Sustainable Farming with Joel Salatin
 by Patrice Lewis

If you’ve ever wondered how to make a living from a homestead, there’s a man who can tell you about the sustainable farming methods that can make your dream a reality. 

Joel Salatin is that man. His family owns Polyface Farm in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

Homesteading is – or should be – something like a closed circle. Everything supports and contributes to the success of everything else, looped in an endless cycle of healthy natural feedback.

The result is a variety of different products – meat, eggs, fruits, vegetables – which the farmer can sell to earn income, all while making sure the land is nourished and protected.

Salatin does this by following the cycles of nature, both in plant growth and in animal behavior.

Implementing Sustainable Farming to Make a Living on the Homestead

Joel operates his “beyond organic” operation by employing radical principles: Rather than fighting nature, he works in conjunction with nature. (Radical, no?)

His success proves small farmers can use holistic management techniques that fly in the face of agri-business practices and even surpass the governmental “organic” certification (which Salatin dismisses as little more than bureaucratic paperwork but does little to help nature).

Salatin is an agrarian gladiator who enjoys sharing his expertise. But watch out: the man brooks no tolerance for conventional agricultural “wisdom.”

Instead, he’s here to show small farmers how to make a profit from their land while maintaining healthy, sustainable practices.

Cows graze on grass, grouped in herds as instinct demands. They are moved to fresh forage daily so they don’t graze in their own waste.

Behind them comes “eggmobiles” – floorless chicken tractors which allow free-range meat birds to scratch up the cow droppings, eat bugs, and sanitize the grass, just as birds do in nature.

Pigs forage on pasture in summer, but during winter they bed down in “pigaerators,” which oxygenates the winter waste products of the cattle.

The resulting compost is the backbone of the farm’s fertility program. “We’re really in the earthworm enhancement business,” says Salatin. “Stimulating soil biota is our first priority. Soil health creates healthy food.”

Joel Salatin’s Tips for Sustainable Farming on the Homestead

Joel Salatin spoke at the 2019 Homesteaders of America conference on the sustainable farming methods that have made his farm successful. He shared a wealth of knowledge and tips for homesteaders who are seeking to have their farms turn a profit.

In this excerpt of clips from the lecture you’ll glean wisdom that will help you get your farm started on the right foot!

The full lecture is available for viewing in the Homesteaders of America VIP Member Library! Become an HOA VIP Member and get access to ALL of the available conference lectures (over 55+ hours in all!) from homesteading experts and educators across the country!


Going into Debt To Start Your Farm

“Debt should only be used to leverage income. I’m not as quite a pariah on debt as much as Dave Ramsey but I do believe there are places for debt. Debt is ok to use if it’s actually going to generate income and it’s going to return an investment.”

Gaining Experience on the Farm: You Can’t Google It

“You can’t Google experience. A lot of people say, “Why did you become successful?” Well I think the best answer is we were just too stubborn to quit. Perseverance brings you to mastery. If you’re familiar with the Peter Drucher Learning Curve, you enter an enterprise and say, “Let’s try this.” You enter at this point [raises hand high]… well it gets worse [drops hand down to demonstrate going down a curve] because you make mistakes, you’re trying something new. That’s called the Slough of Despond down in here. And that is usually 3-5 years before you come back in to where you entered. And then it goes way up here as you develop mastery [raises hand above the beginning level]. The problem is, that 3-5 years, most people quit, right in the bottom of the trough. Right when it’s ready to turn back up and you start making headway, that’s when everybody quits. So, persevere. When people ask me, “What’s your single biggest advice for a person starting out?” my advice is, “Don’t quit! Because it’s darkest right before the dawn and you’re going to get tired right before you have the breakthrough.” “

Focusing on Form or Function? Does the appearance of a farm really matter? 

“Don’t get so caught up in what things look like. Think about function first. And if I may go where angels fear to tread, I would include in this: Breeds. When you start out, you’re not going to get the picture perfect bull or the picture perfect cow or goat or whatever it is. This is one of the problems with heritage breeds. “Oh! I want this cute little animal!” And people get all fired up about these cute little things. So what we have are Scottish Highlander cattle in Alabama cause they’re cute. Scottish Highlander cattle don’t work in Alabama. They’re uncomfortable, they’re unhappy, they’re burning up. If you want Scottish Highlander cattle, go live in Ontario but don’t live in Alabama. We get this idea of a look and it gets in the way of function and we try to force function into form instead of doing function first and working on form later.”

Sustainable Farming Infrastructure: Will it Make You or Break You? 

“If you’ve been to our place, man, it looks threadbare. Allan Nation always used to say that a profitable farmstead should have a threadbare look. If it’s got pretty white picket fences and everything is all done up just right, it’s probably what we call a “land yacht” instead of something that is actually  turning a profit.”

Mastering One Thing at a Time: Profitability Comes Before Expansion

“Before you build your menagerie because you read all this stuff and you have all these ideas,
“We oughta do this, we oughta do this, we oughta do this…” and what happens is we end up doing a lot of things halfway. 

My encouragement is to get one thing good at a time. 

Get one thing good at a time. Become a master of one thing. The menagerie will come later. You can have all the menagerie you want, but do one thing well. And once you’ve mastered one thing that will be profitable… and if you can’t do one thing profitably, trust me, you can’t do two things profitably…  So do one thing very well and that profitability and that efficiency will pay for and drive your trials and experiments in other things.”

Building a Local Economy: What REALLY Works

“We spend a lot of time spinning our wheels trying to develop complete independence when we’d actually do better at finding what we’re good at, spending more time there, mastering it, becoming efficient at it, and then taking the profit we’re able to get because we’re really good at this, and becoming mutually interdependent within the community and creating the economy. That’s what makes the local, rural economy work is different trades and gifts being traded back and forth.”

Being Strategic: Achieving Success at the Right Things

“The thing is there’s a lot of things we can do in life. Everybody has full calendars, we’ve got full schedules, lots of things to do. The question is at the end of our life do we look back and say, “Well, we were successful at the wrong things.” That’s a great tragedy. And so we want to be strategic, we want to be direct, we want to be specific about our activities and know that what we’re doing is the effective thing, the right thing, at the right time.”

Sustainable Farming with Joel Salatin