In this conversation with Joel Salatin we chat about the changes to farming and what this means for the environment of not only the land but our bodies. We explore how the average person is still under this delusion that food should be someone else’s responsibility until they’re actually ready to eat it. And look at the real nutritional, potentially emotional and physical differences between grass-fed and finished, and grain-fed meat. As Joel says, “If you are what you eat, you also are what you eat, eats.”
“The magical, marvellous thing about food on our plate is the sustenance we absorb has a story to tell, it has a journey, leaves a footprint. It leaves a legacy…. to eat with reckless abandon, without conscience and without knowledge, well folks, this ain’t normal.” And that quote is from Joel Salatin’s book, “Folks, This Ain’t Normal.”
Joel is arguably the world’s most famous farmer, the farm is called Polyface Farm and he goes around the world lecturing to people about an alternative way to farming.
We hear a lot about the carbon economy, and climate change, and carbon in the atmosphere. And a lot of people actually do go vegan, for ethical reasons about cruelty to animals and environmental stress, water use and the resources that go into factory farming. But a lot of people don’t realize that a big part of the answer to these problems: carbon sequestration, climate change, ethical growing of food and reducing environmental stress actually occur on the farm.
If you eat food, you have an important part to play for your own health and the health of the planet. The two are inseparable. And Joel Salatin provides the everyday city dweller 3 very simple things that we can do in this enlightening and empowering chat.
Dr. Ron Ehrlich: Hello and welcome to Unstress. I’m Dr. Ron Ehrlich. So, the average person is still under this delusion that food should be someone else’s responsibility until they’re actually ready to eat it. “The magical, marvellous thing about food on our plate is the sustenance we absorb, has a story to tell, it has a journey, leaves a footprint. It leaves a legacy…. to eat with reckless abandon, without conscience and without knowledge, well folks, this ain’t normal.” And that quote is from Joel Salatin’s book, “Folks, This Ain’t Normal.” He’s arguably the world’s most famous farmer, the farm is called Polyface Farm, he goes around the world lecturing to people about an alternative way to farming. And now we hear a lot about the carbon economy, and climate change, and carbon in the atmosphere and all of this. And a lot of people actually do go vegan as well, for ethical reasons about cruelty to animals and environmental stress, water and the resources that go into this factory farming. But a lot of people don’t realize that a big part of the answer to both of these problems: carbon sequestration, ethical growing of food and reducing environmental stress actually occur on the farm. That’s a very positive connection, which I’m going talk to my guest, Joel Salatin all about. It’s such a great conversation, I could talk to Joel for hours, I almost did, and I hope you enjoy this chat that I had with Joel Salatin.
Welcome to the show, Joel.
Joel Salatin: Thank you, it’s great to be with you Ron.
Dr. Ron Ehrlich: Joel, I am a dentist and I don’t know how many dentists in the world have your book “Folks, this ain’t Normal,” in their waiting room for sale, but I’m one of them. I love what you’re doing, obviously, we were so impressed by what you’re doing, and we’re gonna go into that. But I was wondering if you could share with our listeners, what is going on in our food system now? How is the majority of our food grown today?
Joel Salatin: Well, the majority of our food is grown from kinda a philosophical under-pining that is fundamentally mechanical and not biological. There’s a big difference between machines and living things. Living things can heal, machines can’t. If a bearing goes out, you can rest it, but the bearing doesn’t heal up when you rest it. And machines, you can pull pieces apart really easily, living things, you can’t have a finger without a hand or an eye without a head. It’s a much more intricate, interdependent system. It’s not just parts that you can plug in and plug out. Right now, the way our food is produced is essentially like a machine. Can we grow it faster, fatter, bigger, cheaper? Can we manipulate this? Can we insert this over here? Extract this over here? It’s grown with chemical fertilizer, herbicides, pesticides, factory farm situations where animals are denied exercise, fresh air, sunshine, all those kinds of things. With a lot of pharmaceuticals to keep them alive. Produce is grown with fumigation and that sort of thing. So, the result is that we are essentially disrespecting life to create something that supposed to give us life, and life gives life.
There’s a big difference between the life that’s in squeezable Velveeta cheese compared to artisanal craft cheese that grows mould. Puts it on the table and then in three days it grows legs and walks off the table. That’s real food, that’s living stuff. Not this sterile mechanical stuff, that’s the problem in our food system.
Dr. Ron Ehrlich: What proportion of food grown in America is grown through this mechanical, industrialized model?
Joel Salatin: Well it depends on who you read after, but the low figure right now is probably 2% and the high figure is 5%. So, somewhere between 2 and 5% is grown in biologically, respectful way and the rest of it is not. So, it’s a pretty large percentage.
Dr. Ron Ehrlich: Right, so we’re talking about over 95% of food that is consumed in America, and there’s no reason to suppose that is very different in Australia is grown through this mechanical, industrialized system. That’s extraordinary and I guess the word about sustainably comes to mind, but we’re gonna come to that later. When did this all change? What was the big shift here? Because, this wasn’t how it always was.
Joel Salatin: Well, no it certainly wasn’t, and it certainly incremental. I think it’s important as we look at the context of this and the incremental movement that brought us to where we are, to appreciate some of the realities that our fore bearers had. They didn’t have some of the really, really cool things that we have today, that has made actually regenerative systems easier than they were a long time ago. The big push developed in the 1837 when Justice Van Ludwig, the Austrian chemist used vacuum tubes to grow plants and he determined that all of life simply an arrangement of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus. Known in agriculture circles as NPK.
Dr. Ron Ehrlich: Yep.
Joel Salatin: And once that discovery was made and of course he flooded the globe, I mean he was the darling of the whole globe at that time. He was looking for an alternative to manure and to carbon decomposition. And he said, “Man, if we could just manufacture this NPK, we wouldn’t have to rely on decomposition and manure and things like that, and you wouldn’t have to shovel anything and blah, blah, blah.” So I’m willing to posit that his intentions were very, very sincere and he was seeing worn-out soil and what it took about 20 years from the discovery of those massive amounts of guano, that the former ants and the pelicans out there off the coast of Peru. It was 100 feet deep of centuries of-
Dr. Ron Ehrlich: Manure.
Joel Salatin: Manure, yes. And this stuff was shipped, they basically used Chinese slave labour to dig it and put it in steam ships and brought it to the U.S and to the U.K. The U.K. took a lot of it but the thing to remember is that this centuries or millennia of build-up of manure from these seabirds was literally scrapped to the stone in fewer than 20 years.
Dr. Ron Ehrlich: Wow.
Joel Salatin: And so as the population began to increase, how do you maintain fertility? Was the big question. We move from there gradually into the Industrial Revolution. The development of the Reaper and the Combine and all that during the 1800s and of course massive urbanization and factories which took labour out of the towns and brought them to cities, and started to really segregate the rural and urban populations. And then you had refrigeration, which allowed perishable food to be transported long distances, that put the final nail in the coffin of having to stay with a local centric food system. So, that by World War II we were well on our way to a mechanical view and then World War II put the kibosh on it. Because ammunition, explosives are made from NPK. So World War I and World War II pumped all that war money into the mining distribution development laboratory … Refining and everything of NPK and made it extremely, extremely cheap, and essentially the subsidies of the war effort into the NPK development gave it a kinda concessionary, inordinate financial head start. So, in post-World War II, you’re a farmer, you need fertility, you’ve been shovelling, shovelling, shovelling, shovelling, shovelling all your life. And somebody brings you a little bag and says “If you put this on, you don’t have to shovel anymore.” Which would you do? My point is slice great-grandpa a little bit of slack here. He was tired of shovelling.
Dr. Ron Ehrlich: Fair enough.
Joel Salatin: So, it was like there was a starting gun after World War II, but the chemical approach had a two lap head start.
Dr. Ron Ehrlich: Yeah.
Joel Salatin: And so, it wasn’t until the late 50s and early 60s that we started seeing little front-end loaders, chippers, chainsaws, the ability to actually do large scale composting efficiently, to run a carbon-centric fertility program, I mean Sir Albert Howard wrote an agricultural testament in 1943, which was the beginning of the whole understanding of the decomposition cycle and the scientific composting system. So, it took a while for all of the parts to metabolize a high technology, efficient carbon-centric program. It took a while for all those pieces to develop.
Dr. Ron Ehrlich: Now, Joel you’ve jumped ahead to what you are doing, because Albert Howard was a really important proponent of that. Is that right?
Joel Salatin: Oh, yes. He’s the godfather.
Dr. Ron Ehrlich: Yeah, and we’re gonna get to that because we want to know that there is a better way of doing things. The other thing that had happened too and I heard you quote about this; the first supermarket coming on the American landscape in 1946 and out of the second World War where they were doing K-Russians for millions and millions of troops, they had the perfect system for processed food. So, they had a whole lot of ammunition, NPK that could now used for fertilizers, but they also had a system of processing food that led to supermarket. And that changed everything again as well, didn’t it?
Joel Salatin: Oh yeah, it certainly did. To be able to can and tin, this was all also part of that whole war effort to make food un-perishable, to be able to store food for a long time. Before then, you had to stay somewhat local-centric and seasonal, you kinda had to stay within the boundaries of your ecological nest. Simply, because you couldn’t store forever and you couldn’t ship. Meanwhile, don’t forget we had the big oil boom in Texas and then shortly after the whole Middle Eastern oil thing blew up, Venezuela. And so suddenly now, we had cheap energy so we could transport things, we could store things, and we could artificially grow things. This sounded like Utopia, right? And guess what? I’ll be kinda stereotypical now. The woman could be freed from the kitchen and can join the workforce and all of this can be farmed out to big corporations to take the drudgery out of your life and you could spend your day learning about the Kardashians instead of canning tomato sauce.
Dr. Ron Ehrlich: Yeah, and let’s face it. It’s a great economic model. There’s just a bit of a problem with it, isn’t it?
Joel Salatin: Well, there is.
Dr. Ron Ehrlich: A little bit of a problem.
Joel Salatin: The little bit of the problem is that life is fundamentally biological and not mechanical. So in this movement and within the growth of industrial farms, the growth of large-scale processing, slaughterhouses, canneries, and now all the way to mescaline mix that’s shipped 3000 miles in refrigerated jetliners, all of this stuff. Then what we started seeing was nature’s balance sheet of course this was documented by Rachel Carson in Silent Spring, we started seeing infertile frogs, three-legged salamanders, eagle eggs that would not hatch. Cause we were powdering out kids’ hair with DDT. We were doing all sorts of things and sure enough the consequences, the externalized consequences of all this, because nature is fundamentally biological, started to come home to roost. And so, by the late 70s and the early 80s, we started seeing this growing and building awareness of maybe all of this stuff isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. And a new lexicon developed, a new lexicon of words that you and I as little children never heard. Big words like salmonella, campylobacter, listeria, E. Coli, bovine spongiform encephalopathy, avian influenza, swine flu, whatever. Even phrases like food allergy, I didn’t know … I never even heard that phrases as a child.
Food allergy, Type II diabetes, all these things.
Dr. Ron Ehrlich: Yeah and add to that one in two men and one in three women will contract cancer by the age of 60. And we’re getting older, that’s the answer supposedly but even allowing for age, there’s a 25 or 30% increase in cancer, autoimmune diseases. I mean, at the end of the day it may be a great economic model, but it ain’t a very good health model. In fact, to coin your words “Folks, this ain’t normal.”
Joel Salatin: That’s right, that’s right. And nature does indeed bat last. There will be a balancing of those accounting sheets in nature and ecology, one way or another, and that’s exactly what we’re starting to see now. We’re starting to see now in the developed world, the first generation of young people who doesn’t think that they are gonna live as long as their parents. This whole trend is a tough trend, the United States now leads the world. It’s fun to say, “We lead the world,” but it’s not fun to say that we lead the world in chronic morbidity. The five causes of chronic morbidity, we lead the world in, through sanitation and soap and plumbing. We’ve eradicated the infectious diseases, but it’s the non-infectious diseases that have now replaced them due to our lack of nutrition and other things, exercise and that sort of thing. So, here we are at this place and we now have a growing awareness that the chemical, industrial food orthodoxy lacks something. And so we’re seeing increased interest in authentic food, authentic ecology, authentic nutrition, and the name of the game today is authenticity in food, landscape management, that sort of thing. That’s the exciting place we’re in now.
Dr. Ron Ehrlich: Which is exactly now, here we go Joel, this is exactly why we’re talking to you today, because honestly I think if there was a, “The World’s most Famous Farmer,” I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that you would be it. You’ve raised this profile of biological approach to farming to another level, can you tell our listeners, what’s the difference? What’s going on out there at Polyface Farm that’s different from what you’ve just described.
Joel Salatin: Well, there’s several differences. First of all, we run what we call a total carbon-centric outfit. While we don’t spend money on chemical fertilizers, it doesn’t mean that we’re disinterested in fertility, so we look at nature, we look at nature as a template and say, “well, how does nature build soil?” Well, nature builds soil with institute carbon. Carbon on site doesn’t move very far and it regenerates into the soil either as decomposing plant material or manure from animals. Those are the two basic ways that brown stuff, that carbon feeds the soul and guess what? It goes on top of the ground, it doesn’t get tilled in.
Dr. Ron Ehrlich: You’re talking carbon sequestration here, Joel?
Joel Salatin: Yes, we are talking about carbon cause a plant inhales carbon dioxide and it breaks off the carbon, hangs onto it, exhales the oxygen and then you and I and other animals then breathe in the oxygen and we give out the carbon … breathe out the carbon dioxide. So, this is a big cycle that goes on. How do we sequester that carbon in soil, it’s sequestered through bio-mass production. It’s not sequestered through chemical fertilizer or anhydride ammonia, or any of the other techniques. And the single thing that destroys it most quickly is tillage.
Dr. Ron Ehrlich: You mean turning over the soil and ploughing the land?
Joel Salatin: Yes, yes. Ploughing the land in order to plant road crops. What we do here is we’re all in grass, all the animals are on grass, the cows are on grass, the chickens are on grass, the pigs, the turkeys. Everything is on pasture and of course, the herbivores, the cows don’t receive any supplemental grain. The pigs do and the chickens do, but it’s a reduced amount, because they’re eating a lot of pasture. The herbivores then are moved, just like in nature, when you see the migratory choreography of the wildebeest on the Serengeti. The herbivores are moved every day using high-tech electric fencing to a new spot. They don’t stay on the same field for more than a day, every day they go to another paddock, using high-tech portable electric fencing. So, now we have plastic pipe that we’re able to pipe water, so that we can pipe water to every single field very, very cheaply. We have portable water troughs, portable control mechanisms, that’s electric fence, and portable shelter with nursery shade cloth. Now very, very cheap. A polyethylene fabric basically. They use it in nurseries and everything all over the world. We use this for our animal shelters. And with a band saw mill, as opposed to the old style big circular mills that moved a centimetre of wood every stroke. With the band saw mill, we’re only removing about 3 millimetres of sawdust per stroke.
So now, we can afford with the band saw mill to cut tinker toy material to make very lightweight, shelters with nursery shade cloth to have ambulatory portable livestock shelters, in the field. So we have portable shade trees. As soon as all of this modular mobility develops, this is space age technology that we’re talking about. But it enables us to do is mimic the patterns and templates of migratory choreography of mega-fauna that we see all over the world and we can mimic it on an extremely small personal-owned acreage. Whether it’s two acres or a million acres. It’s completely scale independent because the equity is in our management and our knowledge, and our skill. Our mastery of the skill to be able to mimic that movement choreography.
Dr. Ron Ehrlich: So you’ve taken yourself completely out of the chemical fertilizer, herbicide dependency on that and just used nature’s own. Well, you’ve talked about all that bio-mess on the beaches of Peru, but you’re kinda using it as you move animals around your farm. How big is that farm?
Joel Salatin: We own 650 acres and we lease another 1200 acres, so we’re running almost 2000 acres under our management, but 500 acres of that is forest. So we have about 1500 acres of pasture and 500 acres of forest.
Dr. Ron Ehrlich: Wow, and how many-the question is can this system of farming feed the world?
Joel Salatin: Well, that’s the most common question I get asked. That and can we afford it? So, let’s deal with can it actually feed the world? The first thing to realize is that for the first time in human history, half of all human edible food is thrown away. It’s the wrong size, it’s too long, it’s too short, it’s too fat, it’s too skinny, it’s too whatever. This has never happened in human history before that we throw away half of our food, so we can literally increase the world population by 4 billion people and still have plenty of food, if we didn’t throw away so much. So no one’s going hungry because there isn’t enough food. There are certainly people going hungry but it’s not because there’s not enough food, it’s because there’s some socio-political upheaval in a town or region. The road caved in and the truck can’t get through the pass-
Dr. Ron Ehrlich: I mean, Joel the problem is that we got about 1.6 billion people who are overweight or obese and we got about 700 million who are undernourished so that’s just a little bit of an imbalance there. But yeah okay.
Joel Salatin: Sure, yeah absolutely. There is a lot, but ecology beyond that the systems that I’m describing are actually far more productive for acre or per square yard than anything the industry is throwing at you. When we use our acreage, I’ll just give you for example our cow days per acre. A cow day is what one cow will eat in a day, so if we took all the food that you ate today and put it on a plate, that would be one person day of food. So, a cow day is what one cow will eat in a day. Our county average in our area, with our rainfall climate, soil type, blah blah blah. It averages 80 cow days per acre and we’re averaging 400 cow days per acre and we haven’t planted a seed or bought a bag of chemical fertilizer in 60 years. The fact is, when you tap into the symbiotic and synergistic patterns of nature, they’re simply far, far more productive. It should give everybody pause to realize that 500 years ago, the United States grew far more food than it does today. Now the Unites States was not in existent then, but the landmass that is today’s United States grew way more food 500 years ago than it does today. We had 200 million bison, a couple million wolves eating 20 pounds of meat a day. We had 200 million beavers, 8% of the landscape was in beaver ponds.
We had flocks of birds that were so big. We have diaries like Ottoman sat under a tree in 1800, he said “I haven’t seen the sun in three days because of the flock of birds that flew over and blocked out the sun for three days.” That’s before John Deere and chemical fertilizer and ploughs and all this stuff. So, the truth is these bio-mimicry, synergistic, multi-specified, complex relational systems are far more productive than the seeming wow of factory farming and chemical farming. You see the signs, when the industry takes a picture for example of a big factory chicken house. “Look how productive this is. Look how much we’re producing in this footprint.” They’re not showing you the square kilometres of grain into the house, or the square kilometres of manure coming out, or the fish kills caused by the excess nutrient in that region that are created by it. They’re not showing any of that external context. And on our farm when you come and you see the pigs on pasture, the chickens, the cows, whatever, you’re seeing the acreage, in other words, it doesn’t take one more acre to grow that food outside of a factory house than it does inside.
The only difference is instead of things being segregated from their inputs and outputs in a little tight spot, instead they are integrated into the larger ecosystem, and so it may look like it takes more land, but it actually doesn’t take one more acre.
Dr. Ron Ehrlich: Well, it’s so interesting isn’t it that this word synergy, because in healthcare for our bodies, we’re learning that actually our relationship with bacteria is really important. The gut biome, micro biome is now seen as the major breakthrough, instead of taking this adversarial approach of everything being antibacterial and antibiotics and killing bacteria. If we actually feed our friends and not our foes, our health is better for it. But there is a similar story going on in the soils too isn’t it?
Joel Salatin: Very much, in fact these are very much bacterial cousins. I find it fascinating that today we have two divergent trajectories, at least here in the U.S. and I think the same in Australia and Europe. That is one is the trajectory where the orthodoxy of the day is in order to be safe, it has to be sterile. Now if you’re in a surgery, yes you want sterility in a surgery. But in our day to day living, we don’t want sterile, we want a terrain or a habitat in which the good bugs beat out the bad bugs, in which there is a good ground where the good bugs are winning. I’m using bugs in very, very …
Dr. Ron Ehrlich: That’s okay. Bacteria, fungi, anything that’s … you know, yeah.
Joel Salatin: Haematoids, protozoa, all those things. Actually, something like 95 to 98% of them are actually good and only a few are pathogenic. So, with a just a little bit of effort, we can actually create a terrain, a habitat in which the good ones beat the bad ones.
Dr. Ron Ehrlich: Now you’re talking soil seed?
Joel Salatin: Yes.
Dr. Ron Ehrlich: Yes, cause it’s the same in the body.
Joel Salatin: Yeah, exactly. I’m talking animals, plants, the whole deal. So, isn’t interesting that we have these two trajectories? One in the whole food safety system, where supposed to be chlorinated and anti-microbial and sterilize it. And we got Cola-Cola. Cola-Cola is perfectly safe, but raw milk is hazardous, because it’s got creepy-crawlies in it, and we got that trajectory. And on the other side of that, what you just talked about, is our new trajectory of understanding the new human micro-biome, and realizing our gut actually affects our emotional health, our psychological stability, our mental health. Brain function comes from how our large intestine is working today.
Dr. Ron Ehrlich: It’s big.
Joel Salatin: It’s not a surprise at all to those of us who have embraced a more natural way of living. But it is profoundly shattering to these idea that we are fundamentally mechanical and we can part our way through life one piece at a time.
Dr. Ron Ehrlich: Yeah, and of course these bugs in the soul confer quite a lot to that soil. And I know that people are getting into the grass-fed, pasture-fed and finished. That’s quite an important point; pasture-fed and finished, cause that can change very quickly if an animal goes into a feed lot for four or six weeks.
Joel Salatin: Yes, absolutely.
Dr. Ron Ehrlich: What’s so good about grass-fed? What’s talk about that first, why is grass-fed so much better?
Joel Salatin: Well there’s several things. One is … and we can talk about grass finished. Because, it only takes about two weeks of grain feeding on an herbivore to virtually chase out all the congregated linoleic acid. So CLA was discovered- congregated linoleic acid was discovered in the late 1960s. It’s an essentially fatty acid. It’s a long-chain fatty acid and it’s got numerous functions one of which is to maintain the elasticity of the synapses in the nerve endings. I liken it to-it’s like packing peanuts, it’s like packing peanuts in our nerve systems and as you age, your elasticity starts to dwindle and the CLA gives your nerve endings better functionality. CLA is also the number one anti-carcinogen in the world, so for example in the US where the per capita consumption of red meat, of beef, is about 60 lbs per person per year. In Argentina, its 150 lbs per capita, if you think about that, that means the average Argentinian is eating half a pound of beef per day every single day of the year, that’s pretty amazing.
Even people like me don’t eat that much, so what is interesting is that in Argentina, they got half the colon cancer rate. In the US and supposedly, red meat caused colon cancer and all this stuff, and they got to looking into it and found out and realized; the CLA thing is the answer because in Argentina, everything is grass finish, they can’t afford grain, they been grazing The Pampas all these years, and so everything is grass finished. So they have these real high levels of CLA and in the US where we’re grain-finishing, we have these incredibly low levels of CLA. Hence, the difference in the colon cancer rate. That’s just one thing. Riboflavin, there’s another big one. Grass-finished beef has a 300%, that’s 3 times as much riboflavin as grain-finished beef.
Dr. Ron Ehrlich: Now that’s B-2, is that what you said? Riboflavin, B-2 or what is that anyway?
Joel Salatin: I think it is B-2, it’s one of the B’s. One of the busy bees and people say well okay, so what’s the deal with Riboflavin? Well, riboflavin is known as the calming fatty acid. It calms you down and so you been wondering some of these rampant shootings and so on. And spousal abuse and children with ADHD bouncing off the walls. We’re actually seeing increased temper and anger, and mental instability, agitation as we move away from grass- finished animal protein because we’re not getting the riboflavin, which is the stress-reliever fatty acid. The calming thing, so this kinda of thing just goes through our eggs. We submitted our eggs to a national study on “Mother Earth News” magazine picked 12 farms around the US to do a study on pastured eggs to see about the difference. And so, we were 1 of the 12 farms picked and so we sent eggs to this lab in Oregon or Washington, it was somewhere out in the Pacific Northwest.
And they measure abut 12 things, I’ll just pick 1: Folic acid. Folic acid is very, very important and you’re a doctor so I’ll get way over my skies here in a quick, so you bring me back down to earth if you need to. Folic acid is really important for carrying pregnancy, for healthy pregnancy. And the conventional eggs that come out of the factory house, the actual department of agriculture, official micrograms per egg is 48 micrograms per egg out of the store, the normal egg.
And our eggs measure 1038 micrograms of folic acid per egg.
Dr. Ron Ehrlich: Wow.
Joel Salatin: So, it’s not because our eggs were bigger, same size eggs. When you start looking at these things you begin realizing very quickly, we’re not talking about slight, little nuanced changes, we’re talking about light-year, exponential differences. If you are what you eat, you also are what you eat, eats. And so, that what we’re finding now as we become more sophisticated in our technological analysis of things. We’re starting to see that the things that we taste, the things that we into it actually have scientific, empirical basis.
Dr. Ron Ehrlich: Yeah, because we started this conversation about you talking about NPK, nitrogen, phosphate, and potassium. And of course, the fact is that for our human body to function properly, we actually need more than three elements, we actually need between 60 and 70 elements. As you say, we aren’t only what we eat, but we are what the things that we eat, eat. And that’s where that microbes come in, isn’t it? Cause that’s where … It’s those microbes that confer just more than NPK?
Joel Salatin: Yes, you’re exactly right. And what feeds those microbes … well there are numerous things that feed them, but the main thing that feeds them is decaying carbon, decaying organic matter. So, our entire farming system needs to move toward a non-tillage, perennially based integrated with animals, there’s not a healthy ecology in the world that is animal-less and look at how many farms we try to have that have no animals. So when we start moving to this other direction of decay, carbon bio-mass and integrated animals, what we start seeing is a much more diverse complex mix … a cocktail if you will, a cocktail of way more diversified elements and microbes. One of the interesting ones for example, is earthworms. Earthworms go down, they emit a saliva, and it dissolves things in the ground and they ingest things. It goes through their alimentary canal and thy excrete it. What’s amazing is that what they excrete, which by the way is the same weight of what they ingest, so you’re ingesting a kilogram and you’re excreting a kilogram. The excretion are three times the calcium, seven times the potassium, eleven times the phosphorus of what came in the front end.
Even with all of our computers, our satellites, our ability to send men to the moon, all the things that we’ve done, we still don’t understand how that earthworm can just through the processes of its alimentary canal; how it can … what’s the right word? Step up. How it can synergize and step up its excretions, similarly from nowhere.
Dr. Ron Ehrlich: Yes, and what a wonderful little … factory. With all of these factories going on in the soil, which actually with all the herbicides, fungicides, pesticides, and all the NPK, we don’t have that. The earthworms aren’t really happening to the same degree or at all, nor are the microbes in the soil.
Joel Salatin: Yes, that is absolutely correct. A lot of people think of soil a dirt, just something that you have to put bleach on your britches to get it cleaned out. And actually, the soil is a double handful of healthy soil has as many healthy beings in it as there are people on the face of the earth. If I just said that a handful of soil has a many being as many people in Sydney, you would stand up and say “Whoa, that’s pretty cool.” Or said it in all of Australia, “Wow, that’s a cool …” But in all the world, all the plants, all the people on the earth, there are more beings and so that’s how complex it is. We talk about community, that is the ultimate community and they are all trading being eaten, they’re dividing, they’re procreating, they’re dying, and they’re trading. There’s this … I call it the underground café and they’re trading. They walk up to the roots of a grass plant and say hey “I see you got two polysaccharides, I got a little boron in my pocket, can I trade you two packages of boron for two of those sugar polysaccharides you got?” And there’s this entire café going on under there of trading and they actually talk to each other. There’s a language that they use and it is truly sentient and profound.
Dr. Ron Ehrlich: Yeah, now Joel tell me for somebody and most of our listeners of course will be in this city, will be consumers of food, how do we support this system? Because one of my favourite themes is although we get to vote once every three, four, or five years and we know what that does sometimes. Particularly in America, but we won’t go there. But one of the things we do get to do is vote with our money and the decisions we make. So, what would you say to the consumer in the city? How do we get on-board this whole movement of biological farming rather than mechanical farming?
Joel Salatin: Yeah, what a great question. So, I got a kinda of three-part answer to this, stay with me and I’ll just zip through it very quickly. The first thing you can do is to get in your kitchen and I don’t mean go to grandma’s kitchen with a wood stove. I mean go in there with all the techno gadgetry we got today, time-baked, slow cookers, indoor plumbing, oven with heat on-demand that sort of thing. But begin working with food, one of our biggest problems today is that we, we I’m saying very collectively and loosely as a developed culture. We have this notion that we can levitate ourselves into some nirvanic space, you know, Star Trek-era. Above our ecological umbilical and be fine, and the truth is you can’t. You can’t refuse to participate as foundational and intimate to our bodies as food, you can’t so profoundly advocate any participation in that and expect things to stay authentic.
Dr. Ron Ehrlich: Yep. If the evidence is anything to go on and the degenerative diseases are evidence of that. You can either choose to be part of that system or take control of that yourself. Yeah, go on Joel.
Joel Salatin: Yeah, that’s very good. The reason I start with that point is because people want a different outcome, but they don’t wanna change anything, and that’s the definition of insanity, right? Doing the same thing and expecting a different result. So, you gotta come down off the bleachers, quit complaining and quit whining, and join us. Join this whole tribe, alright? So, get in your kitchen and start working with food. Number two, grow something or do something yourself. Even if it’s a little vermicomposting bin under your kitchen sink, or a hanging patio garden off the balcony or deck. You can essentially grow all of your own herbs in a little plastic tube with pockets in it that’s packed with compost and you just drip about a cup of water in there every day and you can grow all of your herbs for your household in literally a little hanging tube that’s the size of a glorified wind chime. So do something yourself that gets you participating and in touch with this awesome and mystical, amazing world of life. That’s number two. Alright, number three is take your recreational and entertainment time and financial budget for a period of time, it can be a month, maybe it’s two months. But take a period and say, ” Okay, for this period of time, whatever we spent watching movies, whatever we spent going to the ballet, or whatever.
And these are all good activities, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t ever go to the movies or go to the ballet. I’m just saying, take a period of time and take a sabbatical. Take a sabbatical from that and say “Okay, we’re gonna take that time and that money and we’re gonna invest it in finding our integrity food solution.” Maybe, we’ll visit some local farms, maybe we’ll go to the farmers’ market, maybe we’ll join CSA, whatever. But the point is we commit ourselves for a period of time to finding those. In fact, in Australia, my favourite word in all the world, we can become food fossickers. We go food fossicking, to find the gold mine, the treasure that’s in our community. And those three things: get in the kitchen, do something yourself, and find your source. If you will commit to those three things in a year, you will look back and say,” My goodness me. How did we ever survive before this?” It will fundamentally rock your world.
Dr. Ron Ehrlich: Yeah, and that really … What is good for that- I think this is also a really important message, which I know you would agree with is what is good for the individual’s health, is good for planet’s health, and the two are just inseparable.
Joel Salatin: Absolutely, Windle Berry even takes this a little step further and he says, “There really are no global problems, there really are only local problems.” And he kinda springs that off. There is an old Chinese saying, I mean he doesn’t use this but one I’ve enjoyed. There’s an old Chinese saying that says, “If everyone would sleep in front of their own doorstep, the whole world would be clean.” It’s so easy for us. We love to sit and point fingers and say, “Well, things would be better if those people over there would just do the right thing. Or if those people were not crooks, or if those people over there did not worship money.” You can name you bogeyman and the truth is those people over there … you can’t change those people over there. Those people there are gonna do what they’re gonna do but you can change the person in the mirror. And you can change that trajectory, that outcome and ultimately if each of us would focus on that, then those people over there would become us.
Dr. Ron Ehrlich: Great, look Joel and the other thing that I love and I’ll just leave this thought to is this whole idea of synergy with microbial community and you said, “Be it in our bodies or in the soil, 95% of them good.” And I think that’s almost a metaphor for the people on the planet. I like to think that 95% of the planet are good and we if we could learn to live synergistically with them as we do our microbiomes, then I think the world would be a better place for it.
Joel Salatin: Yes, I think that you’re exactly right. And in fact, I would even go so far as to say that our abuse and assault on natures patterns and templates. That violence that we bring to our living, that is a kinda a world view, a paradigm, it affects the way we view each other in a way. It affects the way we see our neighbours, the way we see our own selves fitting into something. Grandeur and bigger than ourselves, and I absolutely believe that when a society sees its’ pigs as just inanimate piles of protoplasmic structure to be manipulated. However, cleverly we can manipulate them rather than appreciating the pig ness of the pig and the happiness of the pig, when we just view it as an object to utilize. Pretty soon we start seeing each other as an object to utilize, other citizens and other cultures as objects to utilize. Yes, you have hit on a very profound theme that I couldn’t agree with more.
Dr. Ron Ehrlich: And on that note Joel, thank you so much. I’ve so enjoyed this conversation and we could talk for hours, so thank you again.
Joel Salatin: Thank you very much.
Dr. Ron Ehrlich: Well, as we both said this choice between mechanical, industrialized farming where actually half of the food that is produced is actually thrown away in food waste. The soils, do we only really need three elements? Nitrogen, phosphate, potassium? No, we need 60 or 70 and this whole idea of having a respect for the microbiome. Not just in our bodies, but in the soil. This is about taking control and making decisions that make a difference. Get into food, get going with it. Even growing something small, I thought that was fantastic what he said cause at least you appreciate the complexity that grows into producing food. And get out there and buy proper food, real food, and if you think it’s a little more expensive. Well add in all the other costs, it’s not just the cost of the food in the supermarket or on the shelf. It’s the health costs that come with it, it’s the environmental cost that come with it. It’s whether you want to be nurturing soil that your children and their children can still be growing nutrient-dense foods on. So, I hope you enjoyed this episode, it certainly fired me up as though I needed anymore firing up.
Until next week, I hope this finds you well, this is Dr. Ron Ehrlich, be well.
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