Fields of Farmers | What’s the Big Deal?

Welcome to week 1 discussion of Fields of Farmer by Joel Salatin. This week we are in Chapters 1 and 2.

Chapter 1 deals with “The Need” for farmers.

Cover--Fields of FarmersThe average farmer in the US today is 60 years old and 50% of all farms will change hands in the next couple of decades. Farmers are getting out, but who is coming up to take their place?

Last week, a blog reader wrote this:

My daughter was interested in becoming a doctor, but with all these new government regulations, every doctor she meets is discouraging her from entering the profession, as it’s just not worth it anymore financially or otherwise. So one of my sons would be a fantastic farmer, but with all these regulations meant to centralize and factory-ize farming, is sustainable farming “sustainable”? Will local farming still enable families to earn a living wage as we slip further and further into centralization/statism/federal government control/USDA and FDA as police entities?

What do you all think?

On page 12 of the book, Joel writes:

“Young people don’t need to buy a farm, tractors, and buildings. In some ways, I think it’s easier to become a full time farmer today than at any time in American history.”

He goes on to say that this is because of the increased interest in local foods. How would you contrast this statement with the concern above?


Farm to Consumer logoAnd just because we’re so passionate about this, I’m going to insert a small commercial break here. Have you joined the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense yet? If you haven’t, can I strongly encourage, no, can I ask and plead with you to do so? If we want to fight for farm and food freedom, this is the place where the battles are being fought and won. The more inertia we can put behind this group, the more likely our small family farms will survive.


Chapter 2 – “The Field Classroom”

One of the things that stuck out to me in this chapter was this:

“I don’t understand why college degrees are honored more than entrepreneurial prowess.”

I agree. I was homeschooled from 2nd grade through high school and then went to college for a degree in Paramedic. But you know what? While in school, I also worked for a family doctor who took me under his wing. I learned more under his tutelage than all the book learning combined. It’s “in the field” learning. Sure, there are many professions that may require more “book learning”, but think of all the ones that don’t?

Better place for ChildrenMy grandfather was very disappointed in me when I announced my decision to marry a farmer. An uneducated blue collar was how he saw it. He told me, “You’ll never have enough money. You won’t be happy.” I was pleased to be able to prove him wrong. After 10 years of being married, when we visited him last year, he admitted that he had been wrong. He had a lot of respect for my husband and thought that Daniel had done very well for himself even though he didn’t have a college education. However, Granddad was sure to back this up with, “But I don’t think not going to college is for everyone. Most people wouldn’t be able to make it without college.”

I know that many people feel the same way as my Grandfather. Do you? Why or why not?

I’ve shared some very personal things with you here today and I hope that you won’t think badly of my Granddad. 🙂 He’s a very strong patriarch and I have a lot of respect for him even though we don’t always see eye to eye. In many ways, I’m a lot like my Granddad, both of us strong and creative enough to forge our own paths in life, even if it means going against what is popular.

Your turn – what jumped out at you while reading these first 2 chapters?

Let’s talk. Feel free to post comments and suggestions all week long!

Happy Friday!

I’ll see you next week with discussions on Chapters 3 and 4.

To catch up all discussions of Fields of Farmers, click here.

If you’re just visiting today and don’t yet have a copy of this book, you can buy Fields of Farmers from Polyface here or Amazon here.

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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.

17 Responses to Fields of Farmers | What’s the Big Deal?

  1. Catharine says:

    Hi Sheri,

    I’m currently about to begin chapter 12 of Fields of Farmers. Love your posts on chps. 1 & 2…especially thoughts on being intimidated by centralized over-regulation (in many fileds) as well as the questionable value of a college education as an indicator of success in life. The latter brought to mind more than one story from my own life; but here’s just one which I think may be perninant. My late husband, during his college years in the early1960s, was an All-American athlete and scholar…he excelled in both sports and studies, especially math. He went on to graduate school to persue a degree (Ph.d) in economics. Mind you he also had worked in the “real world”…banging nails, coaching kids, working in an office. To make a long story short, before completeing his dissertation he realized that there was a real (almost total) disconnect between academic economics and the application of economics in the working world. So he dropped his dissertaion, walked away from the Ph.d , kept on working ( capably and successfully most of the time) and never looked back. To my mind, that was a wise and heroic realization/decision.

    Mind you, I don’t want to belittle a college education altogether…I have one myself. But I don’t consider it necessary for all and believe that it’s more important to consider a vocation in life based on gifts and talents which are unique to the individual. And, of course my great hope is that more young people will find their gifts and talents in farming & have the courage to persue it. I love Joel’s books and perspectives and whole-heartedly support the notion of cultivating “Fields of Farmers”…..educated in the fields; but educated none-the-less.

    Thanks for your post …and all you do at Polyface!

  2. Annie says:

    Chapter 1 – I live in a very agricultural state, North Dakota. Have you heard? We have oil. But our states leading economy is the ag economy. Lots and lots of farmland, fewer and fewer farmers. Our ag leadership firmly believes that you need 3000 acres to start farming in our state. I’ve gone toe-to-toe with him on this. Local foods is a complete game-changer here in our state. Our model is certainly not as developed as other states, but that simply means we can learn from others and not reinvent the wheel entirely. Local foods enables farm wives who formerly worked a job in town, to contribute to their farm income. It enables a child to stay on the farm and add enterprises.

    Chapter 2 – I’m trained as a teacher and spent five years in a 9th grade physical science classroom. Even teachers do a student-teaching experience but even that never really prepares you for your own classroom. I also worked as a corporate trainer for three years and we didn’t care what degree they had, we had to train them for our company anyway. We hired hair dressers, accountants, teachers, truck drivers…all for the same position. This is why being a life-long learner is so very important. Are you willing to learn? Then the world is your oyster.

  3. Jeff Gray says:

    One effect of the “everyone needs a college education” is that the resulting laborers generally want their work life to be similar to what they’ve been experiencing in classrooms since they were 4 (order, sterility, physically non-demanding). Working outside, getting dirty, guerrilla marketing, dealing with non-informational things like storms, valve springs, aphids, fungi… those take a totally different orientation than desks, typing, and classrooms. After years of classrooms and college, it’s no wonder we live in an information economy. We’ve been trained to love quick, sterile wissenschaft and devalue slow, intimate kenntnis.

    I think there’s also a tangential issue that Joel touched on in his Polyface YOU session yesterday: farmers need to become intellectual agrarians (or mechanics or plumbers). As long as farmers appear to be dumb hicks, then it’s difficult for “information economy” people to respect them. Read, read, read. Find people who challenge you intellectually. If you read and debate (with people who think somewhat differently than you), that’s 95% of the benefit of college. “It’s not about what you can do with an education. It’s what an education can do with you.”

  4. Mike Cline says:

    So for direct marketing, farm gate, etc. We have a local posting group on Facebook and I can get or sell all kinds of farm products all with in 25 miles, and there is on for the whole state also. This is such a boom to marketing. I am 63 with many years of part time farming experience and I am trying to rent or buy a place and start an integrated poultry,greenhouse vegetables, and to work the ground I am doing a life long dream and start a Clydesdale Breeding herd. My business plan uses a lot of your principles.For instance my green house and poultry hoop houses are the same make because one year they are the deep bedding poultry house and the next year they are the green house with deep bedded compost. The quail will be in cages and the manure drops right into the grow bed and will compost in place. The earth worms will work the beds and a shovel full to the poultry as high protein treat. Of coarse the biggest hill is purchasing and financing but how ever does finance will be surprised how fast my pay back will be because we will utilize areas two and three times. Thank you for your guidance in your books and video

  5. Andrea says:

    Chapter 2 – College education used to be an accomplishment, but today a college degree is just a piece of paper and usually a lot of student loan debt. I know a waitress that has a college degree but cannot get a job because she has no work experience. With today’s interent and access to information, a person who truly wants to learn can find out just as much information as many “book” learning people. In fact I feel those people have usually better “qualified” because they have sought out the knowledge themselves. I know an older farmer that is the best “vet” I know, but he has never went to college. He learned by life experience and has saved a few animals when the Vet told us to put them down.

  6. Larry says:

    Comment on Ch 1 Q1 is sustainable farming “sustainable”? Yes, if we determine and capitalize on our competitive advantages from industrial farming. We can help heal the land make a profit if we are good stewards, keep honest books, watch cash flow, pace ourselves and take time to build some “sabbath rest” into our schedules.

    Q2 Will local farming still enable families to earn a living wage …?You have to identify areas where the food, ag, building police are less restrictive or where industrial ag is not dominant. e.g. Artisinal pastured broilers are one example but you have to keep you eye on what the consumer will pay. In our area of the Pacific NW pastured broilers used to sell for $3.90/lb in ~2009. In 2013 the price is up to $6.50/lb and some sustainable/organic consumers are balking. Producers have had to pass on the higher cost increases for organic/non-GMO feed but there is a limit as to what eaters will pay. We meed to have multi species approach (as Joel recommends) to spread and minimize our risk

    JS quote “Young people don’t need to buy a farm, tractors, and buildings. In some ways, I think it’s easier to become a full time farmer today than at any time in American history.”
    Comment: Agreed for certain areas, but a new entrant has to be flexible and go into niches that do not require a lot of capital to get started. Pastured poultry is one area. Compared to pastured beef cattle the cost and time and positive cash flow from startup to sale and profit for pastured poultry is under 10 weeks vs 18+ months for beef cattle. The same could be said for a vegetable CSA. It can have positive cash flow within 4 months of startup. As a contrast: our “beyond organic” northern highbush blueberry operation has a 6 year startup to positive cash flow cycle. It requires purchased land and ~$9,000 / acre in investment (plants, amendments, micro irrigation, netting, a good knowledge base) . On the other hand with entry barrier so high is leaves us with fewer competitors. Additionally, this investment will continue to pay off with ongoing good stewardship for over 50 years (beyond our expected lives) I think you need to find out your goals for life, calling, making a living, and tangible and intangible resources and giftings that you have and plan and invest your labor and love accordingly.

    Ch2 – On the College degree I agree about 95%. There are things like physical and organic chemistry, botany and a few other sciences that would be more challenging (but not impossible) to learn outside college. I lived in Germany during my teen years and saw how well the apprentice+technical education system worked. The pendulum needs to swing back toward blended experiential education especially in ag. It is already happening with people looking at the high cost of traditional 4 year college vs the real longer term benefit. JS does identify several things that you need to learn either in a classroom/online or somewhere else (writing, reasoning, etc) He gets you to enlarge your perspective.

  7. Erin Herner says:

    Chapter 1-speaking of regulations, I was at a meet the buyers event for farmers at our farm bureau yesterday and one lady gave a presentation about GAP practices and certification and talked about the food safety and modernization act, telling this room of farmers they ought to “take a minute”and look over the bill online and comment on it. I felt angry and helpless at the same time, because they just keep turning out more and more stuff like this. And she said consumers are demanding these things because they are concerned about the safety of their food. So, yeah, I feel like there’s a noose tightening to make an already hard career choice even harder. But for all that, I still want to farm, and will pursue it, no matter what. I agree with Joel that there are ways to get experience and get into farming, but I think you have to be persistent and creative. My own experience included volunteering and showing up regularly and on time to show myself faithful and reliable, before I was offered a job on a farm. There is also so much information available through the internet and libraries to educate yourself while you’re looking for hands on experience.

  8. Julie says:

    I think we are walking a fine line here. A college degree opens doors; gives options. There are times when a degree is a worthless piece of paper, yet, often, it is the difference between a financially successful career and minimum wage. If Polyface was the normal farm, none of us would be reading this blog and no book would be written about it, let alone sold. Joel, and consequently, Daniel, are the exception that so many of us are trying to model. Part of the reason they have been so successful is that they are educated, just not in the form of numerous degrees. Joel often refers to what he learned in school, something as basic as a filing system from debate has proven very useful. Is that detail worth the current cost of college? I don’t think so, but if you are specific about what program you choose, find one that fits you well and incorporates internships or whatever you deem important, it might be worth the time and money. If you are confident that they won’t teach the methods you want to employ in farming, then maybe some classes in basic botany, soil, animal health/care, computer skills, marketing, math, engineering, etc…would help you move your farm along. In our effort to say there are many acceptable paths to take, let’s make sure that we aren’t labeling college as a bad path to take.

  9. Abby H. says:

    These are all such great answers! It’s impossible to predict what the future holds in terms of the job markets these days. Petroleum engineering has been the latest “hot” degree, but now even they are having trouble finding work right out of school. If one feels called to go to college, I like the idea of getting a true liberal arts degree. The college I am eying for my boys has guilds, so they learn a bit of a trade along with traditional subjects like rhetoric and Latin and mathematics.

    If worse comes to worse and all small farms are shut down with the new food “safety” regulations, learning to farm is still not a wasted effort because you can still at least feed your own family. And that is a craft that should definitely be passed down through the generations.

  10. what abby H saying is absolutelly correct

  11. Roger Saw says:

    the current business model for agriculture will be rendered useless as the dollar continues to collapse. a business model based on cheap oil and free credit is no longer a reality. I say yes, sustainable agriculture is the future. with the advent of 3D printing and computers writing code work will change. We as modern day farmers are creating our own jobs and the declining middle class will follow as they have no choice. we have an opportunity to create our future. I think our future will be much like our past based on honesty, hard work and love for our neighbors. We may have to see ourselves through a rough patch but what’s on the other side is real. I hate to get philosophical but every time I watch my livestock guardian dog run the fence line I get to escape for a brief moment and see the world for what it is not what corporate media tells me it should be. I want to know my neighbors get a moment to run the soil through my fingers and pet my goats. If we lead the rest of America will follow, just stay the course. I dread going back to my cubicle prison and all I can think about is my ten acre patch of dirt and the possibilities to live free and healthy.

    I was able to deprogram my son as the education system has given him a false sense of what life is and what success constitutes. He will be joining me on the farm when his military enlistment is up. He will be going to trade school for diesel mechanics after his enlistment. Instead of seeing him occasionally he will be part of my life until I leave for the big farm in the sky . The thought of him staying on the farm just motivates me to continue with what I am doing. I have a MBA and in many ways the degree has made me less intelligent.

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