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Author and farmer Joel Salatin will speak at film festival about better ways to grow America's food

By Crystal Schelle | The Herald-Mail

Joel Salatin, a Virginia-based farmer and author, is seen in a still from the movie, 'Food Inc.,' which will be shown Friday evening during the American Conservation Film Festival. Salatin was profiled in the film because of his organic, holistic and sustainable agricultural practices.
Courtesy of Participant Media |

Joel Salatin, a Virginia-based farmer and author, is seen in a still from the movie, "Food Inc.," which will be shown Friday evening during the American Conservation Film Festival. Salatin was profiled in the film because of his organic, holistic and sustainable agricultural practices.

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - Joel Salatin might be hungry, but he can wait.

The Virginia farmer, lecturer and author has gained national recognition for his organic and holistic farming practices.

But right now, he's stuck on standby at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta.

While many of his fellow passengers will probably mosey over to an airport restaurant for a quick bite to eat, Salatin is content for now.

"I'm very hungry and I'm not eating, and it's OK to not eat," he said during a telephone interview last week.

After all, his whole crusade has been about knowing where your food comes from. And Salatin's own Polyface farms, based in Swoope, Va., has a strict policy of not allowing his food to be sold more than a four-hour drive from the farm.

So it's unlikely he'll find that freshness at the airport.

Salatin, who has penned such books as "Everything I Want to Do is Illegal," and "Salad Bar Beef," is scheduled to speak on "Conversation in Context - We Are What We Eat" at 8:15 p.m. Friday, Nov. 6, as part of the American Conservation Film Festival.

He will speak between two of the movies he has been featured in, "Fresh: The Movie," which begins at 7 p.m., and "Food Inc.," which begins at 9 p.m. The movies and Salatin's talks will take place in Shepherd University's Frank Center.

A new food movement

Because he spends about one-third of his time on the road and away from his farm, Salatin makes sure to pack a few things - such as mixed nuts, homemade venison jerky and apple rings - to keep his stomach from growling too much. Not that he's a purist.

"At the end of the day, I have been known to slip off and have a bit of Ben and Jerry's ice cream," he said with a laugh.

Salatin said he's a good guest, and he's willing to eat whenever or wherever his host wants him to. But when he's alone, he doesn't mind a little gnawing at his stomach.

"I'm not working hard like I am at home, so it's good to let your stomach rumble a bit," he said.

Salatin is a third-generation farmer who is leading a movement for farmers to use more sustainable agriculture practices.

Because of his steadfast belief that America needs to change the way food is brought from field to plates, Salatin has been featured in the book, "Omnivore's Dilemma" by Michael Pollan, as well as the two films featured at the American Conservation Film Festival.

Salatin said people are starting to care about sustainable agriculture simply because they are realizing the connection between sustainable agriculture and sustainable food.

"The truth is the lion's share of the food in this country doesn't sustain life, so people are realizing the foundation of sustainable food is sustainable farming," he said. "How we farm determines the kind of food we have. Connecting those dots is what is creating the stir."

Focus on 'righteous' food

He likens America's new fascination with food to a swinging pendulum.

"All cultural movements start when the pendulum swings far enough off of center," he said. "The pendulum never hangs straight down, if you will, it's always ... skewed. As it skews farther and farther to one side, people wake up to the problems, then it begins to correct itself."

Those problems, he said, are the "squiggly Latin words" that have become of part of everyday life - food pathogens E. coli, salmonella and Listeria, to name just a few - and are all too common in the foods we eat.

Salatin said this new movement has gained in popularity similar to the home-schooling movement when parents were upset at the quality of public school system.

"The same thing became true in the food movement, until the food became so bad that it was too obvious to hide and began to show up in all of these weird diseases and pathogen problems. Then people began jumping ship," he said.

Salatin said he hopes that his talk, along with the movies, will help people to understand that there are two basic ways of land and food management. There is what he calls the Righteous Way and the Unrighteous Way.

"There is an ethical way to handle land and food and there is an unethical, unrighteous way - in fact, a way that is detrimental," he said.

He said the critical thing the films do is raise the consciousness of the issues.

"I talk to thousands of people, and many people say, 'I don't want to think about it.' If you don't think about it, you go through your routine and it doesn't have any moral or conscious ramifications," he said.

Eat well: Eat local food

"(Consumers) have the ultimate power in this movement, and they don't have to eat junk," he said. "You can really can eat good food."

He said every town has a treasure trove of high-quality, pathogen-free food.

"There are principles involved in how it's raised, whether it's pasture-based livestock or compost-grown, soil-rich diversified vegetables," he said. "The point is every area has these treasures around us. And each of us, if we want to patronize this system - which ultimately is the system that defines the landscape our grandchildren will inherit - we need to be proactive in finding, patronizing and cooking and enjoying these treasures in our communities."

The simplest, most immediate way consumers can start to promote Salatin's Righteous Way is to get into the kitchen.

"The whole industrial food system is predicated on microwavable, frozen, precooked, pre-put-together, stabilized, food-colored, shelf-stable foods," he said. "One of the biggest statements you can make is to find your kitchen, first, and then make something from scratch, even if it's local, free-range eggs, locally made salsa and locally made cheese. And in 120 seconds, you'll eat like a king. It's less than $2 a plate."


If you go ...

What: Joel Salatin will speak between "Fresh: The Movie" and "Food Inc." at American Conservation Film Festival

When: Friday, Nov. 6. "Fresh" begins at 7 p.m.; Salatin will talk at 8:15 p.m. and "Food Inc." will begin at 9 p.m.

Where: Shepherd University's Frank Center

Cost: Free admission

CONTACT: For a complete festival schedule: Go to


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