Monday, August 19, 2013

Playing With Our Food at Polyface Farm

It was still dark out.  The sun had not yet come up, yet my alarm was going off.   And to make matters worse, it was Saturday.  Normally, I would never allow this nonsense on a Saturday, but today was different. 

Today was our day to visit Polyface Farm for the Lunatic Tour. 

So I woke up the kids (despite my better judgment), packed everyone in the car, and headed out west for the 2 1/2 hour drive down to Swoope, VA.  After a few turns down the wrong road (farm country doesn't do the best labeling with road signs), we arrived at Polyface Farms just in time to hop on the hay wagon and begin the tour.

Our family was offered the opportunity to go on this tour because we buy our meat from Polyface and apparently, in 2012, we bought every time they delivered so we got a certificate to tour the farm.  We started buying from Polyface a few years back, after my husband read The Omnivore's Dilemma and since they have a drop off near our house, we signed up.  We have been hoarding whole chickens in the freezer to get through the winter ever since.

Our tour was led by Daniel Salatin, son of Joel Salatin the sort of lead philosopher and CEO of Polyface Farms.  The whole premise at Polyface Farms is about creating a farm that leverages and mimics how the environment works naturally to create sustainable agriculture.  They focus on the soil and creating depth within that soil to support their livestock.  At first I sort of shrugged it off as some hippie mumbo-jumbo, but after I visited the farm, I understood.  And, more importantly, I had a deep appreciation and respect for what the Salatins were promoting and believed in.
School's in session with Daniel Salatin
Our tour started with the chickens.  The chickens are in these light-weight cages that are moved every morning to a new square patch of grass.  They eat grain (not organic, but GMO free after some customer surveys and lack of buy-in on the "organic" branding), and bugs that wander in the cage.  They can also eat the grass, which has been 'pre-mowed' by the cows.  And potential predators are managed by the sweetest white lab/wolf hound, Michael.  The kids were really loving the chickens...
Checking out the chickens in action
After the chickens, we headed over to see the pigs.  The pigs basically aerate the soil to create a compost pile.  Plus, they serve as delicious bacon and pork chops.  Turns out, they are also super friendly and you could just walk right up to them as they were eating.  
More friendly than you'd think
Next we visited the turkeys.  The turkeys have a roost with a large overhang to protect them from birds of prey.  I have to say, these birds were so funny to watch, they have this little system that when one of them clucks, the rest cluck back.  I think it's like a warning about an approaching predator, but it sounded to me more like a voting exercise. 
Birds of a feather, flocking together
At this point in the tour, I began to learn more about my fellow tour-mates.  There were all kinds of folks visiting the farm, from Wisconsin to Pennsylvania.  Some were interested in learning about farming techniques to raise their own chickens, and others had read The Ominvore's Dilemma and wanted to see for themselves.  Pretty much everyone knew about the Salatins and read Joel's books.  It was amazing  to listen to the impact this farm has had on people far and wide. 
The youngest kept on growling at the chickens and saying "eat meat!"
The last stop on our tour was to see the cows.  The cows' job on the farm is to eat and basically, mow the grass.  The egg laying chickens are kept with the cows (in their Eggmobile) to eat bugs and scratch through the cow paddies to sanitize the pasture.  Since the cows won't eat grass where they have walked, they are moved to a new pasture every morning (just like the chickens).  The difference in quality and taste of the grass-fed beef is apparent.  

The Salatins started off with this farm in 1961 and have built a family-owned business based on a core set of values.  Their connection and respect for the earth, animals, and natural, sustainable agriculture is visible as soon as you get to the farm and reiterated through coversations with their staff.  They talk about respecting their animals and setting up an environment where the animals do their share of the work on the farm.  This type of mutal respect is often talked about, even among people, but seldom shown in action.  Polyface Farm takes those words and makes it part of their daily life.  And the result is unparalleled in not just the agriculture industry, but in the world of businesses, cultures and communities.  They have truly found, and cultivated, something special. 

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