel, although I am looking forward to digging into it after the holidays… A couple thoughts I will add are:
    food along roadways… I have thought about that in the past, but then also think whether or not I would really want to eat anything that is breathing in the fumes from all those automobiles all day? Probably not. I thought about animals in those areas… I do think that is a great idea for the no mowing, grass into meat, aspects… but realistically animals break out, kids/people vandalize (cut fences etc…) and as someone stated above about the deer danger (I hand’t thought of that one! That’s a good point too.) The danger/liability of animals getting out along major road ways is probably too great for the government to get on board with.
    I think some of the hugest things are the schools, colleges, prisons, and community grounds/buildings. Capital campuses, parks (Why on earth do they not have fruit trees planted at playgrounds and parks!?!). There is just a remarkable amount of acreage there that is being wasted or at the best, not used to it’s potential.

    One of the themes I kept reading here on the comments is the cost of eating local or organic. The fix to this is for the government to STOP paying farmers to grow food and sell it for less than it costs to grow it. Bring a little truth to the market. Make people pay the real price for their food at the register, not on taxes, forced medial insurance, etc… If everyone was expected to pay what it costs, they would either figure out how to do it themselves (who knows, they might even stretch their creativity to figure out how…) or HAPPILY pay someone else to do it for them and adjust their budgeting accordingly. (no more $4 cups of coffees, $2 candy bars, $12 6 packs of beer, or heck- maybe they’ll care more about the sq ft of their land than of their house!). Truth brings about change. The government makes it very difficult for people to change by shielding the truth from people. That is one of the things so great about Joel, he shares the truth and that changes people.
    As for an idea of mine…. an “unemployement garden/farm” in each community. I could go into a TOTALLY different subject here about what I think of unemployment, but I will refrain myself. My thought with the system like it is now, is this… if you are collecting unemployment for more then- let’s say- 6 weeks… then you are required to go and work at the “unemployment garden/farm” for X number of hours a week (maybe 5-10) and you can take some of the bounty home with you to help feed your family and some of the bounty goes to food banks/soup kitchens, etc… and who knows.. maybe you’ll learn a little about how to support your own family, maybe you’ll chat it up with the person knealing beside you, hands in the dirt, and talk about a business you want to start, maybe you’ll learn a few new skills- that might land you a job… and feed your family and the families of the needy at the same time. (Anyone getting unemployment should be required to put in volunteer/community service hours in weekly in order to get a pay check… THAT would create jobs)
    Sheri, you’re awesome, thank you for your thought provoking posts. I almost felt like I had “grown up” time reading the post and comments… yet…in the time that it took me to type this- one child peed through his underwear (just getting potty trained) in the play cardboard box, (where he was playing with a new bunny rabbit) the other child laughed so hard she threw up all over their bed area (she hit 2 pillows, 3 blankets and the wall-did I mention, I don’t have a washer and dryer! HA!). That’s what I get for not giving them my undivided attention. HA! I love my kids! =) Merry Christmas everyone- blessings to you all.

    • Anna says:

      Sara, you are so hilarious!
      I feel the last comments about your kids. The only reason I am writing this is cuz it is 12:19 am and I am forcing myself to stay up til 1 a.m. because the baby hit his head hard falling off my (huge) bed while I was resting with the stomach bug–I have an amazing hubby who took over so I could rest! The end result being I decided it would be easier to stay up than sleep and wake myself up every hour.
      I plan on just sleeping in tomorrow! I like your ideas and suggestions. Lots of practical things that others hadn’t thought of!

  15. Lynn says:

    I was re-reading this chapter, and was interested in the part about the old farmers. In there, on page 72, Joel says that he “routinely receives letters from elderly farmers wanting to rent or give away their land to some young person who will love it and care for it.”

    Does he get letters from farmers in just the USA, or from Canada too? I’m wondering because I wonder just how many abandoned farms are there out there, specifically in Canada? Or farms where the farmer just wants to sell or give the land away?

    I’m planning to do an internship this coming summer (sadly not at Polyface), and then another the year after (thinking of applying at Polyface for that year), and if all goes absolutely well, I’d like to buy land in 2 years. πŸ™‚
    It’s a bit difficult to know where to look though, especially as I’m currently open to looking at most of Canada, or at least Ontario and westwards. But I’m sure it will work out.

    • catharine says:

      Lynn: I so agree with that request, if there are any farmers wanting to free or cheaply lease out some land to someone who would take care of it and grow food/raise organic meat on it, I would love to be in on that loop. I am in BC, and sold my 5 acres ten years ago due to many reasons of factors beyond my control, but I do regret it now I am living in an apartment and fairly limited in what I can grow on my sundeck- I will try sweet potatoes this year-! but would love to be gardening in earnest. I do believe local organic gardening/farming is the wave of the future. Love this blog thank you for the opportunity to partake of it.:)

  16. Thomas L Fuller says:

    To Joel,
    I am a Middle School Science teacher,more rewardingly a “hobby scale” farmer. I have a 40 acre farm in Western New York.I keep cows ,chickens,sheep ,goats,pigeon,ducks and even some peacocks(a story you could read about in “Backyard Poultry”). I am also the son of a WWII vet and ready to retire to some level of education for adults who want to be vested in their food source.I picked up your book “Folks,this ain’t normal”in a Barnes and Nobel and it called to me ( I never read much anymore,but I had a gift card)well as I could not help reading excerpts to my wife she thought they were my words. I really did not know of your works and am very excited about a kindred spirit of the natural way of farming. I find myself preaching these things you mention in my classroom to deaf ears daily.Thank you for recognising ANTHROPOMORPHISM for the true danger it is! And thank you for using the barred rock hen in your photos. It reminded me of a time as a teenager in 4-H, when I did a demonstration called “The Working Hen” on egg production. It was more than forty years ago,a time when farming was more of a partnership with the land instead of todays domination and degrigation. Hope to hear from you.
    Thanks Again for fighting the good fight.
    Tom Fuller

    • Sheri Salatin says:

      Thank you for stopping by. We hope that you will join in on all the discussion about Joel’s newest book. πŸ™‚

  17. Sheryl lebman says:

    In theory I love this. However, we just had a devastating drought year that has wiped out a lot of our produce. Local markets don’t have much. And we are forecast another next year. I guess right now I’m grateful for other states.

  18. Mellisa says:

    I have only read the first half of the book becuase I had to give it back to the library! I’m hoping it will eventually be available for my nook so I can read the second half! I do agree that the empty highway spaces would be much better utilized for grazing or something else useful. Also being an engineer I am totally confident that a solution to the challenges people have mentioned on this form could be developed. Also how about people just learn that you need to pay attention for animals and other people not connected to you? Perhpas tolerance and acceptance is more what we need even than engineered solutions . . .

  19. Marcella says:

    What if you planted nut trees along the highway. The shell or husk would it protect the nut meat from the car exhaust? I have always envisioned apple, and cherry trees on the side of the road, but maybe nut trees are more appropriate!

    • catharine says:

      I really back that Idea – it is a very good one. I heard a story about somewhere in Europe where a city under seige had to depend on the almond trees it had to make a kind of bread that was the start of Marzipan – loosely translated “Bread of War”. If anyone knows more about this story let me know. thanks.

  20. Ruth Anton says:

    When I was 18 (and I’m not telling you how long ago that was) I went to California for the first time. I was there for a few months, and discovered a small farm stall that sold artichokes- big, moist artichokes, for next to nothing compared to what they cost in my native New England. I would ride a bike there once a week or so and buy as many as I could. So good and delicious, and although I didn’t know it at the time, that was my first lesson in appreciating both local and seasonal eating.
    Years later, my husband and I now grow artichokes in Maine. They are not as full and moist, but they are a wonderful treat, and have not travelled any further htan the distance from our garden to an awaiting pot of boiling water and a bowl of lemon and oil!