When I joined the Salatin Semester, I’d already spent more than a decade studying agroecology and touring farms, and I’d used Salatin-style methods for a few years on leased land to sell eggs, vegetables, milk shares, chicken, rabbit, and goat. In short, I had just enough experience to be dangerous…
Fortunately, few livelihoods can humble you as effectively as farming. Working with nature puts you in daily contact with your own vast ignorance. To succeed, these potentially bitter pills must instead salt an unquenchable thirst for new knowledge and new wisdom. So I went into the Semester eager to learn a thing or two.
Far beyond my expectations, I learned many, many thing-or-twos. Yes, I’d read most of Joel’s books. Yes, I’d tried some ideas. Yes, I’d talked and worked with other farmers. But something about the combination of Joel’s three-day seminar, the detailed interviews, and the online community of seekers and experimentalists created a uniquely useful tool for eco-farmers.
Here are five reasons the Salatin Semester stands out:
1) It’s a showcase of eco-farming success.
Joel’s 18-hour slideshow and seminar is a full-immersion tour of one of the world’s finest examples of ecological livestock farming. With characteristic clarity and wit, Joel lays out the critical ideas and systems that have structured Polyface Farm through its half-century evolution and, crucially, the relationships and business sense that are foundational to every farm’s success.
Many of the farmers in the forum came to the Salatin Semester with livestock and well-thumbed eco-farming libraries, so we were able to pepper Joel and Daniel with questions that dug in deep, pinpointing important details in Polyface systems from pastured poultry to mob-stocked ruminants, from growing soil to building shelters. And then we went deeper, striving for fundamental Salatonian principles to help us solve real-world problems and innovate in our unique situations.
3) We explored a world of new ideas.
Agroecology has broad, ancient roots, but industrialism severely coppiced this tree of life. Modern incarnations of practical, profitable eco-farms are still just nascent shoots, albeit on the cusp of explosive growth. As our farms develop, ceaseless change in climates, landscapes, and societies worldwide will continue to demand constant innovation in ways to grow food within healthy ecosystems.
The book captures this spirit of discovery. We share the stories of forum farmers who began with a stock of ideas from eco-farming pioneers and nurtured innovative variations, giving rise to yet more ideas to explore. Such feedback within the ever-expanding community of eco-farmers is the fast track to efficient, productive, profitable farms that respect nature.
4) I found balance, even synergy, between idealism and realism.
Many of us, including me, come to farming as idealists out to “save the world.” That’s great. It’s important to have strong ethics, and there’s no doubt that growing ecological food is central to thriving in the 21st Century and beyond. To that end, we always work to improve our systems to meet our personal ideals and to adapt to future needs.
More immediately, however, we have to earn a living. We have to carefully position ourselves in ecosystems, cultures, and markets as they are today.
The Salatin Semester is geared directly to the challenges new eco-farmers are likely to face and the kind of practical solutions and acceptable compromises we can make to sustain livelihoods that improve land and water, give our animals fulfilling lives, and keep us healthy and happy too.
5) It’s motivational whether you’re a farming zero or hero.
There’s some pretty advanced content in this package, but the motivated rookie has nothing to fear and everything to gain. Joel’s inspirational seminar breaks his operation into bite-size pieces that leave you burning to get going, while forum farmers detail the steps that got them going.
And how to “get going” is what this is all about. The Semester is for people who want to make things happen. Enthusiasm and determination to follow through on real-world farming projects is the key to success.
As new farmers earn experience and then return to the Semester, they are sure to find valuable new insights. The Semester captures not only the details of the Salatin’s particularly vibrant eco-farm, but also a broad range of perspectives and experiences the Polyface model has inspired. This breadth will help all kinds of people jump into the deep end of complex agroecosystems and work together to heal landscapes, nourish bodies and minds, and cultivate the world’s beauty and richness.