The Essence Of Human Spirit: Talking Backyard Farming With Joel Salatin

Hiland Naturals is committed to providing GMO-free feed to the masses, and we’re very proud to be a Non GMO Project verified brand, but not everyone feels the same way we do about GMOs. We wanted to hear from someone who really understands the debate from every angle, so we looked to a living, breathing example of successful sustainable farming in the United States—Polyface Farms.

The “farm of many faces” operated by the Salatin family, at the head of which sits third generation alternative farmer, Joel. He’s a highly-sought after speaker because of his deep insight and impassioned prose and the perfect person to weigh in on the GMO debate.

This is the third and final installment in a three-part series where Joel talks to Hiland Naturals about everything from his feelings on GMOs to the effects of a backyard farm on family. Because Hiland Naturals caters to people believe in the backyard farm, eating organic, and staying accountable for their own food choices, we wanted to see what Joel had to say about the impact of the backyard farm on families. This is what he had to say:

I think that it’s important to viscerally participate in our ecological umbilicals. No society has ever been so profoundly disconnected from the mystical circle of life—life, death, decomposition, regeneration—this is a cycle that’s been going on for a long, long time.

When people become profoundly removed from that, they start lacking a lot of common sense, and you start seeing all sorts of crazy thinking. And of course Disney hasn’t helped with the Bambi-izing and Thumper-izing of our culture. You start getting all sorts of funny ideas: my dog is my aunt is my cat is my child. There’s all sorts of weird kinds of stuff that comes from that. Having animals, having a backyard farm helps to ground you in the cornerstones of life, the foundations of life, and the fact that you have to have death and sacrifice to have life. It doesn’t matter if it’s a carrot or a chicken—something has to die in order for something else to live. That’s the way a compost compile pile works: things are dying and what’s living on them are decomposing, and when those things die, they release their minerals to the soil, and it’s all this amazing thing. Everything is eating and being eaten. Everything’ living and dying. This is the great cycle of life.

Another thing that I think is really important for the backyard farm is simply to be needed by life. Many people today suffer from a lack of being needed, a lack of really waking up in the morning and saying, “If I don’t get up today, does it make any difference?” This is why all the health studies show that a person with a pet has a better outlook on life… why? Because they’ve got to get up to feed the cat, to feed the dog. The farm takes that to a new level. You’ve got to get up to weed the carrots, to water the chickens. That very primal desire to be needed is really the essence of the human spirit. We all want to be needed. I think the backyard farm gives you a reason to be needed and the privilege—the distinct privilege—of participating in this great choreography of life.

I can assure you that a child that grows up knowing how to plant a tomato and bring it to its full tomato-ness or take care of a flock of chickens and gather eggs will have a tremendous amount of self-affirmation about their own personhood and their own place on the planet by partaking in those types of things instead of being the top points-getting in Angry Birds.

We then asked Joel what his best piece of advice for the wanna-be backyard farmer who, although they might want to farm, don’t think that growing and raising organic, GMO-free food is realistic for their lifestyle. This is his advice to you:

I think the first thing to realize is that what may seem intimidating today becomes real easy in a year. We don’t become skillful at anything quickly. I tell this story:

Imagine a family gathering at Thanksgiving. The family is together and the newest niece, little Amy Sue, she’s eight months, and she’s crawling around on the floor and the adults are talking. Suddenly little Amy Sue grabs a chair leg and pulls herself up for the first time. Probably her mom is the one who sees her first and she exclaims, “Look! Look! There’s Amy Sue! She’s climbing up on the chair for the first time.” Suddenly Amy Sue becomes the center of attention and all the adults look at her and she realizes that she’s the center of attention. First she’s terrified, then she turns into a ham and begins to smile. She loses her focus and her grip and her attention and, plop, down she goes on her diaper. Well what happens? Do all the adults the suddenly get up and surround her and point fingers and accuse her and say, “Well, Amy Sue, if you can’t walk any better than that just quit!” No, of course they don’t! They say, “Try again!” and they help her and they are encouraging.

As we come into adulthood we lose this sense of transparency and openness among ourselves, and we suddenly become jaded, or timid, or stigmatized for trying something new less we fail. I’d just say look, if doing something new that’s kind of intimidating to you, if that scares you, go into your bathroom, look in your mirror, pull up your diapers and promise me you’ll say, “You know what, if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing poorly… first.”

We come into adulthood with this matriarchal or patriarchal thing in our heads, if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right—well that’s wrong. Actually, if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing poorly first because we don’t walk well, we don’t talk well, we don’t write well, we don’t do any of that stuff well at the beginning. Life is made up of doing things poorly first.

If you’re afraid, just remember that all of life is made up of doing things poorly first, and yet, progress is made by doing things poorly first. If it’s something that you believe should be done, whether it’s canning your own food, growing your own food, finding your farmer, selling something that you have grown—whatever it may be that’s pushing you—just remember that all gain starts with disturbance. All gain starts with some disruption in our life. All progress requires us doing things poorly first before we become skilled at them.

There you have it! If you have any questions or concerns about starting your own backyard farm, Hiland Naturals is here to help. Look to the different resources we have available to assist you in getting off on the right foot.

If you missed the first two installments of our chat with Joel Salatin, be sure to read part one and part two!

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