One of the most striking things about the Polyface operation is its remarkable cleanliness. There are relatively few flies or mosquitoes—a surprise, considering the hundreds of grazing and pecking animals. Nor are there any obnoxious odors.
Best of all, Salatin says, his system lets animals roam relatively freely and behave as nature intended them to. It "fully honors the pigness of the pig."
As he does frequently during the tour, Salatin digresses to matters more spiritual and political than agricultural: "The pig is not just pork chops and bacon and ham to us. The pig is a co-laborer in this great land-healing ministry.
"Our culture doesn't ask about preserving the essence of pig, it just asks how can we grow them faster, fatter, bigger, and cheaper. We know that's not a noble goal. That's why the average NFL football player is dead at 57, 'cause when your neck is bigger than your head you're a freak of nature and nature weeds you out."
Laughter fills the shed.
"Nature moves towards balance," Salatin intones. "I would suggest that a culture that views life from that kind of disrespectful arrogant standpoint will view its citizens the same way and other cultures the same ways."
"Amen," says a woman next to me; she is breast-feeding one of the four small children with her.
Salatin opens the floor to questions, of which there are many. Can he quantify the soil gains from the acorn glen? (Not yet, though Salatin knows there is more biodiversity here than on his neighbors farms.) How much salt does Salatin put in the hay? (Twenty-five to 35 pounds per ton.) How, without using fertilizer, does he control weeds?
Salatin pauses before countering: "You think my pastures are weedy?"
"Yeah, I do" is the response.
"Okay, well I don't," Salatin says, noting that thistles are just about the only thing his cows won't eat. "If they are control grazed tightly in a mob, they will eat things you will never believe they'll eat with relish, gusto," he adds.
With that, Salatin invites us to lunch. Heading back through the pasture, I pass a Mennonite family from Ohio. I chat with Bryna Fisher, whose family—recovering "city-folk"—have bought a farm in southern Illinois and are "learning as we go."
Lunch is a barbecue of Polyface chicken, beef, and pork, with sides of cucumber and peaches. We eat perched on bales of hay under another open-air barn, where I meet Gregg Korbon, an anesthesiologist from Charlottesville, and his 15-year-old son Matthew, who tells me that the $50,000-rabbit operation run by Daniel Salatin, Joel's grown son, has inspired him to raise rabbits.
After lunch, I stop by the airy "rakin" (rabbit-chicken house) to learn more about the rabbits. There I meet Roberta Pineda, who tells me, in Spanish, that her family owns two local taquerias. They have come to see about buying meat from Polyface because of its superior "calidad." Local Chipotle branches already buy from the farm.