Every once in a while, Joel will interrupt our normally scheduled blog posts with a special article. We hope you enjoy these posts as much as we do…


I spend many hours a week doing interviews.  Radio, podcasts, TV, newspapers, magazines. More
recently, blogs.  These interviews used to be all via phone.  Today, more and more of them are via email.
The journalist emails a list of questions and I answer them via email.  I like this because I can answer them
on my own time rather than a mutually-agreeable time and I can think more about the answers than the
off-the-cuff answers that come in a phone or face-to-face interview.  I think these written answers are better
than the spontaneous ones.

I very much enjoy throwing curve balls during these interviews.  With my Christian-libertarian-
environmentalist-capitalist-lunatic farmer tendencies, I often catch these journalists by surprise.  If theyhaven’t done their research, they are taken aback, for example, when I disagree with the orthodox positionthat food safety can only come from the end of a bureaucrat’s paper trail.  Or when I disagree that the answerto better farming is to get more USDA funding for organics.  Or when I say that the GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) issue is not one of labeling, but of private property trespass.  Say what?

While these constant questions are often identical from one journalist to another, occasionally some fresh ones pop up that stretch me and help me grow in my own thinking.  Often I don’t think about something until someone asks about it.  One of those occurred this week and I’d like to share it with you because it was one of those off-the-wall answers that surprised me.  If it surprised me, I can only imagine how it surprised the journalist.

        Question:  What are the most detrimental/beneficial effects to the farming ecosystem?

To be sure, the orthodox answer is about chemicals in the soil, pesticides in the food on the one hand,
and perhaps compost and species diversity on the beneficial side.  That’s the expectation.

Are you ready for my answer?  Here goes:  Detrimental:  a Conquistador mentality, the USDA (started
by the country’s worst president, Abraham Lincoln), loss of domestic culinary arts from the culture (food
preparation, preservation, packaging, and processing being done outside the home rather than inside),
cheap food policy, food safety laws (eliminate innovation), the nearly universal feeling that integrity requires
someone else besides me to change, faith that humans are clever enough to outsmart nature, people who believe
they have a right to food, clothing and shelter, even if it means taking someone else’s property violently to try
to get it (try not paying your taxes and see who comes to take your property–so much for violence), progressives.

Right now you’re either livid, laughing, or saying “Amen, preach it brother!”  At least you have to agree
that the answer wasn’t orthodox.   Being a heretic is fun–and hilarious sometimes.  Oh, just because I don’t
like Lincoln does not mean I like slavery.   See, there’s that little stereotypical box again.  And I’m sure some
are appalled that I don’t think food, clothing and shelter are fundamental human rights.  What is a right is the
ability to pursue these things;  anything else creates entitlement and cheapens personal contribution.  What
distinguishes a free society is that anyone may pursue these things without prejudice.  Pursuit is not entitlement.
A government big enough to distribute wealth is big enough to destroy incentive.  Chew on that awhile.

Okay, ready for the beneficials?  Here goes:  a nurturing mentality, entrepreneurial farmers, people jazzed
up about domestic culinary arts, people who think it’s more important to know their farmer than Bambi and Thumper,
people who would rather spend their money on food than pharmaceuticals, people who believe they are
responsible for themselves, believing nature’s template is best, realizing nothing changes until I change, libertarians.

As I thought about the question, I realized that the stock answers ecological farmers give are shallow.  They
don’t get to the nub of the problem.  People blame farmers for the polluted water, Concentrated Animal Feeding
Operations, aquifer depletion, yada, yada, yada.  But farmers have always, are currently, and will continue to
practice a foodscape desired by the populace.  As long as Wall Street is more interesting than earthworms, and
as long as convenience is more important than nutrition, we will have the farm and food system we have.  This is
not rocket science.  It follows like night the day.  Change the people’s value; change the farm.  That’s really all
there is to it.

As long as we demand a bigger USDA (got to be bigger than Monsanto, by gum), we’ll get more of what the
USDA thinks.  And believe me, the USDA does not take kindly to farm ponds, pastured livestock, unvaccinated
anything, personal ownership, unpasteurized anything, or home made. That’s not going to change anytime soon.
So forget changing the USDA.  Just look in the mirror and ask:   “What can I change?”  Too many people assume
that as long as the USDA subsidizes junk and demonizes healthy food they have no culpability in the status quo.
Wrong.  We can’t wait for the USDA to change.  We can’t wait until Monsanto bites the dust.  We can’t wait until
the school lunch program becomes nutritionally enlightened.  That lets our agenda be controlled by someone
else’s agenda.

Every time we voluntarily leave the orthodoxy we join the antidote revolution.  Now don’t think you can never
have a Snicker’s bar or drink a Coke.  We all need some backsliding sometimes just to remember how it feels.
Don’t make this a cult.  But we can be the change we want to see.  If we were half as good at ferreting out our own
hypocrisy as we are finding it in others, we’ll get farther faster than trying to reform everyone else.  I’ve got enough
reforming to do to keep me busy for a long time.  How about you?

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About Joel Salatin

Every once in a while, Joel will interrupt our normally scheduled blog posts with a special article. We hope you enjoy these posts as much as we do.

17 Responses to JUST JOEL

  1. Dusty says:

    Thank you sir.

  2. Kirstin C says:

    This made my day! Great thoughts to “chew on” indeed.

  3. Joel – your comments are just what we need to give us the kick in the pants. The problems are complex and long standing, the solutions are not going to be quick and easy. Changing ourselves, instead of blaming others is the hardest thing to do, particularly when the National media would have us living in continual fear, if we let it. I always enjoy your viewpoint and I live a bit vicariously through it. I am a farmer at heart, stuck inside an upper middle class, suburban, career driven lifestyle. It has been a long time in the building and takes continual effort to break down and set to right. I’ll get there one day soon. In the mean time, I do what I can each day to move towards a better future.

  4. Colin says:

    Thank you for sharing Joel. Your view point is usually well appreciated in our home. Lead by example I guess. Be the change we want to see.

    I can only imagine how hard you work with so many exterior distractions. We wouldn’t get to enjoy what you have to share otherwise.

    Again, thank you.

  5. Mark says:

    More power to you brother. Home grown, home cooked = simply better.
    I’ve seen your method in action at Taranaki Farm in Australia, your system is truly inspirational.
    In my humble little backyard I try to emulate what I can.m

  6. Bearpaws says:

    Amen brother. It all starts with me.

  7. Erin Herner says:

    Yes! I agree. I remember chatting with my old boss one time and he was saying how back in the 60s it was the people and the government telling farmers what they wanted was cheap food, so that’s what farmers did. I think you’re right to point out the need for personal responsibility-we’re way too quick to ask the government to solve our problems.

  8. Arthur Sido says:

    “A government big enough to distribute wealth is big enough to destroy incentive.” That is just excellent. So many people think they are getting something for “free” when in reality they are having the government take from someone else to give to them, either by taxation today or by debt passed on to a generation that will never be able to pay it back.

  9. Amen! Preach it brother!

  10. Kristin says:

    This was a very thought-provoking and encouraging post. Thanks for sharing. It is inspiring to live on a farm—gettin’ your hands dirty, having the privilege of producing food, working hard–all blessings from God!

  11. Ms. Daisy says:

    You may have omitted one response: the standing ovation plus the, “Preach it! Amen!” While it is disturbing to listen to so many voices that spout constant illogical nonsense, I suppose it only serves to make even sweeter the voices that make resounding sense. It is hard to be a Christian-libertarian-environmentalist-capitalist-homeschooling-local farmer supporter, but it takes that kind of gumption and energy to change the world (even if there are only about fourteen of us in the United States.). Keep up the good fight! You’re the face in the front, but you’ve got a passionate bunch cheering behind you.

  12. Preach it Joel! I love it that there are other people in this world who think like me and famous to boot!! Always refreshing to read your thoughts!

  13. David Morrow says:

    Alright you hooked me…right when I thought you wouldn’t be able to throw me a curve ball,.. you did! (Usually we think and sound an awful lot alike)
    Abraham Lincoln… apparently I have not studied up on him enough. (This is normally the case when I say… what the he** does he mean {whatever your idea was} then I go research it and say huh, how did I overlook that) LOL. Thanks for speaking your mind…keep it real! 🙂

  14. Of course none of us agree with everything the other says because we’re old now and know better. I’ve learned never to ignore someone because I can’t totally agree with their politics or religious views so I sift through the thoughts and words of people who show me intellectual prowess. As a species we are in grave danger and the frustration is we can’t wake up the ignorant folks because they are humans and indoctrinated into believing that no matter what we face we will survive and overcome. Its ironic that one of our greatest attributes will in the end be the cause of our demise. I wonder if we are simply preaching to the choir. I wouldn’t even be concerned if we had a hundred or so years to turn this thing around but we don’t and now China is starting where we left off 50 or so years ago only 20 fold. So what would the Founding Fathers suggest we do…..that is the question. As much as I hate to admit it I’m afraid we must in the end do exactly what they did. If the activists that are using any means to stop the machine and save the environment are labeled “Environmental Terrorists” what should we call the corporations and politicians that have chosen greed over ethics and excess over conservation?

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  16. Pedro Prado says:

    Joel, I totally agree!

    Survival is the basic urge of humankind and pursuing this boost the Morale. As a wise man called LRH once wrote, Morale is boosted to high highs by accomplishment. In fact, it can be demonstrated that production is the basis of morale.

    People who are not industrious dump the workload on those around them. They tend to burden one. It is hard to get along with idle people. Aside from depressing one, they can also be a bit dangerous. This is what we are getting with a government big enough to distribute wealth rewarding non-production.

    A workable answer is to persuade people to decide on some activity and get them busy with it. The most lasting benefit will be found to arise from work that leads to actual production.

  17. Seth says:

    What a great unorthodox, point blank, in your face, no holds barred, take the truth or leave it answer. Thank You, I knew I wasn’t the only one.