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Family Friendly Farming

Family Friendly Farming

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Published by Steve B. Salonga
Creating a Farm Life Your Children Will Treasure

Family Friendly Farming
by Joel Salatin
In a family farm operation, everybody has a niche to fill. At Polyface Farm, we believe that diversifying responsibilities allows us to make many decisions at once, increasing the number of decisions made. We all have something different to offer, and every child’s talent is different. We have to appreciate their talents and create opportunities for children to express their natural abilities rather than say
Creating a Farm Life Your Children Will Treasure

Family Friendly Farming
by Joel Salatin
In a family farm operation, everybody has a niche to fill. At Polyface Farm, we believe that diversifying responsibilities allows us to make many decisions at once, increasing the number of decisions made. We all have something different to offer, and every child’s talent is different. We have to appreciate their talents and create opportunities for children to express their natural abilities rather than say

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Published by: Steve B. Salonga on Jul 18, 2011
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Reprinted from
June 2000 - Vol. 30, No. 6 - Cover Story
by Joel Salatin
n a family farm operation, everybodyhas a niche to fill. At Polyface Farm,we believe that diversifying responsibili-ties allows us to make many decisions atonce, increasing the number of decisionsmade. We all have something different tooffer, and every child’s talent is different.We have to appreciate their talents and cre-ate opportunities for children to expresstheir natural abilities rather than saying,“Well, I raise chickens so you are goingto raise chickens.” Let the children expressthemselves.Rachel is our art-ist, she cooks, quilts,and makes crafts.She makes grape-vine wreaths andpotpourri. Teresaand I can’t draw astick man, but Rach-el was drawing atage 3. We put in aflower garden soRachel can have herflowers which shedries. This allowsher to feel needed,wanted, and part of the family operation.Daniel is our out-doorsman. He de-veloped an interestin tapping mapletrees. We built a panand he bought a book about backyardmaple sugaring. He designed a little ovenhimself, and he makes doughnuts, whichhe sells at the farmer’s market for $4 adozen. He takes 1 gallon of maple syrupand turns it into $200.The idea is to allow children to expressthemselves. Many
 Acres U.S.A.
readersknow about Daniel’s rabbit enterprise,which is now pretty large, with about 75breeding does. He started as a 9-year-old,and he innovates. He raises mangel as asubstitute winter forage for the rabbits andhas a
racken
(rabbit-chicken) house withthe rabbits above and the chickens under-neath. Synergy and symbiosis occurs be-
I
tween the rabbitsand chickens.Starting childrenearly is important.Teresa and I wantthem to earn theirown money. Rachelmakes her zucchinibread and poundcake and has regularcustomers at the farmers market. We don’tbelieve in Social Security to take care of us as we get older. We want our kids totake care of us if we getinfirm. We don’t believein allowances; we don’tthink kids should get any-thing just for breathing.The beauty of letting chil-dren have their own enter-prises that are separate from ours, and theyare really
their 
deal, is that they generatetheir own income.Sustainable farmers talk a lot about di-versifying the landscape. We need to takethat concept into our infrastructures — ma-chinery, buildings, everything — and think about multiple uses. One of the worst thingswe can do is to saddle our children to ei-ther payments or models too burdensometo abandon. Specifically, things like con-finement animal facilities and big, single-use pieces of machinery — the kind youowe a lifetime mortgage on. Those thingsenslave the next generation to continue thesame thing their parents did. When thathappens, the kids want to go because thereis no flexibility in the model.The problem is that these capital-inten-sive infrastructures —single-use machinery andbuildings — are too com-plicated to retrofit. Evenwhen they become obso-lete and don’t make anymoney, when they areboring and no longer fun, we still have toget up every morning, go out and keep thething running. There is too much emotion-al and economic inertia in it to change theparadigm.Small, sustainable family operations
Creating a Farm Life Your Children Will Treasure
Family Friendly Farming
 Joel Salatin (left) cultivates a vibrant sense of beauty and harmony at his Swoope, Virginia, farm, where each member of the family adds unique talents that are important to the health and success of the farm.
 
Reprinted from
June 2000 - Vol. 30, No. 6 - Cover Story
want to use uncomplicated, diversifiedmachinery. We use machines that can loadlogs, gravel, compost and hay. Maybe weload logs slower than a guy with a $50,000knuckle-boom loader, but that’s single-useequipment. I load logs with my truck, thentake them to the band saw to make value-added lumber.
ACCEPT IMPERFECTION
Getting to a more basic, soul level, I’mgoing to address an important issue all par-ents have to face, especially the dads, be-cause this is more a dad problem and notso much a mom problem. Pause a momentand consider how many of us either haveor are fussy dads.My dad was a journeyman pattern mak-er, and I still have his toolbox and hand-made wood tools. They made wooden pat-terns to pour carburetors. Can you imaginecarving molds for steel pieces out of wood? He was a woodworker par excel-lence. He could make grandfather clocks,furniture — you name it. I couldn’t do anyof that. Daniel is a much better carpenterthan I. But do you know what is one of the most gratifying things in my life? Myfather never once complained about my87-degree angles. He never complainedabout something 2 inches higher on oneend. How many chicken pens would I haveexperimented with using my rudimentarycarpentry skills if I was afraid while build-ing the first one that if it was just a littleout of square I’d get fussed at? Bless hisheart, he never complained. Because thereis one principle and that’s function; if itworks, that’s good enough.Dads, we have to let our children goout in the shop and bend nails — yes,waste nails and maybe our favorite board.I’ve seen 30- and 40-year-old sons whodon’t feel the liberty to take a board off the lumber pile without asking dad. That’sa tragedy. I know it’s a dad problem. I’vewatched guys my age inherit farms in their20s and lose them in 10 years. I’vewatched innumerable guys my age whoreally would like to have stayed on thefarm but didn’t. And I’ve watched lots andlots of parents of my parent’s generationwho had children and none of them areon the farm. Separate dad and mom andask, what happened? Mom will tell you,“He was too hard on them. Nothing everpleased him.” If they did a good job, thatwas expected. You’re supposed to do agood job. But boy, bend a nail or driveover a windrow wrong, or plant that rowof corn a bit crooked, and you listen. Ihope we all take this to heart. It is such acritical lesson. I know there are excep-tions, but most of the time at least onechild will stay on the farm if they feelthey’ve got a fair shake. It starts young.It has to be fun, too. It can’t be all work.Why do people not want to farm? It’sdrudgery, it’s dirty, and it’s noisy. But wego to the woods and create pastures withpigs. Instead of bulldozers, you just let thepigs go in — these are honest-to-good-ness bush hogs — and you can plant smallgrain in there. If you don’t think it’s fun,you haven’t had a 12-year-old boy take a5-gallon bucket, stick it over the snout of a pig, grab on to the bale, jump on that300-pound pig and go, “high-ho silver”down through the corn. Let me tell you, itis fun, it’s exciting. It’s a whole lot morefun to do tillage and environmental work this way than it is watching how dad actsafter going down there with a tractor andrunning a stump through the tire.
MAKE IT BEAUTIFUL
A farm has to be beautiful. Here is alittle rule of thumb. If youtake people around yourfarm and you have toapologize more than threetimes, you’ve got seriousproblems. If you’re em-barrassed about it, think about what your kids feel when theirfriends visit. Our farms have to be beauti-ful, aesthetically pleasing places whereour children love to entertain. If it issmelly, dirty and noisy, and a dead animalgets hauled out by the barn, and the toma-toes have blight, it’s a problem.Kids get turned off to sickness and dis-ease; they really don’t like it. Watch a childwhen you’ve tried to save a calf and it dies,or they watch a cow go down, or yourchild’s first garden has five corn plants andthree get blown over in a windstorm. It’snot fun. It’s devastating. I know we don’tneed to shelter them from all the trage-dies of life, but in the big picture, you cantake some bumps in the road if that’s notthe norm.
CREATE OPPORTUNITIES
We use portable electric fencing onsome land about 11 or 12 miles away torun stock cattle. This is something thatDaniel has jumped on as an opportunityto expand our land base. And there’s roomto grow. The agriculture/economics de-partment at Virginia Tech has just releaseda study that says in the next 10 years, 70percent of Virginia’s farmland is going tochange hands. It’s the beginning of an op-portunity that we haven’t seen since Pa In-galls took the family out the Oregon Trail.All this unused land owned by people whodon’t know what to dowith it. The average turn-around age for a farmetteis five years. This is cre-ating unprecedented op-portunities, but the mod-el has to be there in orderfor our children to have the desire, the sav-vy and self-confidence to tap these alter-natives. We have 100 cows on
1
 /4 acre aday; it’s aesthetic, it’s pleasing, it’s fun,and it intensifies the production on thatacreage.
Stock cattle are one of the many aesthetic and fun aspects of Polyface Farm.
 
Reprinted from
June 2000 - Vol. 30, No. 6 - Cover Story
Daniel is interested in aquacultureand fishing. So we’re building pondsthat give us water pressure anywhereon the farm, a focus for Daniel’s inter-ests. Ten year ago Teresa and I quitmaking major investments or changesfor ourselves; we are making them toopen up opportunities for our grand-children. That’s how we need to think.We are already through with our kids;they have tons of room and salariesgalore on the farm. We’re thinkingabout the grandchildren to come.
CREATE A LEGACY
As a culture, we have this idea thatwe send kids off to school to get assmart as they can be to go 1,000 milesaway from home to earn enough mon-ey to put us in nursing care when weget old. My vision is I just want to ageand have the grandchildren fightingover who is going to get granddad fora day. Wouldn’t that be neat?Stephen Covey wrote the book which, next to the Bible, everybodyought to read:
The Seven Habits of  Highly Effective People
. One of thehabits is that you start with the end inview. We have to think about what kindof a model the kids are going to have, notwhen they are 18, but when they are 2 oreven before we have them. We have tothink way down the line. If my end in viewat 80 is grandchildren running around myfeet, vying for who is going to spend theday with granddad, I don’t start that whenI’m 80. I started that 20 years ago. In fact,it started a lot sooner than that with mydad and mom. It’s a rich legacy.I mentioned aesthetics. How about sick cows drinking out of the pond. You go byand see cows with their nostrils up overthe water. Then you wonder why they aresick and you’ve got to put them throughthe head gate. Then dad gets kicked andloses his religion in the head gate, shoot-ing the cows up with Ivomec, which makesthe meat bad, but it kills all the bugs. Wehave to do it when the cows are drinkingout of a toilet bowl. I was driving downthe road once, and I watched cows in apond. A cow was drinking out of one endand peeing out the other. And your kidsare going to bring their friends home towatch that? We have to think about whatwe are doing. We have a fenced-out pond.Canada geese come and lay their eggs. Thekids get to go up and pick up those littlegoslings and put them back. The joy of watching that, the discovery, the awe andthe reverence for nature it creates. Think of the difference this creates in the mindof a child compared to a day spent dosingthe cows. This creates a child who wantsto be there.How do we transfer this awe and rev-erence to the children? We study nature,asking, How did God set this up? We’renot asking some white-coated, post-hole-digger-degreed person with some Mon-santo grant to tell us what’s wrong withour cows — to listen to them you wonderhow a cow existed before Monsanto andMerck pharmaceuticals. Go out and talk to the cows. Now I’m not talking aboutsome mystical, metaphysical thing, butyou can tell a lot by go-ing out there on a 5-gal-lon bucket. These days,everybody looks at theircows at 40 miles per hourfrom a pickup truck —that’s how we farm. Andif there is any problem, we buy the solu-tion in a bag.
FIND A WORKABLE SYSTEM
Our cows leave their calling cards, andwe run the egg-mobile behind the cows.You have a biological pasture sanitizer,turning all the crickets and grasshop-pers and parasites into cash, and keep-ing the cows out of the head gate —which keeps dad’s religion from beinglost. It really does completely changethe paradigm.We have a feather net — portableelectrified poultry netting. One personworks seven hours a week on 3 acresand nets $15,000 a year through inten-sity of production. We sell about a thou-sand dozen eggs a week at $1.60 a doz-en — pretty decent cash flow. Is thereenough there for the next generation?You had better believe it. The chickensare happy; it’s beautiful; it’s aesthetic.
DIVERSIFY PRODUCTION
Polyface Farm also has an appren-tice program for young people to learnfarming principles. Our first goal was just to make a living. The Drucker Cy-cle says in five to seven years an enter-prise is either successful or fails. Ourswas successful, and became lucrative.Once you make it, then you look to-ward expansion. The kids allowed usto expand. But we didn’t want our chil-dren to feel obligated to maintain ourlevel or type of production. How do weopen the door for flexibility, for them torealize there are more options than to dothe same thing their whole lives? One of the ways was the apprenticeship program.This provids camaraderie, an opportunityfor our kids to teach, and assistance so thekids are free to pursue other interests.If you are going to have a building, thenkeep generating cash through it with mul-tiple uses and species. Each species’ ma-nure concentrates a different enzyme. Inour bedding pack we have rabbit andchicken; if we clean out a stable to two,we’ve got horse; and then there’s pig andcow — five different manures, all withconcentrated energies and enzymes. Wemake compost with “pig-aerators.” Pig aerobics —the pigs go into the bed-ding pack after the cowscome out. It’s fun andsure beats a windrowcompost turner. We callthem pigaerators because the pigs go inand the compost comes out.The idea is that the building is used foradditional cash flow. Roll the wire up andyou put cows in, you put pigs in, lambs,rabbits, pheasants, whatever. The point is
 Managing a diversified family farm requires solid teamwork and a good balance of work and play.

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