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"

Tim wightman
November 10, 2009

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 for the Humane Societys State Representative.
Playing for keeps just got real..will keep you posted on how actions can be taken to stop this from repeating itself around the Country..one warning to consumers reading this…you will be asked and you will be essential to keeping the tide from completely swamping all progress we have made on local food.
Tim Wightman

Mark McAfee
November 10, 2009

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 about our market have deep respect from what we have done. The negative stuff from a neighbor is just small town cheap talk. Ignore it. But….I guess in Joels case…when all your neighbors are small operators, that can be a real challenge. Water off a ducks back….you are a national treasure, a mentor and truth speaker….blow it off.


As far as vitamins found in raw milk verses pastuerized milk we found something out today. There are certain basic lab panels that are used to test the required things for a food label. Vitamin D and Vitamin C are not on these milk test panels according to Silliker labs experts. So that is why our raw milk labels do not show vitamin C or D. We are now doing a more expensive and extensive lab panel ( not required ) to determine the true Vitamin C and D naturally found in Raw Milk.

I wonder why Vitamin C and D are not inlcuded in the basic panels that are required….can you say "pastuerization damages the numbers!!"

My guess… yes. We will soon see the lab facts and be better informed.

Thank you Lykke….good catch.


Tim wightman
November 10, 2009

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 work, sacrifice and understood to be progress can block the older generations understanding of the new information and you have now challanged all that they have done and bring in to question their lifes work.
It works the same when talking to consumers..tell them the dangers and damage they are doing to themselves or there kids and everything they know to be the best they have ever done is challanged..and knowone wants to believe nor will they want to know that they have harmed those they love most.
There is a phrase by those who are early beginners in the healthy food movement that I have heard many times….when do you stop loving your kids enough, to stop buying organic..
We as a movment are changing the realities of many people and bring into question many deeply held ideas of whats good and several business models which many of those whom we talk too depend on for a living.
I do feel that at times when talking to legislators, State officials, those who see it there job to protect the public trust..I am directly challanging those ideas and lively hoods with new information which for a moment makes sense..but as humans, we retreat to what is known and balance it against what we know to be the current.
It is said that when Columbus’s prediscors came to their new world the natives who were here could not see the ship due to the lack of reference for no canoes or boats where used by those tribes..only when the men came ashore and departed the smaller boats could a frame of reference be seen in the larger ship.
If we as humans still carry those abilities to judge…by only that which we know to exsist..it will be rough roads ahead for the local movement..untill our actions no longer threaten the norm..and the powers that be have built a frame of reference…which I feel will only come from the departure we offer.
Tim Wightman

Gwen elderberry
November 10, 2009

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 of the country. The animals there will be treated worse than they have been in the U.S.. Ohio has been the first state to form a board, so that propositions like this can’t be passed quite so easily.

While I would like to see confinement operations done away with, when I drive through cities in Ohio, I have to wonder how all those people are going to eat year round should our food sources be so compromised. That is more of a real question to consider than many would like to believe.


Steve Bemis
November 10, 2009

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 not be "legal":-). I’m not sure of the economics, but with public pressure for healthier food, more humane treatment of animals, the 10-year phase-in, a growing aversion to foreign-sourced foods, clearer labeling (COOL) and disclosures, and increased willingness by some to raise their own, there may be something for everyone in the new mix.

Tim wightman
November 10, 2009

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 excesses to be distributed locally at a fair price.
As to the point of moving production and processing to cheap labor areas like S America and or Mexico…that idea is beholden to the fact that cheap oil will always be a constant to move that product back the the consumer…more of how we always did it so more of that will work as it has in the past.
Not so when oil prices are rising at an ever increasing rate and no labor saving measure will overcome that ever increasing transportation cost.
Case in point…till last year about this time I could go to any of my local 5 egg producers and get any amount of eggs on any given day to distribute in the ciites to those who prefered brown eggs.
For a year now I have routinely fell short on orders due to the increased purchasing of eggs by local rural people.
The producers saw the need increased the numbers of hens, and now we are getting eggs again at the rate plus new orders, we did 14 months ago.
There is a lag time in animal production on a local scale..not unlike big scale production just truck it in from somewhere else.
The initatives that did pass for animal welfare have, as stated by Steve very long implementations…and its not like we have to create something new..we are just going back a few decades to traditional way of production which will bring the cost of small and large closer and actually bring our true cost of food production more in line with what we have to pay for a better product..which if it is that close most may choose local.
I do feel though that a shift in understanding of what is nessecity and what is show must also take place before we get a handle on health care and those related costs which pinch our ability to purchase a higher quality food for a higher representative cost.
Imagine if we traded health care dollars at a % of public expense on that health care and got quality food to people in inner cities….even if it was just in the schools to start….or subsidised growers to set up in inner city neighborhoods to sell at a discount.
Yes we would not see an immeadiate economic benifit…but remember there is a time lag on animal production…just as there is on investing in our kids and the long range benefits those practices allow.
The barns and facilites to feed people are just sitting here doing nothing, from my window I can count 17 farms with barns & animal housing that are empty and have been for decades, squeezed out by our current cheap food mindset.
The cost of health care is represented in every empty barn I drive by..in more ways than one, but that will have to wait till another post.

November 10, 2009

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

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 for non-farm commerce while corporate farms, set up to feed commodities to huge processing businesses, kill whatever soil is currently devoted to food production. The central-control boys have more power, more money, and more inertia than ever before in history. It is no surprise that these massive systems then would fight back against defiant Luddites who wont play along, especially when the Luddites seem to be increasing in number.

Of course a revival of the decentralized, traditional family farm will largely cure our food ills, but that has become at best a very, very long-term vision since all the new, small farms we so desperately need must grow where now stand expensive, modern buildings and roads. Nevertheless I have real hope that things will turn around (gradually, over many generations). Why? Because there is growing discontent that Polyface-type farms are not in everyones backyard; because parasitical techno-industrial modernity and consumerism is ruining families and communities and will eventually kill off enough of its hosts to no longer survive itself; because rural locales will eventually begin to look more like home and less like uncivilized outbacks; and because there are latent farmers everywhere who will suddenly realize that they can make a good living selling directly to consumers, and will fight for the right to do it.

Gwen elderberry
November 11, 2009

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, not into it. That is the reality. The biggest argument I personally have heard for Ohio’s Issue 2 is that the people who feed the masses must stay in business, somehow or other.

I’ll make a deal. When the above-mentioned 4 people have a farm going that feeds at least 100 people their primary sources of protein apiece year-round, I will personally become a vegetarian so long as that farm stays in operation, and will recruit others to do the same (both farming and becoming vegetarians).

Mark McAfee
November 11, 2009

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 82 years.

This means that raw milk must be statistically much safer than raw spinach….and more importantly….we must all take very seriously the strength of our immune systems. We must all consume raw milk and its coliforms to gain immunity to ecoli’s pathogen relatives or be subject to them.

This blew my mind…..spinach fails pathogen tests routinely….this is huge news. Why is there routine contamination in spinach??? It must be that Ecoli pathogens must be everywhere and there is little we can do to avoid it. The best thing to do is become immune to it.

Lykke and CP did you see this?? The FDA is doing nothing about routine failures of spinach product being tested. The FDA and CDFA would freak out if OPDC ever had so much as one ecoli 0157H7 detected in its raw milk….muchless routine detected pathogens or an illness. This is a huge double standard. The spinach guys just shrug it off and throw away the contaminated batch and off to market they go. Like no big deal. If OPDC found one ecoli 0157H7 there would be a recall of good product from the shelves and a shut down of the dairy. Not with spinach. This is business as usual.


OMG….CP, Lykke…how do you answer this massively unfair and biased disparity???


Sylvia Gibson
November 11, 2009

<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

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

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 farms brought in only a few tens of thousands of dollars. The number of working-class family farms with sales between $100,000 and $250,000 continues to decrease. Mega-farms continue to dominate.

Vilsack called the trend of lost family farms "disturbing" and vowed to improve the situation. Could the new mantra be "family farm values?" "


Can Organic Agriculture Feed the World?

‘In developing countries, the UNDP (1992) concluded that organic farming methods seem able to provide similar outputs, with less external resources, supplying a similar income per labor day as high input conventional approaches. Studies commonly show large increases where local farmers adopt organic farming systems, up to 400%, reaching levels similar to those of high-input systems’
Stockdale et al (2001), Advances in Agronomy, Volume 70
Organic farming can feed the world, U-M study shows


U.S. Throws Away Half Its Food
by Kate Melville
"While America has been long badged the "throw-away society", it’s only recently that researchers from the University of Arizona have quantified what gets thrown aways as a percentage of what is produced. Astonishingly, a new study has found that forty to fifty percent of all food ready for harvest never gets eaten..".

Concerned Person
November 12, 2009


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 means the other 26 days, milk is sold without being tested first. In other words, only 13% percent of you milk is being tested at any given time. 87% of you milk leaves OPDC untested for a pathogen. There could easily be a pathogen in the untested 87% figure of milk.

This is how you should phrase your pathogen recorded for OPDC. For the four days (or insert correct number) out of every month our milk has been tested, they have never found a pathogen. We can not make claims for the 26 days (or insert correct number) out of the month our milk is not tested.

As for the double standard when a pathogen is detected in either leafy greens or meat versus raw milk, I think it has more to do with the nature of the food groups and how they are sold. 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. Only when there is an outbreak do they go to the next level of investigation.

Mark, if you subscribe to STOP (Safe Tables Our Priority) you can receive emails every time there is a recall due to contamination on products sold in the US. It is quite eye opening.


November 12, 2009

"…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 2007. The distinction between "raw milk" and "raw cream" looks like an intentional deception of consumers.

This might be the correct link in Mark’s comment:

Keep in mind that Earthbound Farms is using sophisticated pathogen tests specifically developed for leafy green products (this is in contrast to the quick on-the-farm tests that OPDC advertises, which were not developed for raw milk). Regardless, as CP points out, only a small fraction of the product going to market is tested whether its raw milk or ground beef or spinach. I put more faith in Earthbound Farms and others that test the irrigation water and soil amendments for cleanliness, and the farmers’ efforts to keep animal and human poop out of their raw vegetables fields, ground beef, or raw milk

November 12, 2009

"…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

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 yet to find a pathogen in any of our "raw milk" since we started business. This is a true statement. Yes a pathogen was detected in other products….but the raw milk that those products came from was negative…..that is true.

My point on spinach is this…..if they are finding pathogens routinely and dumping spinach routinely….they are finding the needle in the haystack. We have not found the needle in the haystack yet.

This is scarry because if ecoli 0157H7 is that viralent….this data and routine spinach dumping is a ticking time bomb. Immunity to ecoli 0157 H7 is your best bet. This pathogen is being found all the time according to the news piece.

It has yet to be found at OPDC…..CP and Lykke….would you not agree that this appears to be a huge double standard???


Concerned Person
November 12, 2009


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 week being tested. That equals 50% of the milk being tested, not 90%. If you tested your milk 6 days a week that mathematically works out to 85% of the milk being tested. I think you need to redo your math.

How many times a month does the state test your milk, and when you test your own milk, what pathogens are you testing for?

I agree with you. Ecoli 0157:H7 is a ticking time bomb in spinach (leafy greens), and I also add hamburger and raw milk to the list.


Blair McMorran
November 12, 2009

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 the public"? (Dr. Ron Schmid in "The Untold Story of Milk" also documented the argument you state above. Except he was incredulous, whereas you seem to accept this policy unblinkingly.)

Raw milk is a niche market and isn’t poisoning people every month….but it’s just too durn difficult to find those spinach and meat farmers that poison masses across a wide area every week?

CP, tell me you don’t see the hypocrisy in this rationale?

I submit that authorities don’t shut down the conglomerates because they pad more pockets than the small farms. But lately the small farms have the upper hand on the nutrition field, the sustainability/environment field, the Eat Local field, the Wellness field, and especially the Freedom of Choice field.

The big guys don’t like bad press, they hate change, losing money, respect and control. The only thing they have left is the establishment (USDA, FDA & some legislators) on their side. And they are using that card right now, with S.B. 501 & H.B. 2749.

I agree – It’s going to get nasty all right…they already are.


Mark McAfee
November 13, 2009


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 milk being on the list of the ticking bomb….sounds pretty negative. The CDC does not list raw milk on its top ten scary foods list.

Spinach is being tested everyday…..everyweek some fails and tons are dumped. That is scary. In our ten years of testing our raw milk….zero positive tests. There is a quantum difference in data here. That is a very big concern for me.
The Spinach growers were given $25 million for their losses in 2006….they are self regulated by industry. Ecoli 0157H7 is everywhere and they find it all the time. We have yet to find it in our milk.

Your bias is showing… lets keep this rational and fair. Ground beef and raw milk are not even comparable or in the same universe.