Can We Feed the World? – The Mother Earth News Fair, Friday, September 21, 2012


Friday at the MEN Fair I had the privilege of hearing Joel Salatin speak. Joel’s topic was “Can we feed the World?” This is one of the questions most often asked of the organic, small scale, locavorian farmer.  While my heart tells me we can, I’m often a little tongue tied when it comes to discussing how.

Enter Joel.

For those who may not be familiar with Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms fame, allow me to introduce you. Joel has been farming for 30 years. He is much more than just a farmer; philosopher, scientist, political pundit, activist – all these titles and more could be used to describe Joel. He is cogent, coherent, methodical, and he’s probably a genius to boot.

Joel traced the “near history” of agriculture starting with the 1800’s, when “traditional” farming methods were still the norm. He traced the work of  Justus von Liebig, considered by many to be the father of organic chemistry, and the impact of two world wars on the chemical industry.

He moved on to the work of Sir Albert Howard who completed his Scientific Aerobic Composting trials in 1943 and is often regarded as the father of the organic farming movement.

While Joel acknowledged that Sir Albert was ahead of his time, and his ideas would have been difficult to implement on any kind of scale in the 1940’s, much has changed since then. We now have “cool tools” to help us manage the carbon sources that are the basis of Sir Albert’s methods. Nature doesn’t move carbon very far, and Joel contends that we shouldn’t, either.

Joel provided some interesting facts and figures during his talk. For example, Joel claims that we are not losing as much farmland to urbanization as we are to abandonment with 3.1 million acres of farmland abandoned in New York alone.

Joel also believes that, due to the advent of the electric fence and few other inexpensive farm aids, we can now “bio-mimic” the carbon cycle, and we can actually restore and maintain fertility better than nature.

A few Joel Salatin quotes that I especially like:

“Innovation happens on the ragged edge of a disturbance.”

“The world is not starving for production. The world is starving for utilization – and a shortened custody chain.”

“Nature responds to touch. Nature wants us to participate in massaging the ecological womb.”

Joel contends that we – organic, small scale, “locavore” farmers – can feed the world. In fact, says Joel, we are the only “tribe” that can feed the world sustainably.

No longer will I stutter when someone says to me “it’s a nice hobby and a beautiful theory, but can you really feed the world? Thanks Joel.

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