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Joel Salatin reflects on city life, kitchen time and the Grand Rapids chicken fight

Salatin, "America's most influential farmer," addresses Rapidian-specific questions about food and farming.
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Companion article

Salatin dances with dinner, urges others to do the same covers Salatin's presentation at Calvin College's January Series.

While Joel Salatin was in town for a presentation at Calvin College's January Series, he also stopped in to Nourish Organic Market for a booksigning event for his new book Folks, This Ain't Normal and various other books that he has published previously. While there, Salatin was generous enough to let The Rapidian squeeze in some questions with him that our readers in the city would have about how they can become involved in the sustainable farming movement while living in the city.

The Rapidian:  For our city dwellers that don't have access to land, not even a little corner of a yard or a small garden, and have very busy lives, what would you tell them are the three "most bang for your buck" things to do in regards to food?

Joel Salatin:  "Well! If you don't live in the city, what do you have to do? You don't have chores. You don't have to buy fences; you don't have to buy feed; you don't have to buy tractors… you don't have anything to buy and you don't have anything to do! This is all in jest, of course, but that's the way we [the farmers] look at it. 

"The first thing you have to do is get in your kitchen. Get in your kitchen and get jazzed up about learning and cultivating domestic culinary arts. The number one thing you can do to quit patronizing all of the big food conglomerates is this: They all sell processed food. If you process it, preserve it, package it, prepare it yourself? That's 90% of the battle right there, because you're going to raw. You're also eliminating the packaging problems, and all these kinds of things: nutritional problems, unpronounceable food problems, msg problems… all of those things. Get in your kitchen. That's number one.

"Number two, take your recreational budget, both time and money. Take one year, and take your recreational entertainment budget to be spent on sleuthing your food and farm treasures in your area. It might be a place like [Nourish Organic Market]. It might be a restaurant like [the one that] is starting down the street. It might be visiting your farmer's market. It might be visiting 12 farms in the area. The fact is, every single area has what I call 'food source treasures.' They're not well-publicized. Many of them are struggling to make a profit. 

"You be the catalyst. You be the patron that says, 'We're gonna help these struggling fledgling integrity-deep businesses. Whether it's a farm, a retail business, a CSA, a metropolitan buying club, farmer's market…whatever it is, we're gonna help them thrive.' You don't have to go to Disneyworld; you don't have to go to the Carribean; you don't have to buy hundred dollar designer jeans with the holes already in the knees, okay? You don't have to do all that.

"And then finally… You know, that's two, and once those two are done, everything else just falls into place."

TR:  For our urban homesteaders, we recently had a "chicken fight" here in Grand Rapids. Our city commissioners voted against allowing residents to keep four chickens (and no roosters) for eggs in their yards. Do you have any thoughts to reassure our commissioners that have a concern about the nuisance that may cause?

JS:  "No roosters? Well, chickens are way quieter than dogs. And they make a lot less poop, and they eat a lot less. It takes eleven chickens to generate the amount of manure that one dog can make. And chickens will eat all of your kitchen scraps. So rather than being a nuisance, they're actually one of the most ecologically friendly things that you can do to take care of a lot of things with one thing. You reduce compostable scraps to the landfill. You reduce the diesel fuel to haul it there. You recycle it onsite. And you get eggs from the kitchen scraps. You know, what is there not to love?"

Salatin is a third-generation agrarian on Polyface Farms and lecturer and author on sustainable farming needs and the changes that he sees are needed in our food system.

While at Nourish, many other visitors made comments about the inspiration that Salatin has been to them. Explaining his life before becoming a farmer, he talked about the ways he spent his time in his youth.

"I know I've been very gifted and I don't take any credit it for it. It's just a gift. I'm so glad that I spent my high school and college years debating and doing drama and theatre and forensics and poetry and public speaking. I like sports, but I'm glad I didn't do that-this has prepared me to be the 'stump guy.'"

He continued, "We've been at it a long time, and you know we didn't aspire to this by any means, but I'm kind of a spokesman for the farmers. They've got academics that say, you know, you should do this and this and this, but I'm the guy -I'm the farmer, the one that represents them."

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Thanks for this great interview Holly, inspiring!

I take no credit-just took down what he was saying... thank goodness for smartphones with audio recorder apps...