Why Its Difficult to Disagree with Joel Salatins Expectations of Tough Times Ahead for Foodies

Yours truly with Joel Salatin, taking a break from signing books after my presentation at VICFA in Charlottesville, VA, on Saturday evening. I love to visit the Virginia Independent Consumers and Farmers Association (VICFA). I’ve been there twice now over the last few years, and even though raw milk can’t be sold in Virginia, they always have it out for visitors. In fact, this time there was a choice—goat’s milk or cow’s milk. That plus the fact that it is a very committed organization, committed to seeking legislative change to allow the sale of raw milk, and allow for the needs of smaller farms. A big part of that orientation was the result of Kathryn Russell, one of its founders, who was killed recently in an automobile accident.

I was at a VICFA-sponsored book signing Saturday evening in Charlottesville, VA, which had been organized by Kathryn over the previous eight months. I had the honor of being introduced by Joel Salatin, who wrote the foreword for my book, and who’s become something of a rock star in the foodie movement. He had some very nice things to say about my book (“It’s a wonderful book…a wonderful tool in your arsenal.”)

One of the more intriguing things he talked about, though, was how he’s sometimes treated by local business people. “People assume our neighbors love us,” he said, based on all the publicity he’s achieved. He recounted how he sought a delivery of sawdust (his Polyface Farm seeks to vary its use of carbon-based fuels). The supplier refused, recounted Salatin. “He said, ‘You let your chickens run loose. You abuse your cows because you don’t vaccinate them. You don’t want your cows taking antibiotics. I hate everything you stand for.’”

To Salatin, such reactions to foodies aren’t isolated incidents, but rather “illustrative of the pushback to the kind of farming we and many others are doing.”

His conclusion? “I think we are in for some real serious times coming down the pike…that we are Luddites…We’re not playing Pictionary. The industrial food system is playing for keeps.”

Playing on the same theme, I was asked during my presentation about all the publicity being given to Washington’s fascination with sustainability (some of which I discussed in my previou post). One questioner said, “(Agriculture Secretary) Vilsack is running around saying, ‘Know your farmer, know your food.’ Michelle Obama is planting an organic garden. What does it all this mean?”

I answered that this is a classic case of the government speaking out of both sides of its mouth, with forked tongue, shall we say. The real action, I explained, is happening over in Congress, with the focus on food safety. That will put the screws to any farmer who happens to take the Washingon happy talk seriously. High signup fees. Expensive HACCP plans. Huge penalties for supposed violations. Random searches of business records. Easy quarantines of any geographic area judged dangerous.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which has never been loathe to throw its weight around, especially against smaller food producers, will have even more money and authority than it has today to do just that.

I have to agree with Joel. We’re in for some tough times ahead. As I’ve pointed out in the past, when it comes to raw milk, which is a proxy issue for other food issues, a lot of the enmity by regulators is highly personal. They just don’t like people who dare to question FDA and CDC prescriptions.


Everyone at the VICFA event was very impressed to see four of Kathryn Russell’s daughters in attendance. They were appreciative to me for attending, and I was highly moved at their resiliency and commitment in attending. They are pictured below. 

From left are Laura, Holly, Emily, and Lynn Russell.

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20 Comments on "Why Its Difficult to Disagree with Joel Salatins Expectations of Tough Times Ahead for Foodies"

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Tim wightman
November 10, 2009 5:16 am

Tough times ahead just became a reality on Nov 3rd for anybody who looks out of the box for what feeds them.
Issue 2 passed in Ohio and now is being touted as an option for several other States to solidify in the state constitution a 13 member governing board to over see all animal welfare..thats all animal welfare.
Think the shavings guy at Joels was rude? Pretty mild from what my neighbors have said to me…farmers by the way…
Stocked with Big Ag friendlies and State Department of Ag members(sorry did I repeat myself?) with one position for consumers & one… Read more »

Mark McAfee
November 10, 2009 7:39 am

Two things:

What is happening to Joel is simple jealousy. He has the consumer relationships and notariety and the other negaitive small town operators…well….they do not.

In CA I was considered a crazy person nine years ago….now the news media call me when ever they need a voice for a food story. We are respected for building something good and healthy. Many of our neighbors come buy raw milk from us. My neighbors do not even know what I do becuase they are not connected to my market. They are to big to care. Those that do know… Read more »

Tim wightman
November 10, 2009 9:54 am

Another thing that occured to me after my last post is the challange the local food movement makes to the history of farmers and consumers both of which are/were parents at some point.
When asked to go to a farm by a younger generation to begin to apply the understanding of nutrient dense production, I find one has to be very sensitive to the older generation who’s hard work was based on the undersanding of the time..(which unfortuneatly was a sales pitch and not true information)..if not handled properly any information which is offered that challanges the years of determined… Read more »

Gwen elderberry
November 10, 2009 8:01 pm

Tim, could you please comment on the following articles, regarding animal confinement propositions that HSUS has been promoting throughout the U.S., and your perception of how they will affect the availability of food; and the effects on farming in general in their respective states?




My understanding from word-of-mouth is that chicken farmers in these states are already making plans to move operations to Mexico and other central and south American countries, where there are less restrictions. In 5-10 years quite a bit more of our eggs, poultry, veal and pork will come from out… Read more »

Steve Bemis
November 10, 2009 8:21 pm

Gwen – my understanding here in Michigan (verbally from a state legislator – I’ve not read the law) is that the chicken cage change, which was negotiated with participation from the Farm Bureau and rights activists (not sure exactly who sat at the table), provides for a 50% increase in cage size. That is, a 50% increase from about the area of an 8-1/2 x 11 sheet of paper. That gets the cage up to about the area of a sheet of legal paper. I assume the chickens which end up in Mexico as a result will… Read more »

Tim wightman
November 10, 2009 9:25 pm

The biggest and loudest argument of the pro-issue 2 group was the cost of food and its relation the lower income population.
What wasn’t talked about was the current lack of food to the inner city populations and the cause of the current situation as it relates to food availability in the inner cities.
When concentrating food production/processing farther and farther away from larger populations and then having to bring it back to the larger populations the cost goes up, and or is no longer effeceint to do so, unike if we had a local food production model that allowed the… Read more »

November 10, 2009 10:30 pm

I spoke with a farmer this summer who faced death threats, vandalism, refused service and government harassment, for not feeding grain to dairy cows. They faced repeated government harassment again later when they stopped selling commodity milk to direct market.

This is real, it goes beyond simple jealousy. CA is not the rest of the country. People have been murdered for far less cause than the threat we pose to big Ag and their government lackeys. (Just ask a pizza driver).

Dave Milano
November 11, 2009 3:12 am

Good food is not available to all because the Jeffersonian vision of America as a land of many agrarian, somewhat entropic cells was killed off by power brokers. Industrial agriculture is its replacement.

The ever increasing consolidation of power in finance, healthcare, social behaviors, and of course food choices has brought us so far from Jeffersons great notion that by now even our very landscape has conformed to the ethos of centralized control. Cities have grown to immense proportions and been surrounded by sprawling, dense suburbs. In the countryside the last scraps of precious non-corporate farmland are being gobbled up… Read more »

Gwen elderberry
November 11, 2009 11:01 am

Michael Pollan did the math, and our country cannot currently feed the populace on pastured animal products; nor a vegetarian diet.

Where did you say these latent farmers were? Anita Coupe, Jennifer Leaning, Roger Kindler, Ingrid Newkirk – did you say these people have all started soybean, nut and rice farming? How interesting. What methods are they using, and how many people are they feeding per person?

The something else is not in place. In 4 to 6 years, it still won’t be, or a miracle will have to happen. Most farmers I know are getting out of the business,… Read more »

Mark McAfee
November 11, 2009 11:39 am

Here is some breaking and broken raw news!

Ecoli still being found "routinely" in Earthbound Farms spinach. Yes….that is right….when tested they routinely find and destroy thousands of pounds of contaminated spinach. Not just one time…all the time.

That means that spinach that is sold at retail could very well have ecoli in them. If they are finding "the needle in the haystack"….trust me they are missing quite a few needles in the hay stack. Conversely…raw milk has never detected a pathogen in "raw milk" in CA. Thats thousands of tests over many many years. In fact for Claravale that is… Read more »

Sylvia Gibson
November 11, 2009 12:05 pm

<heavy sigh> I cringe when I read/hear of more outsourcing. I fear I must start looking in earnest for my little piece of paradise, even though I’m not quite ready. And animals? I don’t want them tagged.

(Glad I grow my own spinach/kale/chard, etc)

Don Wittlinger
November 11, 2009 7:46 pm

The vision of Al and Desiree Wehner. " Their vision has become a NEW model for dairy farmers in Georgia and around the world"
HMMM dairy cows on pasture eating grass and farmers making a profit. Maybe just maybe our knuckle dragging ancesters weren’t so dumb after all?

Blair McMorran
November 12, 2009 1:30 am

Small Farms Sprout in Economic Drought
By Christopher Wanjek, LiveScience’s Bad Medicine Columnist
"When the economy gets tough, it seems that the tough get farming. Tens of thousands of small farms were created since 2002, according to new data from the Census of Agriculture….
While the new agricultural census, which covers data collected up through 2007, offers promising results, much work lies ahead. About 5 percent of farmers produce 75 percent of our food, a system dependent on heavy chemical fertilizer and pesticide use and vulnerable to massive food-born-illness outbreaks both natural and intentional.

Worse, most of these new, small… Read more »

Concerned Person
November 12, 2009 1:58 am


I tried the link you provided, but it didnt work.

Leafy greens, hamburger and raw milk continue to be risky foods for E.coli 0157:H7 contamination. Currently there is an E.coli 0157:H7 hamburger outbreak and a few people have already died. This pathogen can be deadly.

Im glad you bring up the issue of testing. How many times a month is your milk tested? I am guessing about four. So if on the average there are 30 days in a month, the milk is only tested 4 of the 30 days. That… Read more »

November 12, 2009 5:05 am

"…has never detected a pathogen in "raw milk" in CA."

This statement is false. It would be truthful to say that no positive pathogen test in raw milk has been reported in CA since the campylobacteriosis outbreak investigation in October 2008 (the one involving a GBS case). Or, it would be honest to say that no pathogens have been reported in raw dairy products with the OPDC label since the Campylobacter recall of raw cream in October 2008. Or, no raw milk-related outbreaks have been linked to OPDC raw milk /colostrum since the campylobacteriosis outbreak in December… Read more »

November 12, 2009 5:30 am

"…has never detected a pathogen in "raw milk" in CA."

Again on this misleading statement: Salmonella Dublin was found in Alta Dena raw milk from CA many times before they closed. That is a fact.

Mark McAfee
November 12, 2009 9:35 am

CP and Lykke,

we test our raw milk 3 to 4 times per week and we use a state approved outside lab for the tests. We stopped doing internal pathogen tests several months ago becuase they we expensive and not as reliable as the Sierra Labs test technology. We collect samples from multiple milkings and send them to the lad as one collective sample. You are right….we do not test every single batch…but we come darn close. We test about 90% of the milk that gets sent out from OPDC. Thats 28 out of 30 days tested.

We have… Read more »

Concerned Person
November 12, 2009 11:08 am


Heres the testing results found on your website for the year 2009. http://organicpastures.com/pdfs/Bacteria%20Counts7-20-09.pdf This must be the internal testing results you refer to that you have stopped. The last test result was posted on July 21st. So up until July it seems you tested your milk anywhere from 2-4 times per month. Now you claim you are testing the milk 3 to 4 times a week. Why isnt it posted?

Even if you are testing your milk 3 to 4 times per week, that only works out to half of the… Read more »

Blair McMorran
November 12, 2009 11:52 am

CP wrote:
"The milk is tested from a single dairy, so if a recall occurs the dairy is closed because it can easily be traced back to the source. Its different with spinach and meat. It comes from too many sources to be able to trace back where the e.coli came from. They do recalls without closing down a particular farm or meat company because there is no way to know where it came from. …"

So basically, the authorities shut down a dairy because it’s easy? They can dust off their hands and sleep at night because they’ve "protected… Read more »

Mark McAfee
November 13, 2009 1:53 am


I do not think that I explained the testing process as well as I should have.

We combine several milkings into one test and take that to Sierra Labs 3-4 times per week. My math is correct.

As far as posting test data at our website is concerned, that job falls on my daughters shoulders and she has been out for a pregancy ( going to be a grampa soon ) and the data posting has been lagging. We will get the data up soon. it is very boring…it is a bunch of negative numbers.

Your comment about raw… Read more »