“Joel Salatin at his best” – Review From Matt Powers

2013.03 - Salatin 004With his knowing grin and maniacal, “lunatic” farmer glint in his eyes, this DVD series is Joel Salatin at his best. The masterful rancher-farmer educates us with his expansive understanding of cows, chickens, pigs, rabbits, silviculture, hydrology, the carbon cycle, and grass. With this, he takes us on a detailed tour-de-force of regenerative farming. If you were looking for a college class to learn about Salatin’s farming style, forget the university path – this is the course.

Verge Permaculture and Acres USA teamed up with Joel Salatin to produce an event for a permaculture audience that spanned several days. It included a live, online component where questions from all over the world were submitted. The Q & A sections are invaluable. This full course comes with a book, 12 DVDs, and a data CD – over 18 hours of film and over 200 pages of reading.

This course is highly detailed with sources ranging from the experiential to the intellectual, from large to small scale. In fact, you better be ready to take notes the entire time. You will need time to absorb what he has to say. Most of the information is not a silver bullet, but a greater level of holistic understanding in farm management. It is an invitation to complexity and accountability. We are reminded watching and listening to Joel that his father worked as an accountant in town to support the farm – for Joel is constantly talking numbers. He has a bottom-line rationale for every operation on his property and can share the numbers down to the square yard. He does use quantitative reasoning to manage his cattle which was a surprise for me. Though, within a few sentences of describing his methodology, he had me convinced and intrigued. For many curious about holistic management, Joel does a wonderful job blending it with permaculture and his own farm’s practices at Polyfaces Farm.

Part2_Inside Book(1)If you are hoping for Keyline design, Joel touches upon the Keyline Scale of Permanence as he described how to setup a farm, but later admitted, “We’ve not been able to make the true keyline system work because to make it work we’ve got to go the neighbor’s place. We’re too narrow, and the terrain too violent.” The problem is the solution with Joel’s “Nook & Cranny Farming” which every farmer, starting out or looking to lease land, should check out. In fact, the entire series of lectures are littered with different business plans based upon restrictions (or problems) with solutions that add up to real profits with real numbers based on Joel’s own experience.

While it is not a PDC or a REX training (regenerative design training by Darren Doherty), Joel’s teachings takes the viewers through fencing, animal densities, timing, animal behavior, portable structures, marketing, packaging, taking on interns, and holistic management for his on-farm operations. He also gets into his leased farms which are ideal templates for anyone wanting to start a portable farming or ranching business, or for those without their own land. Joel assures us that there’s no need to own land if you can lease it and still make a profit. Joel’s methods are shrewd, time- tested, and critically analyzed for what makes them effective.

For those looking to scale up or scale down these ideas and methods, you are in luck. This entire lecture is geared to that end. He gives metrics that are scalable, as well as timing for different housing and management styles. Some ideas may sound familiar, like Mark Shepherd’s STUN method and Joel’s ruthless culling for good genetics. If you’ve read any of Joel’s books you’ll recognize several of his stories and classic descriptions strewn throughout the lectures.

Joel’s vision is broad, sweeping, reasonable, and possible: everything from no more hay, to no more egg business, to the end of all pig confinement, to a complete rearrangement of the waste stream, to a return to long-stemmed grain varieties (which don’t deplete the soil). While he admits where the plans may fall short, Joel explores options they are thinking of for the future and gives several examples of what can be done on a smaller scale regeneratively and could be done in other areas with his systems.

Matt Powers 2If you are looking to be a grass-farmer like Joel or to just start working with chickens, cows, or pigs, this is a superb resource to use before you acquire any animals or place any fencing. No matter the size of your land or your age, the Salatin Semester will give you the tools to start planning and then managing your farm or ranch operation with confidence, understanding, and the ability to adapt to changes on the ground.

This review was originally published in Issue 2 of Permaculture Magazine North America (Fall 2016).