Joel Salatin Visit to Cohen Farm

Chatham Journal Article

Local food to the rescue: Joel Salatin comes to Chatham County

Posted Sunday, July 4, 2010

 Pittsboro, NC - The Carolina Farm Stewardship Association was honored to host influential farmer and activist Joel Salatin as he visited Pittsboro, NC on June 30. Joel started his day with a brief stop by the CFSA office where staff filled him in on CFSA activities. Roland McReynolds then escorted Joel to Piedmont Biofuels and CFSA member Doug Jones’ Biofarm, where Joel learned about Doug Jones’ season extension and variety trials work.

At 4 PM, a group of fifty CFSA farmer members and friends gathered at Cohen Farm for a CFSA member exclusive pasture walk with Joel. Cohen Farm, owned by CFSA members Murray and Esta Cohen, is a longstanding organic farm with 40 head of beef cattle, pastured hogs, heritage chickens and organic hay production.

While standing in the middle of a gorgeous pasture, Joel enthralled the crowd with his provocative discussion of farm management, using the Cohen’s farm as a case study. Joel described in detail his mob grazing techniques, putting 350 beef cattle in a small area with four foot tall grasses and moving them daily, on a six month rotation. “My neighbors think I’m nuts! But it works.” Joel believes that the mob grazing forces the cows back into their natural behaviors — they eat more aggressively lest their neighbor eats a plant first. “The cows don’t just eat the ice cream and ignore the spinach.” To Joel’s pleasure, this has been leading to better plant biodiversity in the fields.

Following the herd, he deploys two chicken tractors with 800 birds each, commenting that it takes just as much time to handle a large flock as a small one. “We need to build in efficiencies on the farm.” At a minimum, he recommends one chicken per cow to complete the mob gazing system.

When asked about liming and seeding, he said that he had never sown a seed or put out lime in thirty years. He said that proper grazing and letting the grass grow tall will build soft and rich soil; management is the key problem, not the soil ph. He’s not opposed to some soil amendments and does purchase greensand, but doesn’t see that as the place to start. Joel talked extensively about fencing and preferred to buy or lease land with no fencing in place since so often it is in the wrong place. “No straight fences!” he extolled. “Let the fencing follow natural pathways and good access points.”

When the discussion moved to water, Joel suggested investing money in ponds and building them deeper and bigger to make a farm more drought tolerant. “We are stewards of the land and it is our duty to honor the land by making it resilient. Water is critical.”

When asked about shade, Joel extolled the virtues of portable shade devices and described his equipment, joyrigged from old wagon chassis, piping and shade cloth. His equipment is made to withstand strong winds, which is important. One of his devices, he said, can provide shade for up to 100 head of cattle.

What about predators getting his chickens? For flock protection from ground predators, Joel strongly suggested well-trained guard dogs, whether exotic breeds or mutts. “Start them young.” For aerial predators, he likes having a goose — just one goose per flock has worked for him.

After the pasture walk on Wednesday evening, Joel spoke about food issues to an overflow crowd of 300 at Central Carolina Community College. He complimented the college on its sustainable farming program and new Natural Chef program (cosponsors of his visit.) Joel then gave an engaging hour-long talk on the perils of our industrial food system and how it is affecting our health, our communities and our rural landscape. When asked whether sustainable farming could feed the world, he brought up the events of the 1940s. Just when composting and a profound biological view of farming was emerging, World War II hit with its massive investment in bomb-making. Chemical fertilizers, cousins of bomb-making materials, received a massive subsidy from the government. It is just now that biological farming is finally catching up!

CFSA thanks Joel for visiting the Carolinas and appreciates the support of the NC Tobacco Trust Fund Commission, CCCC and an anonymous donor for making his visit possible. We also want to thank the Cohens for opening up their farm and Angelina’s Kitchen for refreshments.

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