Here are more pictures from our visit to Polyface Farms--the “family-owned, multi-generational, pasture-based, beyond organic, local market” located in Swoop, Va. The "lunatic tour" began near the lettuce and tomato greenhouses and brought us to a herd of hungry cattle grazing on breakfast. Seeing the cows navigate these pastures head down made me think of my grandmother. No, my grandmother never raised cows, nor has she ever been one to keep her head down. But "All Cows Eat Grass" was a common phrase of hers during childhood piano lessons. And these cows, I'm here to report, ate nothing but grass. These fields are their "salad bar," in the words of farmer Joel Salatin. And, at a time when cows are being fed soy beans, corn, and--to make weight during this summer's drought--candy (really??), it was comforting to see herbivores eating what they naturally should.
Instead of relying on commercial farming methods, Salatin's farm mimics relationships found in nature. "But we're not Luddites, folks," he kept insisting. Salatin uses electric fencing and make-shift, portable shelters to "stack" the animals on his farm. First, cows are led to an area with long, fresh grass. After a few days (no more than four), they are moved to fresh pastures and chickens take their place. The hens spend their time scratching at the cow paddies, spreading the cow manure, and eating any fly larvae--all of which readies the pasture for the next cow rotation--and laying fresh eggs in the "Egg Mobile." Traveling in "The Goobledygo" (you really can't make this stuff up, I swear), turkeys also graze these fields, and their diet of fresh grass is supplemented with local grain. Hello, Thanksgiving dinner.
The birds do live indoors for the first few weeks after hatching. But they are never immunized, given any doses of antibiotics, or protected from the public as they are on industrial farms. To prove his point, Salatin invited us to break into the coop and hold one for ourselves. (No, Jon did not let me take one home, sadly.)
I must add that these cows, pigs, and birds get some mighty killer views of the Blue Ridge Mountains as they graze and snort and gobble. Heck, I'd be happy to give the suburbs a sayonara to spend my days living off the land here, too. The sunshine and the fresh Appalachian breezes put everyone in a great mood. Perhaps that's why the hens were friendly enough to greet us at our feet as we passed through their green pastures.
To see more pictures of our trip to Polyface Farms, go here.