Thursday, September 4, 2014

another pilgrimage to polyface.

Whew, between a marathon of barbecues and last-minute pool runs (tough, I know), our end of summer was a busy one. Of all the fun we had, the highlight of August was likely our trip to Polyface Farms in Swoope, Va. We had a picture-perfect Saturday for our little pilgrimage, and Cecile just loved seeing the animals ... well, mostly.
^^"Baby chicks!" she kept saying, pointing through the chicken wire before our tour.^^
The last time we were at Polyface I was seven months pregnant. I didn't know our baby would be a Cecile (we waited to find out), but I remember knowing that someday I wanted to return to Polyface so our little lady or gent could meet all the characters on Joel Salatin's farm. Two years later, there we all were again with the ever-exuberant Mr. Salatin himself driving a tractor through his homestead with all three of us along for the ride. As with most experiences, Cecile started out cautiously--riding on our laps on the hayrides between stops, not daring to get too close to the animals. But by the end of the day she was insisting on having her own seat on the hay, and wanted more than ever to get down to walk with the cows. 
^^She FINALLY fits into her little rain boots :) Oh, and stickers are a big thing for her right now, if you couldn't already tell from the assortment stuck to her legs.^^
Our "lunatic farmer" steered his tractor up and through the hills of Polyface and around a few "gobble-dee-goes" (mobile turkey roosts). We stopped at one of many "egg-mobiles" (a home for pastured chickens). Just as on our last visit, guests were invited to hop off the tractor and say hello. Most children were delighted at such an invitation. Swarms of kids were chasing chickens, sitting on the steps of their mobile roost. Some even picked a hen or two up. Our Cecile, on the other hand, insisted on being held. She instructed us--"This way!" with pointing fingers--to get her as close to the chickens as possible without letting us set her down. She sure was fascinated and curious, but exercised caution. There is no doubt she's her father's daughter, folks.
^^Look at that wary look!^^
I'm always amazed at the long leash Salatin grants his visitors. We're so lucky to have a farmer in our community that invites--if not encourages--people to get down and dirty with the livestock. Not one of his animals is treated with antibiotics, and each and every chicken, goose, turkey, cow--you name it--is raised with the proper amount of pasture, leaving little room for mass infection, he says. He has years of research and experience under his belt and preaches farming that mimics each animal's natural processes. Cows "mow" the grass (a.k.a., in Salatin language, the "salad bar"), chickens follow the cows, etc., etc. It's all very cool to see in person.
^^A gooble-dee-go.^^
^^Cecile throwing another suspicious look over her shoulder as we pass another "egg-mobile."^^
About an hour into the nearly three-hour tour, we arrived at the pastured boilers, which are rectangular, floorless "field shelters" that house about 75 eight-week-old chickens. These birds get sunshine, fresh air, and are able to scratch through the very fields the cows have just "mowed"--all in the comfort of their spacious mobile homes that offer protection from predators. Now this was something Cecile really dug. She loved peeking through the chicken wire, calling to the young hens while Salatin continued to deliver his philosophy on re-localization. 
This was my third Lunatic Tour, and each time I've visited Polyface there seem to be more and more children around. It's a really neat thing to witness. While there's little doubt these kids will remember Salatin's exact message, I'm sure chasing chickens and walking with mobs of cows--real, pastured cows! eating grass!--is bound to make a lasting memory. 
 ^^Cecile up on the hay, testing the limits of her balance. What a goon.^^
Honestly, I can't help but look through these pictures and think this is just the way farming should be. End of story. I'm a romantic, sure; but Salatin proves his model works. As far as our little family goes, my hope is that with enough family road trips to Swoope, Va., and other Salatin-similar farms, over the years our kids develop a real awareness about sustainable agriculture. As we hear again and again, we all should be agents of change, after all.

On that, there have been some interesting reads I've come across lately: one in yesterday's WaPo Food Section, one over at Slate, and two--one (which mentions an old prof of mine! hey, Kloor!) and two--by the New Yorker. But mostly, it was this one (also WaPo) that really gave me the creeps. Just in case you're hungry (ha) for more food/cooking/agriculture-related discussion ;) ;)
Thanks for the warm welcome, Joel. We'll be back again in a few years. Your farm is gorgeous.

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