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Joel Salatin And Polyface Farm: Stewards of Creation

Annie Corrigan, Eartheats

Joel Salatin stopped by the Earth Eats studios recently when he was in town to speak at the “Bloomington Eats Green Conference” here in Bloomington, Indiana.

Salatin is a farmer, lecturer, and the author of a number of informational books about food and farming.

His farm — Polyface Farm — is a family-owned, pastured-based, beyond organic operation located in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia and Salatin was featured in Academy Award nominated documentary “Food, Inc.” and in the book “Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan.

Reluctant Celebrity

Salatin says he’s a reluctant celebrity in the local food movement:

Joel Salatin: [laughs] Well, I don’t wear that fame shoe very easily. We certainly never aspire to this. But it’s very exciting seeing the number of people who are ready to make a change. It’s very gratifying to see that.

Annie Corrigan: How much time are you spending on the farm now that you’re out and about so much?

JS: I’m probably 1/3 gone and 2/3 on the farm, probably 120 days per year I’m traveling.

AC: Tell us the history of Polyface Farm.

JS: My parents bought the farm in 1961, and spent the first 10 years essentially trying to do conservation things, some innovative things. Dad did some portable structures and of course we were non-chemical.

He got that from his dad, who was a charter subscriber to Rodale’s Organic Gardening and Farming Magazine from Anderson, Indiana. So, I have some roots here for sure.

Then, as we came along, we gradually just refined and tweaked, and Dad died in 1988 and I just kept refining those ideas. We do ‘salad bar beef,’ grass-finished beef, ‘piggerator pork,’ pastured poultry, pastured eggs, pastured turkey, and pastured rabbit. Those are our main products.

“Christian-Libertarian-Environmentalist-Capitalist Farmer”

AC: You call yourself a Christian-Libertarian-Environmentalist-Capitalist Farmer. Let’s break that down, title by title…Christian.

JS: I am a Christian, and I think that the Judeo-Christian ethic calls us to realize that we are stewards of creation – that we are not to just rape it, pillage it, whatever, we are to steward it – and lays down certain principles of growth.

When God made it in Genesis, the plants were to reproduce after their own kind. And genetic modification doesn’t make plants produce after their own kind. So, you know, even to that point, there are some nuances of order and a template there to live by.

AC: Libertarian.

JS: I don’t think every time there’s a problem, we need to look to the government for a solution. I think the government is the problem on many many things, and if we would free up entrepreneurial innovation and not give corporate welfare and special concessions to big business, and create regulations that aren’t scalable and always hurt the little person more than the big person, the size of big outfits (I’ll use that word loosely) would crumble in of its own bureaucracy.

So, instead of artificially propping up big dinosaurs, we should let the dinosaurs collapse and fall so that a phoenix can rise from the ashes.

AC: Environmentalist.

JS: I am a tree-hugger. I think that it is important that salamanders have four legs and frogs remain fertile. And I have a real problem with the Christian-right stereotype that has put a lot more emphasis on dominion than on nurturing. That tends to balance out the dominion part.

AC: Capitalist.

JS: I don’t apologize for running a business that makes a profit. We too often just push the profit under the rug, but at the end of the day, profit is the life-blood of a business. We can’t make improvements, we can’t make creative innovations unless there’s a little bit of money left at the end of the day to put into something new.

(26 March 2010)
You can visit the polyface farm website here.

Brian Kimmel looks to shine a light on the importance of eating locally with Ingredients at the CIFF

Eric Shlapack, the examiner
Attending film festivals and screenings over the last few years has proved to be daunting at times. This is due to the often bleak or negative nature of the film and its subject matter. These types of films certainly have their place, and this writer often enjoys the experience. But in the new documentary film Ingredients, which will be screening at The 34th Annual Cleveland International Film Festival this weekend, the message is inherently positive and proposes actions one can take to improve their quality of life and community by trying to get their food locally as much as possible. It is not a film that simply mounts an attack against the centralized industrial farming complex, but rather it wants to look at where people get their food, why they make certain choices, and to present the benefits of locally purchased food products. Having talked with one of the film’s producers and its cinematographer Brian Kimmel of Optic Nerve Productions in a recent phone interview, it is clear that this film was created by people who have a passion for the subject matter and a desire to positively impact their communities by offering a solution.

Kimmel, currently based in Portland, Oregon, has years of food based media experience, many for PBS, and for one show in particular, The Kitchen Sessions with Charley Trotter, he went to The Jones Family’s farm called The Chef’s Garden (featured in Ingredients) in Huron. He had the thought that showing people and explaining to them where their food comes from might make for an interesting story in a larger scale documentary. He had also done some work about coffee growers who were selling their product directly to the retailers, bypassing a middle man distributor, and while doing this, he discovered a strong relationship that has shown to produce great benefits for the local economy as well as the consumer at the other end using the product. So these aforementioned factors combined with the burgeoning local food movement in Portland prompted Kimmel to contact Robert Bates of Batesfilms, a longtime collaborator and friend, about the idea and the film was off and running.

He and Bates certainly have a different message and spin that is unlike most recent documentaries about food. Everything has been so negative, focusing on what is wrong with the food industry and presenting audiences with little as far as proactive things they can do to change it. In Ingredients, the focus is on systems that are working, the success stories out there about farmers, chefs, as well as consumers, and the positive results of eating local products as much as one can. Detractors may say that this is not the answer to food supply concerns and Kimmel pointed out that he is realistic about the limitations of eating locally as well. But at the same time, he feels that locally produced food is a truly necessary component of the big picture concerning food since with the larger farming outfits and corporate entities that hold sway over them, there are certain environmental, economic, and physiological impacts that are inherent in the process. Going local is simply a way to try and offset these effects…
(17 March 2010)

The Best Film About a Plastic Bag You’ll Ever See

Alex Pasternack, treehugger

Plastics. In The Graduate, it’s the big secret Benjamin gets from a well-meaning family friend. These days, it’s one of our dirtiest, creepiest secrets too.

Even creepier: when a piece of plastic has the voice of Werner Herzog.

From the synopsis of this fantastic 18-minute film by Ramin Bahrani, “Plastic Bag”:

This short film by American director Ramin Bahrani (Goodbye Solo) traces the epic, existential journey of a plastic bag (voiced by Werner Herzog) searching for its lost maker, the woman who took it home from the store and eventually discarded it. Along the way, it encounters strange creatures, experiences love in the sky, grieves the loss of its beloved maker, and tries to grasp its purpose in the world.

When we’re all gone, plastic bags will live on. These petroleum totes don’t really degrade — it takes between 500 and a thousand years for one of these suckers to break down. But they degrade the environment. Like so much else, we throw them away as easily as we make them. But of course they don’t actually _go_ away: they just become inadvertent parts of our urban landscapes. Also they strangle tortoises, choke birds, and poison water in ways that can deform our hormones and lead to cancer.

For proof, just take a look at the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the Texas-sized gyre featured in the film where plastic goes to die…

(24 March 2010)

Green advertising rules are made to be broken

Fred Pearce, The Guardian
From this week, we have a new checklist of dodgy green claims that advertisers should avoid. The list comes from the UK government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). They are only guidelines and they won’t save the planet. But, in keeping with its own strictures on greenwash, at least the department doesn’t pretend that they will.

Among the biggest bugbears revealed in the consultation document – the draft ppdate guidance on green claims – are general, untestable claims like products being “eco-” or “environmentally friendly”. Such tags have been applied to everything from a hotel that serves local food but floodlights its car park all night, to electronic goods that do no more than comply with the law on recycling.

Defra says green claims should be “clear, accurate, relevant and verifiable”. That’s a good checklist for people who want to comply, but hardly a legal rottweiler to combat cynical greenwash.

It is good to see mention of “labels, symbols and pictures”, which can often be more effective at suggesting greenness than mere words. Famously, Shell got into trouble a year ago with the Advertising Standards Authority (an industry watchdog unconnected to government) for depicting power station chimneys with flowers growing out of them.

Big companies can always drive a coach and horses through the rules, greening their corporate image by mixing a couple of heavily marketed green products into a range of many more thoroughly un-green products.

Again, oil companies are notorious. This column has returned several times to the greenwash strategies of BP and Shell, plastering the country with posters and double-page adverts extolling their involvement in green energy, which in truth makes up a tiny (and recently diminishing) part of their investment. Green claim guidelines don’t touch that kind of thing…
(23 March 2010)

Watching the green screens at the Environmental Film Festival in D.C.

Jennifer Prediger, Grist

… Among the feast of food-themed films is a charming one called

It’s about a pioneering Pasadena, Calif., family who transformed their single-family home on a third of an acre into a micro farm. With eight chickens, two goats, four ducks, and producing around 6,000 pounds of food, the Dervaes family serves as a beacon of brilliance and can-do-it-iveness. 

In addition to growing their own sustenance, the Dervaes family sells local, organic produce to Pasadena restaurants. They also run a website, where their journey to self-sufficiency is inspiring and also accessible. 

This film shows the triumph and satisfaction of growing your
own food, along with underscoring the community created by such audacious acts
of turning your lawn into a farm. What begins as an oddity in the neighborhood becomes a community treasure, bringing people together. 

After the film, the impulse to get your hands dirty is great—one felt even greater after attending a screening of a documentary film called Dirt! The Movie.

For such a strong word, something so, well, dirty, you wouldn’t expect homage of this order to exist. Never has a film created in a viewer such a visceral need to thrust one’s hand into the soil. …

The filmmakers and dirt-matologists, Bill Benenson and Gene Rosow, have combined information, passion, compelling storytelling and humor in a rich way to cast a radiant light upon a not often thought about subject. Their animated personification of dirt in the film, Digby, is a source of adorableness and ample guffaws throughout a screening. Playing in the dirt makes the film something for children and

Like a good environmental film, Dirt! aims to be more than a movie. It seeks to be a movement. It educates and encourages viewers to compost, buy from local agriculture producers and have relationships with them, and screen the film wherever they live to help more people get the dirt (the good kind) on dirt. 

After screening at Sundance this year, the film will be aired nationwide on PBS. You can see it during Earth Day week on Tuesday, April 20.

(26 March 2010)

Greenpeace Takes Aim at Koch Industries

Tom Zeller, Jr., New York Times
You’ll likely hear a lot about this today and in coming weeks. Greenpeace has unveiled a new report highlighting Koch Industries, one of the biggest industrial conglomerates you’ve probably never heard of.

Based in Wichita, Kan., the company, through its network of subsidiaries, is involved in everything from ranching and mineral mining to chemicals, paper and pulp products, fertilizer production, and oil refining.

But the Greenpeace report suggests that Koch has also made a small industry of funding research and public relations endeavors aimed at undermining the prevailing scientific view that human-driven greenhouse gas emissions are contributing to a warming planet — as well as financing opposition to the development of clean-energy policy and technologies.

The report charges, for instance, that Koch provided financing for organizations that heavily propagated the so-called “ClimateGate” scandal. In another instance, according to the report, a Koch foundation — along with Exxon Mobil and the American Petroleum Institute — helped finance a 2007 analysis suggesting that polar bears were not threatened by climate change.

(That conclusion was subsequently challenged.)

In sum, the report characterizes Koch as the “financial kingpin of climate science denial and clean energy opposition.” From the Greenpeace report:

This private, out-of-sight corporation is now a partner to Exxon Mobil, the American Petroleum Institute and other donors that support organizations and front-groups opposing progressive clean energy and climate policy. In fact, Koch has out-spent Exxon Mobil in funding these groups in recent years. From 2005 to 2008, Exxon Mobil spent $8.9 million while the Koch Industries-controlled foundations contributed $24.9 million in funding to organizations of the ‘climate denial machine.’
(30 March 2010)
The report can be accessed here.