DRINKING 150 GALLONS OF WATER  A DAY

            The website Visual Capitalist carried a story recently forwarded to me by a wanna-be farmer titled "Next Generation Food Systems."  Although the article is a bit dated (2017) it's a perfect example of the pseudo-science used to promote vertical farming (soilless systems) and lab proteins (fake meat).  In the article, they call it "in vitro" meat.

             This crowd keeps repeating the silliest statistic in the world:  each pound of beef takes 1,847 gallons of water.  Most people don't realize that this figure includes the water used in mining the steel to make the tractor to plant the corn to feed the cow.  They think this is what a cow drinks in a lifetime.  Grass-finished changes everything.

             The misleading data plus the duplicitous consumer make for incredibly misinformed, foolish decisions.  Let's assume a beef animal lives for 3 years prior to slaughter.  That's 1,095 days.  Each animal yields about 400 pounds of edible beef.

If we multiply that by the alleged 1,847 gallons of water per pound, that's 738,800 gallons of water in a lifetime, or 674 gallons per day.  If the average weight of the animal over its 3 years is about 674 pounds, that's a gallon per pound per day.

             An equivalent consumption for a person would be a gallon per pound per day; a 150 pound person would drink 150 gallons per day.

             Interestingly, the fake meat crowd does not include the same steel to make the tractor to plant the soybeans when they compare the two systems.  And they don't compare quality of protein to quality of protein.

             In my debate a couple of weeks ago with John Mackey, he admitted that nothing but meat would give the complete protein profile needed by the human body, but quipped "that's why you take a pill."  Now I want you to think about that.  Here's the founder of Whole Foods--whole foods, get it?--and advocate of whole foods--you know, whole foods, like apples, like T-bone steak, like eggs.  Whole foods.  Get it? 

             Here he is brushing off the efficacy of whole foods in favor of a pill.  If that isn't the height of hypocrisy I don't know what is.  "Hello, folks, I'm here to advocate for whole foods.  In fact, I named my business Whole Foods.  I believe in whole foods, okay?  But  you shouldn't buy the beef I sell; you should take a pill instead." 

             Truth is stranger than fiction, folks.  You can't make this stuff up.  Of course, the anti-meat crowd does not appreciate the hydration capacity of herbivore-enhanced and pruned perennial forages.  True, most domestic livestock is raised atrociously, but that is no reason to assume it all has to be raised that way, or that some folks are able to raise beef that gives back more water than it takes.

             So next time you see this thing about a pound of beef requiring 1,847 gallons of water, ask the person brainlessly repeating the number:  "do you know any mammal, including humans, who could drink a gallon of water per pound of body weight every day?"  Once you get them to appreciate the silliness of the data point, then you can zero in on what's included, if it's fair, and if it has to be.  Then you can have a discussion.  But too many sheeple are following this foolishness into what they think is a noble future and they're going to end up with compromised wellness (also known as sickness).  All in the name of doing good.  All while listening to subjective science.

             What's a better name for this stuff than "Fake Meat?"

 SOY-FREE CHICKEN

            This week we processed our first batch of soy-free chicken.  One thing about small business is that it usually is more responsive to market requests.  This one has been brewing for some time and we're finally glad to offer a soy-free option.

             More and more people are hyper-sensitive to soy anything.  And some folks think it has estrogens that are detrimental.  Here at Polyface, we have always used the full soybean, not pieces.  Most soy used in feed stocks is just the dry meal, with all the oils and fats stripped out.  We believe whole foods behave differently than pieces, but still appreciate customer concerns.

             A two-year study commissioned by the American Pastured Poultry Producers Association on the estrogen issue revealed that the highest amounts were in pastured chickens allowed to eat clover.  Anyone who has raised a chicken on pasture knows that clover is the chickens' number one forage.  To exclude clover is intuitively insane and here at Polyface would require not allowing chickens to be on pasture at all since our clover ratios are so high.

             But soy as allergen is a relatively new issue.  Nearly all folks who have this seem to get along fine with our chicken, perhaps because the birds do eat so much clover and grass that it detoxifies anything--chlorophyll is nature's number one toxin cleanser.  But occasionally someone will still react to our chicken and of course, some folks don't even want to flirt with the issue.  So here's an answer.

             One of the big problems is substituting a high protein for the soybean.  The birds need protein and can't develop properly with just starch--kind of like human omnivores.  Fortunately, smarter people than us have wrestled with this issue for awhile and developed an alternative, but it takes three things to compensate:  flax seed oil, fish meal, and field peas.  Unfortunately, none of this comes from local sources like the soybeans, but that's the compromise to get the soy out.

             Our local soybeans are not genetically modified and are tested for toxin residue like herbicide and pesticide; they're really clean soybeans and I find it hard to demonize a whole food.  But allergens do exist, I think primarily because our food sources are imbalanced.  Australian Aborigines ate some 3,000 different things.  Native Americans had an equally wide array of dietary options.  Today, we moderns have narrowed down this diversity to about 20 things and that simplification no doubt adds to the allergen burden.

             Fortunately, pastured chickens get to eat bugs, a host of different forage components from grasses, to clovers to forbs and greatly complex their diet versus birds in factory confinement.  We can enjoy chicken with a much more diverse blend of diet than the industrial bird.  That comes at Polyface whether you're eating soy-free birds or our traditional soybean-protein bird.  It means that you get a much more diversified food base through our chicken than factory chicken, organic or otherwise (most organic is still factory housed and never sees outside).

             This offering is a test of the market.  We respond to patron chatter and the question is will this chatter turn into sales.  In order to offer a separate inventory item like this, we need enough sales to justify it.  If we only sell a couple hundred, it's not viable to maintain a separate freezer compartment, separate sales category and all the elements required in a separate item. 

             So now's the time to step up if the dear old soybean has been holding you back due to perceptions, allergens, or whatever.  We encourage you to try this bird and see how it speaks to your body.  Then tell us.  Thank you.

             Have you heard of the soy-free movement?

MCDONALD'S INCREASING

            I always laugh when people at a well-attended foodie event or sustainable agriculture conference ask if our side is winning.  I always say "when McDonald's goes bankrupt, you'll know we're winning."

             To illustrate just how far away we are from winning, McDonald's just announced that it plans to add 1,200 stores this year.  Did you get that number?  Should I say it again?  Say it slowly. 1,200.  That's right.  In fact, first quarter sales are up 5.7 percent compared to the same period last year.

             In these blogs, we talk about poisons, Monsanto, GMOs, Paleo, Weston A. Price Foundation,  Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund, growing soil, Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations--you get the drift.  By and large, none of these millions of McDonald's patrons has ever heard of any of these things, much less given them any thought.  We are a long way from winning.

             I'd like to have just one diner that served authentic food.  I feel like David Copperfield holding his little dish and in that quivering voice asking "More, sir?"

And the orthodox industrial food system bellows back:  "Did you hear him?  He wants more!"   I just want one.  Is that too much to ask? 

             I haven't stepped into a McDonald's in probably 40 years or more.  If everyone purchased food like me, they wouldn't even exist.  Can you imagine a world without McDonald's?  No Ronald.  No Happy Meals.  No golden arches.  In his iconic book FAST FOOD NATION, Eric Schlosser pegged McDonald's as the number one driver of the industrial food system and I believe he's right. 

             Just like my heart breaks for the abused land in orthodox farming, my heart breaks for all those abused children allowed to eat junk at McDonald's.  Amazing that we sue against bathroom access but not against parents who let their children eat McDonald's.  As Paul Harvey used to say:  "We worry about the wrong things, you know."

             My disdain of this American iconic eatery illustrates how out of step I am with mainstream America.  I'm so out of step I'm going backwards.  Where is the political candidate who will stand up and say "1,200 more McDonald's eateries are a blight, a scab on our national landscape?"  My heart breaks for a culture that is this profoundly out of touch with our ecological umbilical, the plight of factory farm animals, the destruction of our soils and water.

             What's the one thing McDonald's franchises are begging for?  A better chicken sandwich.  How about starting with an honest respected chicken?

             How long have you abstained from McDonald's?

PROTEIN

            Too many dietary and policy discussions center around calories.  We're not lacking calories.  For all the hoopla about food insecurity, we have more people overweight and suffering obesity problems than suffer from hunger.  In fact, if you actually visited the folks who are "food insecure" you'd be amazed how many are obese.  Getting enough calories is not a problem.

             Calories are cheap.  Starch, carbohydrates, and sugars are cheap.  Protein is expensive, especially good protein.  By far and away the most digestible complete protein is animal-based.  Only 13 of the essential 22 amino acids can be manufactured by our livers; the other 9 have to come from food.  Interestingly, according to  Professor Janelle Walter at Baylor University, "If you put a nut or legume with a grain product, they complement each other to give the body what it needs.  But you have to eat a heck of a lot of food if you get your protein from plants versus animal products.  Meat is just more efficient."

             A Wall Street Journal article examining this issue quotes her as advising "two meat patties the size of the palm of an average adult's hand are the right amount of protein to eat a day."  How's that for objective and definite?  I guess if your palms are really big, you need more.  I actually don't know if this is a standard agreed on by most dieticians, but it certainly is different than that proposed by the Eat Lancet and the anti-animal crowd, so I'll take it.

             She points out that anima-only protein would require a lot more food.  For example, just equally a 3 ounce piece of beef requires one and a half cups of rice and beans--that's a lot of rice and beans.  Talk about farts causing global warming.

             What's your favorite animal protein?

Polyface WhatsGood Introduction

            If you live or work in selected areas around Washington D.C. you're privileged because wellness food is on its way conveniently, economically, and authentically. 

             WhatsGood work wellness food program is coming to Arlington, Alexandria, Charlottesville, Harrisonburg and Richmond in partnership with Polyface Farms, America's premier pastured livestock farm located in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley.  Over the last 5 years, WhatsGood pioneered a brand new buyer-centric platform to source local integrity food hyper-conveniently.

             Teaming up with businesses committed to employee wellness, this farm-food-fork interface offers authentic vetted sourcing from a cadre of artisanal producers, circumventing the cost, opaqueness, and staleness of more orthodox interfaces.  Turning businesses and their teams into whole-outfit wellness investors patronizing nearby farms solves a multitude of frustrations and facilitates wins for all involved.

             Like other food craft farmers around the U.S., Polyface historically conceived and operated a farm-centric universe offering spokes of access out to customers. 

This has become less efficient.  With an inverted patron-centric approach, the customer is the hub and Polyface, along with complementary farmers, are the outside of the wheel.  Such a revolutionary model solves many direct marketing logistics issues.  WhatsGood innovations prototyped in Rhode Island with great success can now be enjoyed here in Virginia. 

             Polyface is giddy about teaming up with an outfit that brings unprecedented service experience to our table, for both producers and patrons.  People who have wrestled with the difficulty of participating in higher quality food sourced locally will find this new platform gratifying and affirming.  Employers desperate to help their team eat better will endear themselves to their staff and community.

             This is the first effort to duplicate WhatsGood's success in Rhode Island elsewhere.  Polyface is honored to guinea pig the arrangements and relationships that can replicate throughout the country.  Our shared success can catalyze perhaps thousands of additional farmers and integrity food buyers throughout America.  Bringing more nutrient dense, life-bursting, land healing, community-centric food to America's kitchens is a sacred mission worth our investment.

             Polyface Farm thanks you for being part of our health and foodscape solution.  We look forward to a long and rewarding relationship.  To support local producers like Polyface Farms in RI, Boston, and now VA, download the free WhatsGood app. Bring Wellness Food to your office by contacting Erin Tortora at 401-595-7516 or erin@sourcewhatsgood.com."

 

 

HOW NATURAL?

            We're in the throes of our Polyface Intensive Discovery Seminars which are 2-day, 6-meal dawn-to-dusk learning sessions here at Polyface.  We had our first cohort Monday and Tuesday, with 12 people from foreign countries.  Fascinating and wonderful group.

             One farmer was from Washington State, where elk have been encouraged by radical environmentalists for some time.  This farm raises grass-finished cattle; I've been there and they do a great job.  Their pastures are way better than average both in volume and quality.  So guess where the elk go?

             You got it.  The elk expense on this one farm is $60,000 per year.  This farmer could hardly say the word "elk" without spitting.  When I told her similar efforts in Virginia have germinated a relocated herd just 100 miles south of us, she said we'd better get busy right now and try to eliminate their spread because they will destroy a good farm.

             We know elk were here 500 years ago.  Repopulating their full range sounds sweet and innocent to many folks.  Unlike deer, they tear down electric fences and their size means they eat copious amounts of forage.  On our farm, we must harvest about 20 deer per year just to keep the population compatible.

             Elk are far bigger, more destructive, and some would argue, much easier domesticated.  Or at least, more willing to inject themselves closer into the human arena than a deer.  At any rate, this kind of real farmer assessment needs to be appreciated for its credibility and impact.

             Yes, there were elk here.  But cities weren't here.  Or Starbucks,  Or the mall, or roads or cars or computers.  My problem with the going back to pre-European crowd is that they're pretty selective about what we're going back to.  They drive their cars to a rally to repopulate the countryside with wolves or elk or whatever.

             The truth is that the nature of nature has changed.  The nature of our nature; the nature of our context is different.  A herd of 7 million bison tearing across the soccer field during a game would be pretty disruptive.  Certainly I want to be as natural as possible, but I also appreciate that you can't go back comprehensively.  We're not giving up our roads, phones, and electric lines.  We have to appreciate that some ancient things are compatible and some aren't. 

             I'll tell you what; how about we go back before the Internal Revenue Service?  That changed a lot of things, including the viability of an elk-populated farmscape.  Or if we bring back the elk, how about open season on hunting?  If you want them on your place, don't hunt them; feed them instead.  Fragile chicken shelters, electric fencing and a host of lightweight mobile infrastructure we use on our farm simply doesn't fit with all the nuances of a pre-modern era.  The problem is that many people who enjoy being labeled "naturalists" lobby for laws and policies and efforts that actually militate against pastured livestock viability.  Therein lies a great disconnect, and one I try to close every day.

             We all know things don't happen in isolation.  Something as ecology-altering as re-introducing elk has ramifications far more numerous than just elk.  We need to think about unintended consequences on both the biological and industrial side of the farming equation.

             Do you want to see elk in Virginia?

WE COULD BE AS BIG AS ELEPHANTS IF WE QUIT EATING MEAT

            I've been in a funk since last Friday, when I debated John Mackey at Freedom Fest in Las Vegas on the topic:  "EATING MEAT IS UNHEALTHY AND UNETHICAL."

             The  crowd, where Mackey (founder of Whole Foods) is a bit of an icon, took great umbrage that I would disparage Mackey as either a hypocrite, liar, or greedy for making millions of dollars selling meat that he said was unhealthy and unethical.  It would be like a casino owner later in life saying gambling was immoral--would you believe him?

             Mackey took it as a personal affront and many other folks did too.  Apparently the whole topic, telling me I want to hurt and kill people, is not a personal affront.  He kept shaking his head in disappointment about how sad I was to bring up the practical disparity:  "So sad, Joel, you're just so sad."   He defended himself by suggesting that his morality was big enough to embrace the topic but still sell poison to people.  I wish I could get a dab of that morality.

             Be that as it may, here is what came out of his side during the debate:

             1.  Lettuce is more nutrient dense than steak, by like 4 times.

             2.  Eating a pet cat is morally equivalent to a commercially-raised chicken--anyone who would eat a chicken would also eat a pet cat.

             3.  "Heavy meat diets" are identical to eating one bite of meat a year (the topic was quite simple, not making any qualifications for quantity, time, or place).

             4.  No difference exists, for health or ethics, between pasture-raised, GMO-free animals versus those raised with antibiotic stimulants and housed in concentrated animal feeding operations.

             5.  Most of the biggest and strongest beings on earth don't eat meat (elephants, gorillas, whales).  His point was that humans could be like that too if we ate like them. 

             6.  The resolution simply means we should think about what we're eating for lunch.  That's all.  No more, no less.

             At the beginning of the debate, 9 people in the crowd agreed with the resolution.  At the end, 17 people agreed so I was officially declared the loser.  Now I ask you, are these convincing arguments?  If I had not said a single word, would these arguments have changed your mind?  Do all of them have anything to do with the resolution? 

 

            I've been in a funk.   Given the simple resolution:  "Eating meat is unhealthy and unethical" would these arguments convince you to agree? 

SOCIAL MEDIA BLUES

            May I have a moment to rant about social media?  Those of you who follow this blog know that Polyface is trialing an idea with Tai Lopez, entrepreneurial guru to millenials.  His brand is being worked out, but the working idea right now is Farmers' Box and the plan is to create a multi-product, multi-farm direct sales platform to circumvent supermarkets so the efficiency savings can go to farmers rather than warehouses.

             In its discomfiting infant stage, of course, any embryonic entrepreneurial endeavor is rife with land mines.  So we're poking around this beast a little at a time.  Last week, one of our interns came to us with the revelation that Farmers' Box had posted a picture of me standing with a flock of chickens with the caption:  "Joel Salatin doesn't feed any grain to any of his animals."

            Nothing could be further from the truth.  While it's true that our cattle (herbivores) receive no grain, our omnivores (pigs and chickens) certainly do.  Local GMO-free, to be sure, but grain nonetheless.  They can't live on grass alone.

             After a couple of days in a flurry of sleuthing, we learned that this is a complete imposter.  Someone hijacked the  appearance of the website, glummed onto it as a "Tai affiliate" and began putting feloniously dishonest things out there.

             In fact, it links directly to Tai's talks and gives all appearances of being his site.  A couple of years ago we had somebody do the same thing to our Polyface website.  And then somebody did the same thing to me, creating social media accounts as if it were me and posting all sorts of crazy stuff.  The irony of all this is that these are not enemies trying to sabotage; they are genuine well-meaning millenials who are just so excited and passionate and oh my, this is so cool, like it's awesome, like let's tell the world, OMG!!!!!!!!!!!!!

             People wonder why I'm such a fuddy duddy that I don't have a smart phone; my brand new flip phone goes 3 days on a charge and works very well--AS A FLIPPIN' PHONE!  My takeaway from this latest fiasco is this:

             1.  Social media has no class.  In general, it's a frenzy to barbarism.

             2.  Half of what you see on the internet is false.  It's so hard to verify and so easy to lie, cheat, and steal, it's just not a good source of much of anything.

             3.  I will continue to embargo my personal access to Facebook, Instagram, Linked-in or any of the other things people are always soliciting "friendship" with me.  No, I'll be a caveman first.  If that keeps me from being popular, so be it.  At least my ideas will be original.

             4.  Credibility is hard to create and easy to lose--that's always been the case, but the turn-around seems unusually fast these days.

             5.  Visit the freakin' farm.  It's so easy to spout foolishness.  The ease of communication is creating a brand new imperative to invest in personal sleuthing.  Whatever we gained by networking we're losing by the ease of untruth.  So we haven't gained any efficiency; we've just moved our interactions from slow and personal to slow and verifiable. 

             Is all this what we call progress?

FUNNY FAMILY

              This past weekend here at Polyface we hosted a family reunion on the Salatin side, instigated by my Mom's 95th birthday last December.  These were all my first cousins and their families.  My mom is the last remaining member of that initial 5-sibling, 5-spouse WWII generation legacy.

             My dad was the first sibling to pass away, in 1988 at age 66.  Two years later my aunt went also, young and also cancer.  Then things stabilized for a long time until everyone was in their 80s.  So as we sat around and reminisced, my first cousins gravitated to telling stories about our Aunt Alice, who was sister to our shared grandmother--Nellie Salatin.  Those 5 marriages produced 14 first cousins.

             Aunt Alice was a school teacher and quick-witted, the life of every gathering.  So just for fun today, I'll share 4 stories from my great Aunt Alice and hope you enjoy them as much as we all enjoyed them this weekend.

             She drove a huge Chrysler New Yorker after her husband died and my uncle Jim (dad's oldest brother) kept it running for her.  One time after a repair visit she complained that it just wasn't running quite right.  Known for a heavy foot, she surmised to her friends that her nephew had put a governor on it.

             She was pulled over for speeding and the cop asked her why she was going so fast:  "Well, the sign says 80," she replied.  "That's the Interstate--Interstate 80, ma'am," he explained.  She always said that she thought she heard him mumble, as he walked away, "Glad she hadn't gotten over to Interstate 95 yet."

             Another time she was pulled over for speeding.  "Are you in a hurry, ma'am?" the cop inquired good-naturedly?  "Well, sonny, indeed I am, "Aunt Alice replied.  "I'm almost out of gas and needed to get to the gas station before I ran out."

             After her husband, my great Uncle Pae died, she drove her big Chrysler New Yorker each month out to the country cemetery at the Nazarene Church to visit the grave.  I don't remember him but everyone says they had a very happy marriage.  Anyway, on this particular morning it was extremely foggy but she knew the roads and whisked along at her normal rate.  A county deputy saw her fly by and pulled her over.  "Do you know how fast you were going?" he asked.  "Well, no, it was so foggy I couldn't see the speedometer," she shot back.  My understanding is that she never got a ticket in any of these, that her charm and quick answers so unnerved the cops they couldn't bring themselves to give her a ticket.

             Time for one more?  After school one day she received a phone call from an irate parent, accusing:  "How dare you call my son names in the classroom?"

             "Call him names?  Now what do you think I called him?" Aunt Alice queried.

             "He says you called him a scurvy elephant," said the indignant parent.

             "Oh," laughed Aunt Alice.  "I called him a disturbing element."  End of problem.

             Although Aunt Alice has been gone from our lives for 30 years, she lives on in our collective memory.  Every family needs an Aunt Alice.

             Do you have an Aunt Alice?

PLANNING A MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR

            Yesterday I spent the day with Andrew Perkins and Robert Riley, the two gurus of Mother Earth News fairs.  Loyal readers of this blog know that July 17 and 18, 2020, Polyface Farm will host the first ever on-farm Mother Earth News Fair.

             I'm secretly hoping for 5,000 folks each day, for a total of 10,000.  So far all the fairs have been held at fairgrounds or commercial spaces like Seven Springs in Pennsylvania.  None has ever been held on a farm.

             After huddling all day, we parted excited that it will be do-able and will actually happen.  Back when the Polyface-only field days approached 2,000 attendees, we knew we could not continue without a great partner.  Mother Earth News is that partner. 

             Chief Perkins (that's what I call him) has overseen about 50 fairs and his chief lieutenant, Robert, nearly that many.  These guys are unbelievably savvy about the logistics, the public relations, attendee expectations and programming.  Traffic flow, parking, registering walk-ins without slowing entry traffic--these are all critical points in an endless array of choke points.

             But with maps and tape measures in hand, we walked through it, looked at all the shelter spaces, and went through protocols step by step.  While the fair will have the tried-and-true attractions that brand all Mother Earth News fairs, we will offer several decidedly unique experiences that are impossible on fairgrounds.

             Like we can have lots of live fires for making charcoal or Dutch oven cooking.  We can see all the points of interest--moving cows, moving chickens, Millenium Feathernet and pastured pigs.  Expanded workshops in processing, construction, and on-site wild edible plant foraging will make this one of the most interesting and inspiring fairs ever.

             We're expecting more than 300 vendors in the alternative energy, livestock, alternative health care and homesteading fields.  If you've ever wanted to put your hands on the infrastructure and expose your head to self-reliance and do-it-yourself living, this will deliver all of that in spades.  We don't have all the programming nailed down, but by combining the expertise of Mother Earth News with ACRES USA and Stockman Grass Farmer along with Polyface, this promises to be THE place to be in 2020.  If you only attend one ecological living event, this is the one to attend.

             Is this a sales pitch?  Yes and no.  We are not doing this to make money, although we don't expect it to be charity either.  We are doing it for the same reason we started our field days 25 years ago:  to bring more practical vibrancy to a somewhat sterile environment.  You can see things on a power point in a hotel room, of course, but there's nothing like being out on the land, in context, with all the senses engaged, to really get the full-on info-tainment high.  Back then, it was to offer something different than a hotel conference room.  Today, it is to offer something different than a commercial space.

             As we formalize the programming, I'll keep you up to date on developments.  Oh, another reason to try to knock it out of the park--let's show the stodgy orthodoxy that we lunatics aren't as tiny as Wall Street thinks.  We're growing and we're gaining influence.  It's time to get some respect, and a 10,000-person fair on a farm in Swoope would make some naysayers stand up and take notice. 

             How about it?  Are you in?

SNACK FOODS DECLINE

            Nobody knows quite why snack foods are down, but they are and the companies who make them pledge to step up their marketing campaigns to regain lost ground.  So goes the orthodox news analysis.

             Interestingly, the three snack divisions--healthy, savory, sweet--show distinctly different trajectories, according to data compiled by the Wall Street Journal.  Since 2010, healthy rose 10 percent to 2015 and has tumbled 6 percent since.  That's a huge drop.

             Sweet snacks have held fairly steady, declining 4 percent since 2010.  Savory is up 2 percent since 2010.   While the WSJ doesn't dive deeply into the why, one little side note is interesting:  "Competition is stiff.  Shoppers can now choose from an array of smaller brands and private-label snacks."  To me this is a huge tip of the hat to the atomized craft branding movement.

             The point is that small craft brands don't merit tracking and don't register on the radar of industry data.  The companies tracked for this report are Hershey, Hostess Brands, Mondelez, PepsiCo, Kellogg, Campbell Soup, General Mills, Conagra Brands, Hain Celestial and J. M. Smucker.  These are all mainline players, the fraternity of orthodoxy.

             But a growing number of players aren't in that fraternity.  I know our Polyface pork sticks--an incredibly healthy snack food--are not included.  And the fellow we're working with to develop that snack stick, and now a beef snack stick, helps numerous artisanal brands get legal, labeled, and available.  None of these registers in the big player fraternity.

             Far be it from me to oppose WSJ, but I don't see any indication that snack food sales are dropping.  What I see is an industrial data source unable to capture the guerilla activity nibbling around the edges of the status quo.  If I had been writing this story, I would have created a sidebar at least that identified some of the minor players in this space that collectively add up to substantial market share.

             The fact that healthy snacks showed the big dip is further proof that the nonregistered little players are on the attack.  That savory and sweet held fairly steady confirm that the new players coming to this market are not in their sphere; the new players are doubling down on healthier.  That's where the market is.  And the data supports that analysis.

             I think WSJ completely missed the more significant aspect of this analysis by failing to account for unaccounted sales.  By relying on crony mega-businesses, the real story--the rise in micro-brands in the healthy snack sector--was completely missed.  Those of us on the lunatic fringe are used to being uncounted in the mainstream media, and that's just fine because it means we can percolate under the radar, develop our customers and product, without a lot of scrutiny from the empire builders.  That's actually helpful and I'm thankful to be in the uncounted fringe.

             What's your favorite healthy snack?  Hint:  the Polyface pork stick.  ha!

Shipping 2

Can you see my ears pinned back? Not shipping has been a Polyface virtue and to suddenly abandon it seems like dancing with the Devil. To say we’ve created a bit of a tornado here would be an understatement. So first, let me apologize, profusely and publicly, for not rolling out this marketing trial with obligatory finesse. As we’ve watched the backlash, we realize this looks sudden, desperate, and disappointing to many. That is our fault—my fault—partly because we’re so close to the issue and have been wrestling with it for three years and partly because as a farming business, properly manipulating social media is not our forte. So let’s back up.

First, thank you everyone who cares deeply about Polyface integrity and my own integrity as a leader in the local authentic food movement. That so many would critique me on this indicates a protective boundary around my wandering off the reservation. How delightful to know I have a community conscience around me. Thank you.

Second, what we do best here at Polyface is healing the land with caressing management (more earthworms, more pollinators, more biomass, more soil, more water retention) and producing top line authentic meat and poultry. We are not social media savvy, as indicated by the recent Instagram post with me showing off my brand new flip phone. This is the first major innovation we’ve done in a social media space, and we fumbled badly. Stay tuned for the corrections.

Third, we made this decision at least a year ago (more on the angst in future posts) and have simply been waiting for our logistics and technology to enable us to do it. We’ve been telling the world it’s coming in all of our speeches, our spring newsletter, and other venues for a year—but not Instagram. That was a mistake.

Fourth, we see this as nothing more than staying relevant in a changing marketplace where our whole goal is to decrease impediments to getting honest, good food to people, and to testing new ideas that will offer other farmers models to be successful and wrest control of the food system from unsavory agendas. Without the background, context, and a carefully orchestrated buildup, we realize many people—especially our beloved fellow locally-branded farmers—felt betrayed and shocked by this announcement. Again, that’s on me, on us at Polyface.

So now what?

First, you will see several 2 minute videos over the next couple of weeks dealing with the issues surrounding this decision. In keeping with our character, we’ll be real and transparent, walking you through our context.

Second, we will be launching a new initiative in August that will be perceived as the opposite of shipping, but which we hope will offer a new platform for local collaboration between farmers and consumers. This initiative brings an urban-oriented partner into our space that we think could be a “next big thing.”

Third, I am not a pithy sound-bite type of person. I love stories and context—get ‘em in the mood and then hit them with the punch line. In our text-messaging era, this can be off-putting. But for those of you who really want to understand and get to the heart of our “why” on this, I beg you to hang with me through a couple more posts. I’ll do my best to keep them short, but letting the story unfold I think will be rewarding for both of us. For those who don’t care about any of this, fine. But those of you who have reached out—some as cheerleaders and some as vitriolic detractors—I think you’ll find wisdom and heart in these posts.

Enough for now; stay tuned for the next installment. And thank you for caring.

Shipping

Thank you to all who have embraced our decision to begin shipping out of our region. We have struggled mightily with this decision for a couple of years and now it’s finally here. For those of you either angry or just wanting additional background, this post is for you.

Fifty years ago you could not buy a boneless skinless breast . . . anywhere. Then people wanted more convenience, and the market obliged. Polyface did not. But eventually, we heard too often: “I’d buy chicken if you’d offer breasts.” Sales were trending down. We began cutting up and sales went up and we took market share (yes, tiny) away from the big boys and factories. Awesome.

Chipotle came to us and wanted pork. We began supplying the two local restaurants. Then two years ago after all their sanitation and pathogen issues they kicked us out. We lost $100,000 because we had the pigs in the production chain but suddenly no market. We went to 31 pork barbecue vendors within 50 miles offering GMO-free pastured pork at match price (whatever you’re paying from the industry, we’ll match it until our inventory runs out); not one single outfit was interested.

We thought we had an arrangement with UVA dining services last fall; it fell through. We’ve worked with countless outfits over the years; some are gone. Relay Foods was one. We’ve watched them come and go; we don’t plan to be one that goes.

We started hearing from local folks that they no longer would drive on dirt roads. Adios, amigos. And why come to the farm or a drop point when Amazon delivers to your doorstep? So we began a doorstep delivery service this spring, within 50 miles. Fizzled.

The market has changed so dramatically in my lifetime I hardly recognize it anymore. Anyone opposed to this change, let me ask one question: How many Amazon boxes arrive at your doorstep each week?

If your business was making buggy whips in 1915, what would you have done? You see, nostalgia is real cool until it becomes obsolete. Business leaders know that they must re-invent their business about every 8-10 years. Because what got you here won’t get you there.

Forty years ago a “no ship” policy made sense. Amazon did not exist and Polyface was the first game in town. Today, Wal-Mart is the largest purveyor of organics (industrial junk organics, to be sure) and that has flattened sales at farmers’ markets, Community Supported Agriculture, and direct farm sales.

In Staunton, our nearest city, only a couple of restaurants buy Polyface; some say we’re too big and refuse. Others buy a pittance and don’t even put it on the menu. Constant struggle. I’m not whining; I’m stating life as we know it. All of us assume we know the other person’s situation, and that’s always wrong. Meanwhile, our sales are pinched by factory organics via Amazon and Wal-Mart.

For decades we’ve been sending people to their local farmers but too often we hear back “their stuff isn’t as good as yours” or “they won’t scale up big enough to supply a consistent demand.”

As distribution logistics become more efficient and market dynamics morph, Polyface must decide what new hills to die on. We can’t die on every one. Some become silly to die on, and with people a mile away from our farm getting factory organics from Amazon, it’s time to realize the no-ship nostalgia is now obsolete. We are still as committed as ever to local food systems and our prices will always be cheapest and loyalty to local customers always highest here at the farm and in our community. But as production compromise envelopes the organic sector, it’s time to go toe to toe, head to head, with an authentic alternative. And yes, every customer, regardless of where you live, is still welcome at Polyface 24/7/365 anytime to see anything anywhere unannounced. Who do you know who dares to accept that transparency?

ROGUE FOOD CONFERENCE

            Today I have one of the most exciting announcements ever, and since this is independence day celebration week, I can't imagine a more fitting American shindig than this one.

             Jan. 25, 2020, Cincinnati, Ohio, a national ROGUE FOOD CONFERENCE will showcase the latest greatest efforts in food freedom.  Our tagline is CIRCUMVENTION NOT COMPLIANCE.  For the few of you who are unfamiliar with food regulations, be assured that the time has come in this country, unfortunately, where circumventing the law is more doable than complying with the law.

             It's a shame when things get to that point, but that's where we are with big brother government, all in our best interests, of course.  Maine's attempt at a localized Food Sovereignty Ordinance movement has been quashed by the state and federal government.  Cottage food laws are being adopted slowly in states, but they seldom extend to meat and poultry in any meaningful way.

             So here we are, with society craving convenience foods like ready-to-eat but the only ones who can satisfy it are the mega-industrial food corporations who can spread licensing and compliance overheads across millions of pounds and dollars.  The playing field is so prejudicial against scale that the real innovators in the food space--the little guys-- need to innovate ways over, around, and under these malevolent tyrannies.

             By the way, although regulation advocates say they're about food safety, they're more about market access than food safety. I trust a lot more what comes out of our home kitchen than the kitchen at McDonald's.  You can sell the output of one; you can't the other.  I defy anyone to prove that we had more food pathogens and toxicity prior to government intervention.

             Price, availability, and safety all hinge on consumer choice in the marketplace.  Right now, consumers do not have freedom of food choice.  But numerous innovative folks have figured out loop holes to gain neighbor access to food options.  So it is with extreme pleasures and gratitude that I can announce this 2020 ROGUE FOOD CONFERENCE, which will explore and publicize the numerous work-arounds within our heavily regulated food space.

             We'll hear from people who sell pet food.  Some have created a food church.  Some operate under a non-public co-op country club arrangement.  These schemes are highly creative, hated by the food police, and loved by people who, as consenting adults, gratefully enjoy the empowerment of food choice freedom.  When people lament the deplorable state of American food (we lead the world in junk food) too often their only solution is more regulation, from nutrition labeling laws to food temperature requirements to licensing plans.

             But another alternative exists:  it's called freedom.  We've tried top down regulatory oversight to change the food system, only to see it become nutrient deficient, sugar laden and sterile.  It's time to try a bottom up approach with some freedom instead of bureaucracy.  Based on the thousands of farmers and consumers I talk with each year, if we actually had neighbor to neighbor food freedom, the authentic integrity food movement would catapult in size and sales.  The only thing that keeps it on the lunatic fringe is the over-burdensome heavy-handed regulatory environment.  Absent that, farms like Polyface would take massive chunks of market share from Wal-Mart and company.  And our prices would plummet.  How about that?

             Look it up, folks, ROGUE FOOD CONFERENCE 2020.  It won't be a Tea Party, but it'll be the most American gathering of innovative food freedom advocates you'll ever want to enjoy.  We won't be asking for a government program.  We won't be filling out forms for grant money stolen from taxpayers.  We won't be asking for higher taxes or more government intrusion.  All we ask is to be left alone to enjoy consensual food choice and to publicize ways to express our choice.  How's that for loaded verbiage?  I hope everyone comes.

             Does your lack of food choice bother you?

CHICKEN COOP COLLUSION

            If you've been watching the news, you know that several large chicken buyers are suing the big four--Perdue, Pilgrim's, Sanderson's and Tyson's--for colluding to fix prices.

             The plaintiffs include Sysco and U.S. Foods as well as other large players in the wholesale poultry buying industry.  These buyers say the big four share information that enables price fixing and inventory manipulation to make chicken more expensive than it has to be.

             The poultry industry uses an informational system to share daily slaughter, hatching eggs and other bits and pieces.  They all send information into a common database and it helps them have a sense of where the industry is headed.  It's not unlike private databases that accumulate grain planting and harvest statistics, inventory, and pricing. 

             I subscribe to a service called Cattlefax that tracks all the feedlot placements, national heifer inventory, cow inventory, daily slaughter and several other pieces of data in the cattle industry.  If you look at the price spread between heifers and steers, for example, you can tell whether a shortage is coming or an overage.  If you watch annual sales and the cow inventory goes up, you can plan to either join the move or back off assuming there will be too many cows.

             The point is that sophisticated commodity tracking is ubiquitous in the world right now.  While I am certainly not a friend of these big four producers, neither am I a friend of the cutthroat plaintiffs in this suit.  Most people have no clue how narrow the margins are in the food industry.

             I just spent a few hours with a wholesaler who told me the normal profit margin in the industry is 1-2 percent.  That means in order to net $100,000, an outfit must move $10 million.  When you realize that Google and Apple and other big tech outfits operate on 35 and 40 percent margins, it shows just how economically skewed the food system really is.

             And that brings me to my point on this new litigation.  I think it shows much more about how narrow the margins are than anything about a conspiracy among the big four poultry producers.  Logistics and lean distribution is squeezing every penny out of wholesaling commodities.  The truth is that commodity chicken is commodity chicken; no difference regardless of who produces it.  But far be it for the wholesalers to seek better chicken as a leg up (pun intended). 

             Bankrupt of ideas, bereft of innovation, the pinched wholesalers who refuse to deal with better and innovative product, see no recourse but to litigate and ask a judge to give them relief.  How sad that we've come to this point in the food business.  While many folks will immediately assume Tyson's, Pilgrim's, Sanderson's and Perdue are the bad guys in this, I'm taking the contrary position.  I think they are the butt of a publicity smear campaign to shame them into dropping prices.  I think the plaintiffs are simply using this as a media stunt and emotional if not judicial extortion to buy relief in an undifferentiated and highly competitive price war.

             Why do big food wholesalers receive more public empathy than big food producers?

JUMPING OFF A CLIFF:  CUTTING UP A CHICKEN

            A retired gentleman was in the farm store this morning and was quite animated about a major change of life event.  Sitting on the counter, at the cash register, was a chicken.

             A whole chicken.

             He made it clear that this momentous occasion surrounded the following life changing event:  "I'm going to cut up my first chicken.  It's a big day." 

             I saluted him and praised him and did everything but kiss him.  This simple act of practical immersion in food connection puts him in the top 2 percent of Americans.  Not only did he get a whole chicken, he got it from a farm, from a farm he visited, and from a farmer he talked with and with whom he shook hands. 

             Indeed, this is a day of celebration.  A day of empowerment.  A day of understanding.  And a day of giving a significant leg up to the healers and a bloody nose to the hurters.  Well done, my friend. 

             That 50 years ago when boneless breasts were not even available at the supermarket such a defining act would be considered revolutionary could not have entered the foggiest imagination of anyone.  And yet here we are, Modernus Home

Convenience Sapiens, celebrating the inspiring take charge spirit of one man ready to cut up a chicken.  I hope he Youtubes it.

             That this singular act merits such praise speaks volumes to where our culture has gone.  Lest anyone think this post is making fun of something, it is not.  I am as serious as a heart attack when I say this man has joined the answer.  He's the solution.  He's a Polyface partner.  I wish I had 1,000 more just like him.'

            So today is a good day.  One more has left the dark side.  Progress really does come in little things.  Wendell Berry writes eloquently about there being no big problems.  We could argue that, but his point is that even big problems start with little solutions.  Buying a whole chicken from a real farm and cutting it up, cooking it--this is the stuff of cultural shift.  Well done.

             Do you cut up chickens?

SEEING DEATH

            This week we're hosting our first ever Polyface children's day camp.  Our former apprentice, Molly Hestor, has developed the program and enterprise as her own stand-alone business and we couldn't be happier.  She has 20 children aged 5-11 and today is chicken day.

             Not just chicken production, but slaughter as well.  Sensitive to modern realities, she allowed parents to opt out their children from actually seeing it, and 6 of the 20 children will be denied that access, due to parental concern.

             This is a sensitive subject and I've written about it extensively in other places, but I have a different take on it today.  Our culture, in my opinion, is doing all it can to reduce the requirement for individuals to accept responsibility for their actions.  Each day, each of us creates consequences.  If we sit around and don't do anything because we're lazy, that activity has consequences.  Somebody else must clean the toilet, wash the clothes, take out the trash.

             You cannot escape decisional consequences, even if your decision is to watch TV all day and sit on the couch.  You cannot exclude yourself from consequences.  If you elect to go meatless, that has consequences.  It means you have to put a lot more thought on dietary requirements (non-meat proteins are not as complete, so require far more thought to balance).  It means you have to wrestle with the animal question--ecological role of animals, which animals, and how you manage the environment without animals.  It means you have to figure out what to do with the extra soybeans, lentils, and other plant- based proteins; this includes how to grow them as much and more than current production in a non-monoculture way and without chemical fertilizers.

             The point is that every decision we make carries consequences.  But in modern America, it seems to me like we're trying to divorce consequences from decisions; we're trying to grant freedom without responsibility.  It's like a train without a track or a car without a steering wheel.  To function properly, freedom must have constraints.  This is why America's founders could not envision the level of freedom they granted without a Judeo-Christian moral ethic.  Without a moral compass to restrain freedom, the wheels fall off and it turns into dysfunction and chaos.  By the way, when the Bill of Rights was adopted, prohibiting the FEDERAL government from making an official religion, several states had official religions--the Constitution does NOT prohibit states from active religious process; only the national government.  Think that over for a moment.

             Returning to chickens and children.  So if you're NOT going to eat chicken, you have to wrestle with consequences.  But if you ARE going to eat chicken, you or somebody else must end that chicken's life so you can cook it and eat it.  It's okay if you don't want to put the knife to the chicken's throat.  Goodness, my wife Teresa has never killed a chicken.  "You kill it and I'll do anything and everything after that," she has always said.  That's okay. 

             But if you eat chicken, you are making a decision to take that chicken's life in order to sustain your own.  I suggest that it's much more grown-up and responsible to come to terms with that consequential responsibility by seeing it than it is to hide behind the door and never come to grips with the outcome of a decision.

             I'm extremely grateful that Molly has elected to expose these youngsters to this visceral and real part of life.  And we're glad that here at Polyface we're transparent and open to anyone who wants to see it; we don't have "No Trespassing" signs or security posts and fences surrounding our activities.  It's open to anyone so that all may enjoy the death-life-decomposition (digestion)-regeneration cycle in its most tactile form.  And so that our activities will be publicly scrutinized--audited--to maintain accountability in the process.

             Have your children seen animal slaughter?

FOLLOW UP ON LAND

            Those of you who are following my blog know that about 3 weeks ago I put out an all-points-bulletin regarding investing in farmland, specifically one of the farms we lease.  The owners have decided to sell (it's been in that family for 5 generations).  We've leased it for 8 years and brought it from a bramble patch to a productive grassland.  We've enjoyed the transformation, including 3 hoop structures to store hay and keep pigs in the winter.  Their compost adds to the soil fertility.

             My initial blog simply asked:  "Does anybody want to buy a farm property?"  It's 134 acres, asking $750,000, no house, no electricity.  About 10 of you responded but nobody had that kind of non-earmarked money sitting around.  Two of you, however, had the same idea:  "How about creating an LLC where we could buy shares for $5,000?  Lots of people would love to invest like this but need smaller increments to do so."

             So I've been to an attorney we've used here in Staunton and he says such a plan would run afoul Virginia's blue sky laws and federal securities registration laws.  I'm a farmer and don't do this kind of stuff for a living.  All I have are ideas and a book titled "Everything I Want to do is Illegal."  Perhaps this is another case of that.

             But I know some very savvy people read this bog and I'm casting this into the universe for advice.  I'm not ready to visit every attorney in town to get multiple opinions, but I am glad to follow recommendations and leads and do the legwork to present the idea. 

             Does anyone out there think this attorney is negative unnecessarily?  Where do I go from here?   Thank you, and feel free to pass this along to someone who might want to weigh in on it. 

EXTRA SEMINAR AT POLYFACE

            Every year we offer 3  two-day Polyface Intensive Discovery Seminars (PIDS) limited to 30 folks and including 6 meals.  It's worth coming just for the meals.  ACRES USA magazine handles all the registrations.

             We essentially cram 4 days of teaching into 2 days.  Sunup to sundown with no breaks, it's like drinking from a firehose.  I do 75 percent of the teaching, but others take certain portions so I can go to the bathroom or rest my voice.  Attendees just have to go behind a tree.  ha!

             For some reason, this year we had a large waiting list, much larger than normal, and since we're greedy capitalists who pay taxes, we decided for the first time ever, to offer a fourth PIDS:  Aug. 9-10. 

             We also wanted to try to accommodate the waiting list knowing that next year we will not do these PIDS due to hosting the Mother Earth News fair July 17-18.  Preparing for a potential 10,000 people and 300 vendors and food trucks will take all our energy for the summer.

             Once we decided last week to offer a fourth PIDS this year, we'd like to fill it up.  It takes no more effort to talk to 34 people than it does 30 people.  So I'm doing a rare sales pitch to make sure word gets out there and the remaining few slots fill.  While this is not a true "hands on" seminar, it's as close as you can get without getting bloody and dirty.  We process chickens, process rabbits, build compost, cut trees, chip limbs, move cows, move pigs, move chickens and talk marketing. 

             It's a comprehensive, fast-paced two days designed to saturate your head with ideas.  In fact, the reason we stop at 2 days is because nobody can handle a 3rd.

If this interests you, holler.    You can call 512-892-4400 or pull up the ACRES USA

website to register.  You can always call Polyface with questions as well, at 540-885-3590 during business hours.

             Has anyone been to one of these and if so, what was your takeaway?

TECH MEET BIOLOGY

            Where do Silicon Valley venture capitalists go when new tech ideas wane?  Food and kitchen gadgets.

             Right now consumer products, many of them food, are sucking up billions in venture capital.  The five biggest dinner-in-a-box outfits are hemorrhaging millions upon millions.  But they stay afloat with venture capital funding.

             The quintessential Silicon Valley mindset was voiced years ago by Facebook bad boy founder Mark Zuckerberg:  "move fast and break things."

            This is now infiltrating the food sector and it causes me concern.  Tomatoes and cows are not cyberspace.  When you have disparate paradigms in a space, something goes awry.  Think about the Europeans from temperate western regions where gentle rains fell year-round and created peat and bogs and fog.  They came to Virginia in 1607 and gradually moved inland, arriving here in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley by 1730.

             The Valley, where I live, was a tall grass silvopasture--that's widely spaced trees with grass underneath.  In fact, the grass was tall enough to tie above a horse's saddle according to the first settlers.  Rather than asking the indigenous Native American communities how to honor the soil-building herbivore biomass ecosystem, the Europeans brought the plow, annual grains, and an export mindset.

             Folklore says that as the Native American stood with a European settler on a hill watching the plow invert those grasslands, the settler asked him what he thought about  the procedure:  "Hmmm, me thinks wrong side up."  And over the next two centuries, the Shenandoah Valley's wealth, some 3-5 feet of soil, eroded down the rivers into the Chesapeake Bay.   You see,  the ecosystem here is not peat, bogs, and fogs.  It's freezing, searing heat, torrential downpours--quite different than London.  "This is not London, Toto."

             The Conquistador mentality is very much alive and well in America today; in fact, it's part of our DNA.  And it's dominating Silicon Valley thoughts on food.  But food is not a computer.  It's not terabytes.  It's biological, living, responding, communicating, morphing beings of bacteria, protozoa and nematodes breeding, eating, dying, trading.  This is not a video game.  It's dynamic and thoughtful.

             Which means we'd better approach it thoughtfully lest our own health erode like the soil in the Shenandoah Valley.  I'm quite fearful of what shortcuts and a temperament of "move fast and break things" might do to the plants and animals that feed our internal microbiome. 

             Do you want to eat food built on the theme "move fast and break things?"