Thursday, April 23, 2009

Polyface Farms: An Example to be followed

After reading the section pertaining to Polyface Farms in the Omnivore’s Dilemma I was very interested in what Joel Salatin was doing and the success he was having from his farming methods. I thought his use of very simple observations that lead to very good solutions of larger problems was truly brilliant. This is what the industry needs, proven simple methods that deal with waste and use the land to its fullest without abusing it. The idea of using nature as a measure came up in class discussion and Polyface is doing just that. By understanding the dynamics of all levels of food production allows Joel to be very productive without having to use non-organic fertilizers to replenish because he understands the limits of the land. He uses the grass as a measure of when to rotate livestock something that is learned after observing what he considers the most important commodity on is farm. His ideas on framing and livestock rotation are something that the whole industry of food production really needs to look into because out of all of our readings his is the only one that seems to be sustainable. To me this is very alarming because that means that we are damaging the environment with easily solved problems like over grazing and a general lack of care for the environment. But how can we take a working small model and create a large one that meets our needs. This is where problems arise.
This type of farming is very practical currently because there is a demand for “organic” products beef being one of them. But how practical could it be on a larger scale? Right now Polyface is part of the niche market of grass-fed and organic products and the higher prices that people are willing to pay for this more sustainable food allows Polyface to work. But the problem lies in price. People that are trying to be more conscious of their food decisions buy better quality organic products most of time but what about the greater population? Unfortunately the greater population is driven by price. In order to drive down price in markets like these most scale their farms up but will that work with the Polyface model. The answer is unclear but it needs to be carefully managed. The current system of beef production is one that lacks management it is a very “hands off” process allowing the high monetary return for the least amount of input. One problem that a large scale Polyface like farm would face is land requirements. The required amount of land for proper rotation is far greater than that of the current system of feedlots where grain is fed to cattle in confined areas. To keep up with the current input to a modern slaughter houses Joel would have to produce have 30 times the amount of cattle and that would only fill the slaughter house for a couple of days. Right now Joel operates on only 400 acres to do his rotational cycle a large scale scenario would require land that just isn’t available. It would be great to have this happen on a large scale it just isn’t practical for our current beef consumption patterns.
After looking at the possible scenarios it becomes very clear that our meat consumption is doing much more harm than good and that there might not be a sustainable way to eat this much meat. Polyface Farm was built around the idea that sustainability is the best way to be productive meaning you have to give as much as you take. If we want to make our food better as well as maintain our environment we need to be more conscious of our actions. A task such as this one is quite difficult. But if we just altered our eating habits slightly we could have a profound effect on how things are produced but until that majority of the population sees the need to change than we’ll continue to practice damaging and unsustainable practices.

Pollan, Michael. The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Penguin Book, England. 2006.

1 comment:

  1. Upon reading the section in The Omnivore's Dielmma by Michael Pollan, about Joel Salatin's Polyface Farm, was struck by the simplicity of the model and how effective it was at organizing human agriculture around the capabilities of nature. I also wondered about the feasibility of scaling the model up, either by replicating the same size farm many many times, or by expanding the sizes of each section to spread out over a larger land.
    The first thing that I thought about was the idea that it is not only the farm system that would need to change but our entire society would have to make changes. If say for example it was decided that we should replicate this style and size of farm over and over again on many different plots of land, the first thing we would need more farmers in America. Right now farming is done with large pieces of equipment that allow a single farmer to cultivate many thousands of acres of land a year. The system is also setup so that one farmer will do all the corn growing and another will do all the beef growing. More farmers in America would require a reversal of the past 100 years, where the number of people farming has fallen steadily. Since the Industrial Revolution, more people have taken to non farming enterprises as the area where they are employed. If we as a society wanted to farm in an environmentally friendly and sustainable way, we would need to reverse this trend. This would require sacrifices to be made in other sectors of the economy, and farming in an environmentally friendly way would require a general restructuring of society as a whole.
    While certainly difficult, a generation that feels compelled to be more sustainable, would be able to begin the slow transformation from what our society looks like now, to one that is more sustainable and environmentally friendly. If anything this transformation has already started to take place, with people like Joel Salatin, and others, who are promoting and living environmentally friendly and sustainable lives. The question is, what could this new future look like?