By Rob Roper
Joel Salatin rocked the crowd as the keynote speaker at the Vermont “Freedom & Unity” Festival at Magic Mountain on August 17. The organizers, Vermonters for Liberty, couldn’t have picked a more perfect fit for the theme of the event as Salatin, a cult figure for both libertarians and typically liberal organic farmers/foodies, has a unique ability to unite and inspire progressives and conservatives around the idea of liberty.
Most people discover Joel Salatin (if they have had the pleasure of discovering him) through Michal Pollan’s blockbuster book, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” in which the author devotes the entire section on small-scale organic agriculture to the Virginia farmer and his innovative, highly successful practices.
Salatin’s Polyface Farm is all about reclaiming the land, bio-diversity, and sustainability. He is so committed to the “local” ethos that he enforces “buy local” by only “selling local.” In fact, Pollan notes that Salatin refused to mail any products to Pollan even for purposes of researching the book. If the author wanted any of Salatin’s famous grass fed beef, he’d had to travel Virginia to get it.
The leftward leaning folks in the audience love it, as well as the results Salatin gets, such as better food, healthier land, and stronger local communities. But it is important to understand the guiding principles and personal governing philosophy that deliver these results. Joel Salatin is a pro-family, home-schooling, Christian, libertarian to the core. He and his family have achieved what many perceive as a liberal, organic ideal in spite of, not because of, government. And Salatin has no problem saying so.
“Every time we have a problem, when we ask for a remedy from the government, we’re showing an incredibly uncreative mindset,” says Salatin. He describes the damage government interference has on the marketplace – any marketplace, not just food — as a “tragedy and evil.” The world government meddling gives us is one in which, for example, “It is now officially safe to feed your kids Cocoa Puffs, Count Chocula, Mountain Dew, and Twizzlers, but it is criminal and hazardous and unsafe to feed them raw milk, aunt Matilda’s homemade pickles, and grandma’s compost grown tomatoes!”
The progressives in the audience cheered right along side the Tea Partiers.
Though he didn’t say it in the same words, Salatin’s speech embodied Ronald Reagan’s famous line about government not being the solution to our problem; government is the problem. “Look at what happened when government decided to tell us what to eat with the food pyramid,” Salatin said. “1979, right? The food pyramid comes out, carbohydrates on the bottom. Twinkies, Cocoa Puffs and Mountain Dew on the bottom, that’s all the grains. And suddenly we’ve got type 2 diabetes, and obesity, and these are epidemic in our culture, and you can trace it directly to the USDA telling us what to eat…. And now,” pointing out the supreme irony here, “we’re telling [the same government] that we want you to be responsible for our health!”
The hippies and the Republicans laughed out loud together.
Salatin detailed how it is intrusive, oppressive and downright foolish government regulation that keeps the cost of healthy food like his so high, when it should be cheaper than processed food. He illustrated how government food safety regulations aren’t about safety at all, but rather about providing a protective shield for the less healthy practices of large, politically connected companies. He gave examples of how government mandates kill small, upstart entrepreneurs and prevent better products and solutions from coming to market. He demonstrated how the web of agencies and regulations hurt the poor and actually create “food deserts” by making it illegal for poor, urban folks to grow food on vacant lots, prepare it, and sell it to neighbors. “So what we have is all the liberals running around trying to figure out how to food bank these people into food security when the food security is right under their nose, but their own regulations deny people the freedom to access the abundance that the earth wants them to have!”
We so often hear people on both sides of the political aisle bemoan the fact that the two sides won’t come together, they can’t anything done, and, even if they did, neither side is offering any real ideas worth doing. Joel Salatin is showing us a way out of that quagmire, and his message and methods are particularly suitable to Vermont. This is a place where practically everybody, regardless of political affiliation, values small and local. This is the vision that unifies us. Salatin shows us how to get there. If you want small farms, small schools, small businesses, small communities, with strong local economies, local decision-making and local culture, big government centralized in far away Washington or Montpelier is not the answer. It’s the problem.