by Leah Kelley
“The best thing you can do to reduce food cost is to buy whole food,” said Joel Salatin during a talk at PACE Academy in Atlanta last month. Salatin, as he usually does, was challenging the idea that healthy food has to be expensive.
If you’re not yet familiar with “America’s most famous farmer,” he’s the owner of Polyface Farms in Virginia, the author of You Can Farm, and several other food system books. Not only do his views on the food system mirror mine, and many of FoodCorps’ principles as well, but Salatin has been a personal source of inspiration.
As I began my journey to become a youth gardening educator, I knew that I wanted to share the joy of nature and growing food with the future generation, and this was fueled by my faith in God and a desire to respect and honor His creation. I often felt alone in connecting my faith with sustainable agriculture–until I heard about Salatin.
When I heard Salatin him speak, he’d just spent his day the same way a FoodCorps service member might: teaching students to recognize different vegetables and getting them excited about growing food. Now speaking to adults, his words were carefully crafted and convicting. Salatin began by highlighting pop-culture orthodoxy, humbling us with the archaic memories of when humankind thought that the earth was flat and baby formula was superior to breastfeeding.
“100 years from now, what will make our grandchildren look back and say ‘how could they have done _______?’” he asked us.
There are many ways to finish the sentence. ‘How could they have let us eat this?’, or ‘How could they have degraded so much land?’ Part of the orthodoxy getting us there can be summarized in a sentence like ‘How could they have thought we can’t feed the world with regenerative farming.’
Salatin continued challenging modern orthodoxies by stating that today, many people believe food should be cheap, which is how we’ve ended up with a culture that devalues food. For example, we spend about 10% of our income on food now, compared to 20% in the 1920s.
When I am reminded of similar statistics and orthodoxies, or when I am watching a documentary or reading an article about change, I begin to feel bogged down by the amount of work to be done to improve. When I read part of Salatin’s book Everything I Want To Do is Illegal, I had to put the book down to meditate on how much needs to change to make starting a small farm or selling raw milk doable or even legal. Thankfully, in both his books and his speeches, Salatin urges us to notice that innovation sticks out: “Society is only as successful as its nurturing of the lunatic fringe.”
Salatin explores the idea of success when he speaks of the common thought that “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well,” stating that instead, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing poorly to start out.” Without starting somewhere, we’ll never get better. There will be many days where the overwhelming orthodoxy of fried factory-farmed chicken and dull GMO tomatoes seems to stand tall, but I urge you to trust that one day, we will overcome and make this change. Not all at once, not without hard work, but through unity, compassion, humility, and strength.
Well FoodCorps, if we are together a part of that lunatic fringe striving for societal success by challenging food orthodoxies (with humility of course), we are a pretty powerful fringe. It is orthodoxies such as these that I believe we can impact through our work with FoodCorps. Each time I do a taste test, I ask the students to repeat the cooking technique, and each time a kid gets a chance to cook, it empowers them to do so at home. About 200 members strong, we can make a change. This is why I’m so thankful for Georgia Organics, who look at the global situation and act locally, to ask for 100 organic farms in Georgia. I’m honored to be supported by them, as well as Captain Planet Foundation and the whole FoodCorps network in my service.
After the seminar, I patiently waited to thank Salatin, present him with a FoodCorps (rooting for carrots) carrot pin, and to ask him my most pressing question, “Have you ever thought about writing a book about how your Christian faith has impacted your farming?” I never expected his response, “Yes, it’s coming out April 1st, and it’s titled Pigness of Pig.” Be on the lookout! Joel Salatin patted me on the shoulder and said, “Good work, keep it up.” I’d like to extend his encouragement to all of the youth gardening educators of the world. Your work is important, keep it up!