A Sustainable Vision
Nestled in the rolling grassland and forests of the Shenandoah Valley, Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm practices what he likes to call “artisanal poultry production.” On his 100-acre farm, he raises 15,000 broiler chickens, 2000 layer hens, and 1000 turkeys. The birds are fed organic grain and raised in wood frame cages covered with chicken wire mesh. These shelters, moved daily to virgin grass, are open to the air and partially covered with aluminum roofing to protect the chickens from rain and bad weather.
Salatin embraces an ethos almost diametrically opposed to that of industrial operations. In his view, the farmer has an inherent interest in the health and welfare of the chickens. He feels that the highest level of accountability comes when the chain from farm to plate is the shortest. In keeping with that, he slaughters the chickens himself, selling the majority on-farm; a few are shipped to local restaurants. The result? An active, healthy chicken with a taste far superior to those he finds in local markets, even organic ones.
“We try,” he says, “to fully allow the bird to express its bird-ness; the chicken, its chicken-ness.” He opposes the industrial chicken business because, simply put, it violates the central tenets of his philosophy. In his view, it “takes a person who thinks and cares” to properly raise a bird.
Salatin’s birds are not marketed as organic -- though he is organic in practice and in spirit -- in large part because he is opposed to what he calls the “bureaucratization, the Wall Street-ization” of the organic and free range poultry industry. To illustrate his point, he relates an interesting anecdote.