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How Polyface Farm is Healing Land One Acre At A Time

I had the privilege of visiting Polyface Farm twice in the last year – Once for a personal trip and the second time to film our TV show Growing A Greener World. This post is about what they do there and why it is so very important to us as consumers and the earth.

That and it has lots of behind-the-scenes photos!

Polyface Farm Changed the Way I Buy Food.

Joel Salatin and his Polyface Farm became household names after being featured in Michael Pollan’s book, Omnivore’s Dilemma.  I have also seen Joel featured in Food, Inc and numerous other movies, books and articles about food production.


Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm

Because Joel Salatin produces meat and eggs in an ultra-sustainable way. And farmers across the country are following his lead to not only produce food in an ethical way, but restore the soil at the same time.

Before visiting Joel, I fully knew how deplorable our current food system was. I saw all the movies & read all the books. But, I have always felt a little helpless in my food choices. What difference could I make? But after spending several days with Joel, I look at things very differently.

First, the truth about our food system…

When most people think of farmed food, they think of “happy cows” and chickens frolicking through the meadow.

Ahhh….But that is NOT how most of our food is produced.

Just read up a bit on how carelessly our meat, milk and eggs are produced due to the industrialized food system. Google it! If you really want to be enlightened, I highly recommend you watch Food, Inc. Twice.

I won’t go into the gory details, but the bottom line is that industrialized cows are raised in filth and fed grain.

Industrialized Cattle

But their bodies are not build for grain! They are built to eat grass! Chickens and pigs are confined to small spaces where they can’t even turn around. They too are fed grain when they are really built to be omnivores.

All this causes stress, disease and illness to the point where all our food animals are loaded up on antibiotics just to survive. And we eat that!  (IF we buy our meat, milk and eggs from this system.)

Joel Salatin and Polyface Farm

Joel Salatin explains "Salad Bar" grass to show host/exec producer, Joe Lamp'l

But There is a Better Way!

It’s All About GRASS:

Joel Salatin calls himself a grass farmer. His main goal is to grow a wide selection of nutritious grasses on his land.

Joel says his pasture has a “salad bar” of choices because there are dozens of different native plants and grasses in his fields offering a wide range of nutrients. Solar energy grows the grass and his cattle and chickens eat that grass and convert it into more nutritious meat and eggs.

All of his animals are raised outside and are moved daily in a carefully choreographed dance.

Here is How it Works…

The 100 plus head of cattle are kept in an area with JUST enough grass for them to comfortably graze in one day. Joel calculates how much grass they need so that they only give it “a trim” to encourage regrowth and do not eat down too far (which would kill the grass).

Every 24 hours, the cows  are moved to the next patch of pasture.

3 days later, the chickens are brought in to the SAME area (behind the cows) and they scratch up the soil, eat any hatching fly and bug larva and break up/spread the cow patties all over the pasture so that the next rain will fertilize the grass and start the growth cycle again.

Unlike standard cattle production, the soil is left better than it was before and the animals are healthy and happy. This is how farming is supposed to be – working with nature instead of against it.

The Chickens Move Around in Egg Mobiles:

Polyface Chicken Egg Mobiles

The chickens are essentially the sanitation crew.  They keep flies and parasites down in the field AND they fertilize the soil and rake in the nutrients. Brilliant!

The chickens move around the acreage in egg mobiles. They have fresh water and a place to lay their eggs. Each mobile has 100’s of chickens and the eggs are sold as pastured eggs.

The Pigs are the Soil Tillers

Polyface Pigs

The pigs are moved around the property too, but they have a different function. They are placed outdoors in open areas that are otherwise un-farmable and they use their snouts to till up the soil. After a few seasons, the soil begins to spring to life and sprout grasses that were long buried in the soil. The next time the pigs rotate through that area, there are grasses and plants to eat along with their non-GMO food.

My First Trip to Polyface – Field Day

The first time I visited Polyface was last summer when I took my two young boys there to experience the Polyface Field Day.

Thousands of people come from all over the world to experience this event that they only have every 3 years. There are all day lectures on every aspect of their farming system.

It is part of their mission statement to teach others how to heal the land one acre at a time. So, the entire Salatin clan and their apprentices are there telling exactly how they do what they do. They also serve Polyface BBQ. (My kids are STILL talking about it.) Delicious!

My Second Trip to Polyface – Filming GGW

We were thrilled to film an episode of Growing A Greener World at Polyface in April and I got to write and produce it! Whoot!

We spent two full days on the farm from sun up to sun down following around Joel, his son Daniel, Daniel’s two young sons and all the apprentices who work the farm.

Polyface Farm FilmingWe also had the privilege of eating several delicious meals in the Salatin home, cooked up by Joel’s wife Teresa.

The food and the fellowship was amazing and one of the most special moments in my time working on this show.

Spending several days on Polyface Farm and talking for hours with Joel Salatin about his philosophies and farming methods had a big impact on the way I buy food now. I will share some of what I learned and how WE can make a difference with our food choices next week.

I also have a “Behind-the-Scenes” video of Polyface that I will posting later. (Complete with a newborn cow. Can you say, cutie pie?!)

Our episode on Joel and Polyface airs on Public Television on August 4th, 2012. You can check with your local PBS station for your air times or you can watch the entire show on our GGWTV website after it airs nationally.


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About the Author:

Theresa Loe is the founder of Living Homegrown® and the Canning Academy®. For 9 years, Theresa was the Co-Executive Producer & Canning Expert on the national PBS gardening series, Growing A Greener World®. Theresa homesteads on just 1/10th of an acre in Los Angeles with her husband, two sons and several disorderly but totally adorable chickens. Learn more about Living Homegrown here and about the Canning Academy here.