For centuries, Greco-Roman thought has dominated western civilization, and this paradigm has always marginalized the physical world in favor of the esoteric spiritual realm. Biblical stewardship and engagement with the earth has been viewed as something less than desirable, and in our age brings to mind tree hugging Gaia-worshipping environmentalism. However, conservatives are beginning to realize that we can be caretakers of this world, living in harmony with nature and protecting our resources, without elevating the physical realm to an object of deification.
Please join host Bill Heid; Nick Huizenga, Senior Botanist of Heirloom Solutions; and farmer Joel Salatin on today’s episode of Off the Grid Radio as they discuss man’s place in the world that God has created, his responsibility to it, and how it is possible to merge the respect of the physical realm with the desire of the spiritual without forsaking one for the other.
Off The Grid Radio
Release Date February 21, 2013
Bill: And welcome to the show today. It’s Bill Heid and I’ve got in the studio Nick Huizinga. Nick, welcome to the show. Thanks for being with us.
Nick: Thanks for having me, Bill. Always a pleasure.
Bill: Good to have you. For folks that don’t know Nick, he is our senior botanist—or senior botanist, as we say up here in northern Illinois—and I thought it would be a good one for him to be on—a good episode for him to be on—because our guest today is a farmer, Joel Salatin. Joel, welcome.
Joel: Thank you. It’s great to be with you.
Bill: Thanks so much. Notice I didn’t say, “Joel is an author, lecturer, spokesperson.” I just said, “Joel is a farmer.” How do you like that?
Joel: I love it. I love it. You’re exactly right.
Bill: Did you see the Super Bowl?
Bill: Did you see the Paul Harvey one—“And God made a farmer”—did that give you goose bumps?
Joel: I had tears. Yeah, I have that on my computer, actually, along with all of his… Paul Harvey was… I really… It’s tragic that we have young people today that don’t know who Paul Harvey was. He was… Yeah, he had the… At Christmas he would do “The Man and the Birds” and at Easter he would do the little birds in the cage and he just had a bunch of these that were just tremendous.
Bill: Well, the reason I bring it up and I think it’s appropriate is—and it may be both you guys have a perspective on this—but it seems to me like we enjoy those and as I read the data it looks like that was one or the best, most enjoyed commercial. So Americans have this propensity to sort of like farmers, kind of like supporting the troops. But my thesis, guys, is that it’s like a lot of American theology, like a lot of pop, of Americana. It’s Greek in orientation. In other words, I’m saying it’s an abstraction. Joel, your… I’m familiar with you saying the idea is parents really don’t… I mean I was in FFA and out of 100 kids in my high school graduating class probably half of the boys were in FFA. So that’s the world that I grew up in—“how do we work with the land?” But what I’m saying today, is to echo or channel your perspective, moms don’t say—soccer moms—don’t say anymore “What’s your son going to be?” “He wants to be a farmer,” does he? I mean is that part of our zeitgeist, our cultural perspective anymore?
Joel: Oh no. It’s… Again, it’s this great disconnect. I think farming, just because intuitively understand that farmers are important to the culture, to our food, to food and fiber, doesn’t mean that the average person wants to do that or necessarily be involved in it and so we have this kind of cultural stereotype about the redneck, hillbilly, trip over the fence, tobacco-spitting, inarticulate, D-student farmer and there is… Yeah, there is a huge cultural kind of marginalization of these people who are actually stewards of the Earth. So what’s happened is because it’s not a culturally attractive field—vocation—to enter, we’ve essentially been draining the brains out of farmland stewardship in rural America, been draining the brains out for a long time and consequently we’re getting worse and worse decisions instead of better decisions.
Bill: It seems like it. Nick, any thoughts on that?
Nick: I just… I find it interesting that the stereotype of the farmer, like Joel says, it’s not what it used to be. This…
Bill: Like the old gray mare.
Nick: Yes, exactly. I come from a long line of farmers who were out there sweating it out every day. I didn’t grow up on a farm. My dad wasn’t a farmer. He is actually an IT guy. So this is something that I discovered after I graduated from high school and I was always kind of, as Joel says again, disconnected from this inarticulate, D-student, these people who are supposed to be stewards of the land but one thing that I found troubling once I started getting into gardening and then farming on a larger scale—or actually it would be considered small scale farming—was that the stereotype is that some of these farmers are doing their job and they’re really not doing their job. So I think that there are stereotypes that exist for farmers that are untrue on that side as well, where we’re not coming up with better solutions. We just keep pouring chemicals into the ground and say that “This is going to be better for your yield, for your bottom dollar.”
Bill: Well, let me make another comment and you guys… get your perspective. Joel, it seems like the root… I like to always… “How do we go back to the beginning?” It’s almost like an Andrew Lloyd Webber thing—Jacob and Sons—we go back to the original. Where does this idea come from, right? How and why? I wanted to read something to you interesting and I thought this might strike a cord with not only your Bob Jones education but sort of getting to the root of the problem about how we look at what creation is and what God’s done for us. I’ll just read this quick quote and then you can comment on it because I thought it was pretty cool.
This really came from Paul Johnson who wrote a lot of history books but he wrote The History of Christianity—not real friendly to Christianity in many cases—but he looked at this as a bit of a farce and this is a little bit of his quote. And this is about an evangelical parson’s wife and about when her kids came home from seminary—her fine, young boys. Here is the quote: “When her fine and manly boys came home for the holidays she would not allow them to stand at the window of their father’s parsonage without making them turn their backs so as to not look at the romantic views which the house was encircled”—and here we go, Joel—“lest the loveliness of Satan’s Earth would alienate their affections from the better world to come.” Wow. There’s a little bit of Gnosticism going on there, right?
Joel: Yeah, well it’s St. Augustine. It’s the duality—the spirit is good and physical is bad—and that has dominated Western thought for a long, long time. I call it Greco-Roman thought—this linear reductionist… and duality. And yes, that is absolutely one of the big issues in the—I’ll just be very, very broad—to the religious right community is this demonization of everything physical is evil and everything spirit is good. And so we can’t put any… We can’t dwell on this world—what you see, what’s visible—because it’s more important to dwell on what’s invisible and yet… And yet every religion from Christianity to Judaism to Hinduism, Buddhism and everything that is involved with otherworldly ascendancy, if you will, predicates the otherworld ascendancy on faithfulness in how we carry out physical things here.
I mean even “Love your neighbor” is not some esoteric, mystical thing. It’s… Love is an active verb. You have to do something. You can’t just think it. And all the religions have this in common and so I would suggest that this is a tremendous disservice to the otherworldly goal when we don’t appreciate physical creation, stewardship and interpersonal physical relationships as being actually the springboard or the steppingstone as we move onto that other life.
Bill: Sure, and I think you’re right about… I mean it’s easy to go back to Augustine because he was a writer but I’m sure earlier on in the Church you had that sort of dualistic view and I think that’s the Greek element that kind of comes in that creates a little bit of abstractionism. But if you go through history, Joel, you get… It shows up… Like in Augustine’s case—let’s just try to be sympathetic to him for a second and then maybe we can come up to a solution that can help people—he saw the world crumbling and so he had to come up with some way to respond to that in his head. You go to the monastic period—world is in trouble—what’s the best way to do it? Get away from the evil of the world. You go all throughout history. John Darby saw this in the early 1830s—saw this trouble—what’s the way? Wait for heaven. And Hal Lindsey saw this—don’t get involved. It’s Satan’s planet—not yours—and so you have no business redeeming it. All these folks didn’t get up in the morning though and say, “How can I sort of try to destroy Christianity and Western civilization.” It was just a reaction, Joel, to their circumstances. So I think it’s a rationalistic man-centered reaction instead of saying, “What’s the Bible say? Thy will be done on… Mars? No, on Earth as it is in heaven,” right?
Joel: Yeah. Yeah, and in fact that was Jesus’ prayer and I would suggest that the reason that He prayed, “Thy will be done on Earth as it is heaven” is that… It is because too many times it’s not done on Earth. I’m going to get askew of my hyper-Calvinist friends here but… I don’t know if we want to go down this road…
Bill: Go ahead and go down there because I think hyper-Calvinism is as crazy as Arminianism so…
Joel: When I walk into a hyper-sovereignty situation and there’s all… there’s chaos all around and the guy “That’s all right. God’s in control…” Well, whoa, wait a minute. God didn’t make that 15-year-old girl get pregnant. God didn’t make… No. You’re not… God didn’t make that guy rob a bank. The problem is my imperative is to seek every moment and say… to live so that God is in control. The problem of life is that too often He’s not in control and while yes… Yes, absolutely He can intervene and do anything He wants to, at any time still the tempest or turn a hurricane or whatever, He does have that power but generally He doesn’t just miraculously intervene into the physical principles and processes.
So if I go out here and spread chemicals and dump a bunch of herbicides that leach into the groundwater, I can pray all day to keep my child healthy but if the herbicides have gone into the groundwater and come up my well, my child is going to drink that water. God can keep the herbicide from not affecting my child. Chances are He won’t because He has also established physical, natural law and order in the universe—cosmic order—in the universe that runs by a certain set of principles and half of the Pentateuch is how we live within that ecological profit and loss statement, if you will—how do we live within that ecological template in which we do preserve a land flowing with milk and honey and not turn it into a desert and locusts and pestilence and whatever?
Bill: Well, and I think that’s… I think you’re right on and I think God uses people to get things done so to stand there and watch a fire and say, “God wanted that to burn down” and not grab a bucket and put it out, I think is to sort of miss what the Bible is all about. And we do have sort of an owner’s manual. You’ve made a wonderful career out of using that owner’s manual to sort of try to redeem land. Now we can do this redemption idea in every aspect of our lives, as Abraham Kuyper would say, sphere sovereignty—there isn’t one square inch of this Earth that Jesus doesn’t say, “Mine.”
You’ve certainly taken the agricultural side and have made great attempts to sort of redeem it and redeem land. And I think that is the cultural mandate. I think that is the dominion mandate is stewardship. And a question I wanted to ask you was why does it seem like—and I know Nick would be in the same category as you and I—we seem to run out of friends because the right wing talk show guys sort of have a machine gun nest respect… I mean their respect of the environment. They see us as being grouped in with the leftists who want to worship the creature and creation and not God and yet the right seems to be as far away from the three of us as the left is. Where are our friends, Joel?
Joel: Yeah, well you’re exactly right. Our friends are in the homeschooling community and I say that partly in fun but very serious. 20 years ago, I’m going to say 75-80% of the visitors to our farm were total ecological, liberal, Earth-muffin, tree-hugger, save-the-baby-whale folks. Today I would say 60% of the visitors to our farm are conservative homeschool families that have found satisfaction in opting out, in going counter to the cultural paradigm, found it so satisfactory and what happens is it doesn’t matter where you start… When you begin taking that road not normally taken—Robert Frost poem—when you begin going a different direction and you find it very rewarding and satisfying, you wake up the next morning and you suddenly say, “Well, what else have I been missing out on?”
And so what happens is that education—that whole educational paradigm, institutional humanism and all that, taking God out of the schools and peer dependency and all the things that Raymond and Dorothy Moore wrote about early on in the homeschooling movement—parents begin pulling their kids out of the schools. They like what they saw. They liked what it did. They like what it did to their families. And then they started going to family reunions and guess what—the grandparents wanted to hang around their kids, not those other kids that were in the school system. And so what happened was this gradual awakening and awareness—wow—if this could be that much different and rewarding, what else am I missing? So then the next thing you know, they’re looking at food and they’re starting to think, “Well, maybe we shouldn’t be eating our Twinkies and Cocoa Puffs. Maybe we need to be eating something else.”
And so the next thing you know, then they’re looking at medicine and they’re saying, “Well, maybe we need to go to an acupuncturist, an iridologist, a chiropractor that we used to call a ‘chiroquacktor,’” you know? And then they go there and sure enough, for a tenth of the money they actually get healed; they get cured. Wow. I mean laying on of hands. I mean it’s a hand thing. It’s not just a pharmaceutical thing. And then they say, “Well, my goodness. Maybe we’re missing out something in investments” and then they begin looking at alternative investments and alternative recreation and ways to spend their family vacation. Instead of Disneyworld they go to a missions trip or something and then they say, “Well, maybe our whole family could do something together.” Next thing you know they’re looking for a couple of acres that they can become self-reliant and have a milk cow and some chickens and a garden and a honeybee hive.
And what I’m saying is that this path, whether it starts with medicine, with some alternative healing, whether it starts with education, alternative… But as soon as you start down this alternative path in one area it’s amazing what falls into line. I’ll tell you one story of a farmer friend of mine. He was a totally conventional farmer. He is a relative through my wife so the only thing worse than trying to talk to a neighbor is a neighbor who’s also a relative. But anyway, didn’t have anything to do with… And he was a dairy farmer and so at a family shindig one day he was sitting there grousing about how awful it was raising these baby calves and they weren’t healthy and it took his wife two hours a day to do all the bottles and wash them and all this stuff.
I had been very aware and had just visited a dairy that was using these New Zealand vacuum nipples where they just… They didn’t wash anything. They just used 55-gallon drums. They actually put them on four-wheeler trailers. They’d go out—didn’t even segregate calves in little, independent haunches. They grew them in great big mobs of 100 or so. They’d take this tin, 55-gallon drum… a wagon train of vacuum nipples out and I won’t bore you with all the details but essentially, it completely changes the whole nursing to become more like if a calf is nursing its mother. They have to pull a vacuum. They have to crook their neck so the milk goes into the fourth stomach instead of the first one and all these sort of cool things.
Well, I just mentioned this to the guy and he was so desperate he says, “Give me the number of that guy and I’ll see about it.” Well, six months later we had another family shindig. His wife comes running up to me and just bear hugs me, thanks me for giving her her life back. She is a middle… She’s like 50 years old. I said, “What in the world is going on here?” I’ve always been the black sheep here, you know? And suddenly I’m this hero. And he in fact got those nipples. They did in fact revolutionize the health of the calves and their workload and their marriage.
Bill: There you go.
Joel: And so he stood there and he said, “Okay, now what? What else do you have to recommend?” So then I got him on… And today he’s seasonal dairy and taking two months off in the winter. They go off on a Caribbean cruise. None of his three kids wanted anything to do with the farm growing up because it was such a drudgery. Now all three kids want to be on the farm and work with the family. They have this wonderful family business. They’re healthy cows. They’re making money. It all started by being willing to do one thing different, finding it satisfying and then the whole world opened up.
Bill: It’s almost like just the phrase… I say to Nick all the time “Seeds grow.” So if you plant… Ideas have consequences. If you plant a seed that says, “Hey, maybe this crazy, wacky control grid”—now I think… When I talk about “grid” on this show I’m talking about the sort of chains or grid that we’ve created with our own mental concoctions as much as I am plugging into electricity or unplugging from electricity and I think the “control grid” is really how we use paradigms. And so you’re talking about… Really it’s almost like Bill Murray in “What About Bob?” It’s baby steps, right? You take one step, right?
Bill: And then the next thing can happen because your eyes are opened to new vistas for something—things that you totally thought… Your presuppositions have changed and how you see things foundationally once that gets racked a bit, then worlds open to you and you end up… Like you said, people that would never in their wildest dreams be thinking of alternatives—that’s their world. And they become zealots too. I’ve watched people go on this journey that you’re talking about and they end up becoming people that start out someplace maybe less than where I’m at. They end up going right past me and doing greater things than what I would ever think of doing because of that.
Joel: Well, the reason for that… Yeah, the reason for that is because again, the Biblical principle “He who is saved from much loves much.” And so if you are chronically ill with whatever—irritable bowel syndrome—or some chronic, debilitating thing and you suddenly find… Like the woman with the issue of blood who had used up all of her money on doctors and was no better, when she touched the hem of his garment she felt the blood stand. My point is that when you have exhausted everything that’s conventional and you… and then you get relief from something that’s unconventional, “He who is saved from much loves much” and so when you’re… A lot of these folks that pass you and me, because they were so far down or so financial or whatever, then you’re right—they tend to become the real zealots because their capacity to appreciate… Their gratitude and appreciation for what they’ve found is so much more than some of us who haven’t had such profound salvation experiences—whatever.
Bill: Sure. And let’s talk about the paradigm idea because here is an important point that I think really needs to be fleshed in that just inasmuch as for Augustine or in the monastic period or whatever, the opposite of… They saw worldliness and so they said, “Don’t like that. The opposite must be escape from the world” instead of Biblical stewardship and engagement. So here we are with the conservative-liberal paradigm that we were talking about. So if you would ask our friend Rush Limbaugh, who we have an affinity for and he says some good things but if we say, “What about environmentalism?” sort of the opposite of the left for him—of the save-the-co-dependent-lesbian-whale crowd—is corporate, sort of unbridled private enterprise as if that were the highest thing in the universe.
So I’m a capitalist. I know you are too. We both enjoy free enterprise. But to make it the… To make it ultimate in the universe and say, “Everything has to bow at that image” I think is idolatry and it seems to me, Joel, that that… Unfortunately, that glue that America used to be a set of ideas… Now the glue is money and private capitalism at any cost—not Biblical stewardship. So the opposite of left-wing-ism isn’t that. It’s something else. I know I gave you… Instead of a tennis ball to hit back over I gave you a bit of a medicine ball there so you can either throw it back or hit it back—whatever you want to do.
Joel: Yeah, well listen. I live about 30 miles from Monticello—Thomas Jefferson’s home—and I have actually… I’ve become a bit of a student of the plantation mentality and stuff. I actually have done a couple talks on plantations as the foundation for America’s industrial, corporate, factory-farming system because they were predicated on several pillars. One was cheap labor—slavery. One was outsourced fertility instead of insource. That’s why they drained the whole guano from off the coast of Peru that took millennia to accumulate—pulled it off by steamer ship and Chinese labor—and in like 25 years it was exhausted. The outsourced fertility—it was all about export rather than feeding your communities—everything was about export. And finally, it was all growing annuals and ripping up as many perennials as we can. So it was an annual-based, tillage-based system rather than a perennial-based system.
And so those four pillars are being more and more manifest so yeah, I… I see, for example, the fact that there was absolutely no respect for the Native American population as being symptomatic of simply a Western arrogance and inability to appreciate the contributions of the other folks. So what happens to the Rush Limbaughs? Yeah, I mean listen—when he starts talking about entrepreneurism and the American ideal and free enterprise, I don’t think anybody is as eloquent as Rush. But then when he brings the machine gun on and shoots the monkeys in the jungle and… That’s not funny.
Bill: That’s not funny to me either.
Joel: No, it’s not funny. And what it does is it provides fodder for… It completely destroys any emotional equity that entrepreneurism and self-reliance would generate in the face of the liberal—if we could stereotype it—liberal agenda, which is essentially top-down victimhood, irresponsibility and the supposed governmental safety net. So what happens is that rather than—I’ll just say our side—rather than the more conservative, smaller government, self-reliant view having the moral high ground environmentally and from an animal abuse standpoint and an ecology standpoint… Rather than us carrying that—if we call it warm fuzzies—that environmentalism ethic forward, we have lost all that equity and have been seen and are perceived universally as the rapists and pillagers of our country.
I was at the University of Guelph up in Canada a couple of years ago and the guy… The speaker… There were three of us speaking and the guy who spoke right ahead of me had a Bible and I thought, “Well, this will be interesting.” He stands up in his opening monologue and he holds that Bible aloft and he says, “I want you students here at this university to understand that every Earth destruction, every gully, every tainted well and polluted lagoon”—I mean he just went on for like two minutes—“is because of this book.” And of course I followed him. What am I going to say? And so of course I said that it’s because of a misinterpretation and a lack of understanding of the mandates of this book that those things have happened—not because of this book. God didn’t intend for the Earth to be soiled. His mandate was that we would extend that spiritual redemption…
Here is my final take on it or my bottom line. My bottom line is that the physical creation that we see is an object lesson of God’s attributes and so the question is—I have this farm—how do I show forgiveness through this farm? Well, that becomes very visceral then. I show forgiveness by the fact that my animals aren’t sick, that I don’t have to use the veterinarian, that I build ponds so that in a flood the water doesn’t run off and in a drought I have water to seep out and maintain the water cycle so I’m hydrating. We moved to perennials instead of annuals so there’s less tillage. The soil is always built under perennials. We have more earthworms, higher organic matter. The farm becomes self-reliant in that we’re not outsourcing fertility—we’re insourcing fertility onsite—that’s the way God designed it. He doesn’t ship carbon all around the world. He has the sunshine that hits every part of the world and grows enough biomass onsite to build soil there with animals. There is no animal-less system. So any system that’s ecologically sound has to incorporate a lot of animals. It can’t just be corn and beans with petroleum based chemical fertilizer coming in. It has to be an integrated system—not a segregated system.
And so when you take these principles together what happens is suddenly your farm develops shock-resistance, resilience. That’s called “forgiveness.” It’s called forgiveness in nature. Suddenly people come and we’re green when everybody else is brown. We’re… Our animals are healthy when others are diseased. And we’re attractive, profitable farmers when others are esthetically and aromatically repugnant. And it’s a beautiful place and that’s another godly principle. God is beautiful and so how do we make a farm that’s beautiful? If you’re stinking up the neighborhood and scared the neighbor is going to sue you for noise or pollution or dust or violations, that’s not a beautiful place. And so every nook and cranny needs to be a place that a kindergarten class would want to come and sit on a bucket and participate with. And so the point is that nature, that the ecology and even as specific as our farm businesses should be object lessons that the neighbors—that the world—sees, that explains in a visceral, physical way the attributes of God.
Bill: So being one of God’s—let’s use the phrase—vice regent, you’ve got responsibilities to reflect His attributes and He’s got a lot of attributes. That’s the one thing about God—He’s got a lot of attributes. This is a pretty big book for telling the story of a pretty big God. So what are some other attributes that you try to reflect on Polyface?
Joel: Well, another one is that it is fundamentally relationally oriented. God likes relationships with everybody. It’s “Whosoever will…” and so we want… He doesn’t, unfortunately but He wants it. And so what we want is a farm with, for example, a lot of people, a lot of job opportunities, a lot of ability to be expressed. That is fundamentally relational. The goal of most governments in the world, as far as ag policy, is to have fewer and fewer farmers and in fact in the US, of course, we now have twice as many people incarcerated in prisons as we have farming and we think that this is so successful other cultures should be like us. And there has never been that few people involved in feeding a civilization ever since the beginning of history. And so we think that warm bodies, that relational communal farms—I’m not talking about communes—I’m saying with a lot of relational and people on them, is actually a very good thing.
Another element is that God loves… He loves diversity in gifts and talents. He… Not only is He a three-part God, Son and Holy Spirit but He has ministering angels; He has a whole host of beings that perform certain functions and orders. And of course it boils all the way down into the Church in that everybody is not gifted the same way and so we have numerous lists of the different gifts in the Church. And so how do we accentuate that? Well, how we accentuate that is that every plant and animal… We’re looking for a niche—a habitat niche—that allows it to fully express its physiological distinctiveness; the pigness of the pig, the chickenness of the chicken, the tomatoness of the tomato. And so we don’t grow plants hydroponically. Roots are supposed to be in the soil.
The pigs have a plow on the end of their nose so we don’t ring their nose—we say, “How can we get these pigs…? How can we enjoy the pigness of the pig—the plow?” And so the pigs turn all of our compost for us so we don’t have to use petroleum and machinery to do that. The pigs aerate our compost. We call them “pigerators.” The cow… The cows in nature… What symbiotic relationship do you see behind herbivores in nature? You see flocks of birds. Birds follow cows. The egret on a rhino’s nose—there is a symbiosis where the birds scratch through the dung, eat out the parasites and all that, sanitize. And so we follow the cows with our eggmobile. The chickens free-range out, scratch through the cow patties and incorporate the manure into the soil to spread out that fertility in a more benign, helpful way rather than having a concentration in one spot—egalitarian. But the chickens, in expressing their chickenness with their beaks and their claws, then actually perform meaningful work.
So when you come to the farm you’re seeing these numerous habitats of place and time that accentuate the relative value of gifts and talents and I would suggest that a culture that doesn’t respect that… For example, right now our land grant universities are doing studies to try to isolate the stress… the poor sign—stress gene—so that we can continue to confine and abuse pigs but at least they won’t be stressed about it. Now compare that…
Bill: Can’t we just drug them? Can’t we give them Prozac? Prozac for pigs—there is your next new idea—Prozac for pigs.
Joel: Yeah. So anyway, the point is if that’s the view—if we take a mechanical view of the pigs, for example—and we just view them as inanimate piles of protoplasmic structure to be manipulated however cleverly hubris can imagine to manipulate them, that same view toward life will quickly permeate a culture so that the culture—the government—begins viewing its citizens in the same kind of manipulative, mechanistic way and other cultures in the same kind of manipulative, mechanistic way. And so the whole circle comes around to… I can give even an example of George Wythe who of course was the professor who educated Thomas Jefferson at William and Mary and if you go and visit George Wythe—the current re-enactor of George Wythe—at Williamsburg in Virginia and you ask him about, for example, the Indian situation, he is very… very clear and adamant that these Indians are just barbarians. You ask, “Why?” He says, “Well, because they don’t have wigs. They don’t powder their hair. They don’t ride in stagecoaches.” And you say, “But wait a minute. They have these cool canoes and they use rivers as super-highways and they get around; they make leagues with each other” and he says, “Well, but they don’t have a Parliament.” “Well, no but they have their annual meetings with their elders and they sit around with a peace pipe and rule by consensus.”
Anyway, you go on this dialogue and at the end he gets exasperated—I’ve done this to him before so I know what I’m talking about—he gets exasperated and he says, “Well, I may be wrong but that’s what we think. They’re just barbarians.” And it’s that same mentality that’s taken toward parents that don’t vaccinate their kids, toward parents that want to feel their kids raw milk, toward parents that want to self-educate their kids or toward families that eschew the highest pay job for a self-reliant garden and farmstead and see that as advantageous. Their family thinks they’re nuts. And all of this is essentially viewed as barbarian thinking, when actually it brings a lot to the table civilizationally and innovatively to the culture that I think would be far more sustainable and regenerative and redemptive than the kind of simply extractive pillage annihilation mentality that we have toward everything that’s regenerative and sustainable.
Bill: Well, and I think your point is a good one because ideas have a sense about sustainable to them as well. In other words, some paradigms—the point you’re making, I think, is important—some paradigms just aren’t sustainable over time. They’re going to break down because you’ve taken them outside of the created order and you’ve tried to force on something the way it wasn’t meant to be. I know in speeches you’ve mentioned “Is it right? Folks, this ain’t normal.” Feeding cows other cows—so grinding a cow up and feeding it to another cow… I don’t care what university, what department of agriculture study—whatever they come up with—feeding a cow to another cow is not a sustainable thing in any way, shape or form.
And I mean why not just go back to the owner’s manual and figure these things out? The way… I guess the point I’m making, Joel, is we’re going to be messed with whether it’s in Augustine’s case, the barbarians, the Roman civilization ending, we look outside ourselves—we look outside our window—we’re going to see things breaking down. So the temptation is to always invent a rationalistic, manmade, humanistic paradigm instead of going home and finding the way God intended things to be and then saying, “Okay, as a vice regent—as somebody who was put on this Earth to do something—how then should I live?” Right?
Joel: Yes. Yes. And lest anybody misinterpret—because obviously, as soon as I get on something like this everybody assumes I’m a Luddite, I’m anti-technology, anti-progress, anti-science—no, not at all. And just to explain the ramification of it, for example, I don’t think there is anything inherently evil or wrong about, for example, discovering petroleum and drilling for oil. The problem comes when we use that—I’ll call it a “bonanza” because I really think in the continuum of history it has been a bonanza because it has for the first time in human history created an ability for cheap energy, which has fundamentally changed so much about our lives—it’s enabled us to segregate; it’s enabled us to do things that we’ve never been able to do before. But imagine if we had instead used this bonanza as carefully and gently as possible, like you would use a savings account—if we had used it as a savings account—rather than a winning the lottery. We would still have a lot of it in the ground. I mean the fact that in the 1960s there were 100 mile per gallon carburetors that were invented routinely and they were bought up by the oil and automobile companies and we stayed at 15 mile per gallon carburetors for decades—it’s immoral.
It’s immoral to have used that gift, that bonanza, up so quickly so that today, for example, instead of building sick houses, if we used that oil bonanza today to make, for example, submersible plastic cisterns next to all of our houses to take the roof runoff so that the water that lands on our lot doesn’t run off into the storm water system and create a problem for our neighbors but instead we keep those raindrops there and we hook up our exercise bicycle to a pump to pump the water back up onto the roof, which has 12 inches of perlite and some compost on it so we grow a vegetable garden on the roof, now we’ve doubled our garden production site. Then we take petroleum that makes plastic and we put a solarium on the southern exposure of the house, the solarium allows us to passively heat the house so that we don’t have to buy energy from outside and that space—that passive space—we line with some black painted barrels or something as a Trombe wall to act as a heat sink or whatever and then we can grow mescaline mix in there and we can grow broccoli and cabbage—cool season plants—even in Minneapolis in the wintertime with no supplemental heat and now suddenly we don’t have to use… we don’t have to pillage the oil to run tractor-trailers from California or Mexico north with mescaline mix and cabbage in the wintertime. We’ve now become self-sufficient on our own lot with our own water, our own carbon cycle and our own energy and so instead of being a net resource liability to the planet we’ve used our large brain and opposing thumbs to actually massage this ecological umbilical into being far more productive and resourceful than it would in a static state. That is true stewardship.
Bill: Doesn’t it seem like there is a lot of people who really have an innate…? And what’s interesting—I think we’ve probably both experienced this—but they don’t come from necessarily a theological perspective. In other words, you moved into the Shenandoah area and prior to you going there, there was a lot of… well, let’s just say farmers that… There was a denomination—every denomination imaginable probably—messing with the soil there.
Joel: Oh sure.
Bill: In other words, there was no… 200 years plus of… 300 years—whatever—of working that soil in that area that you live and yet not one of those denominations had an articulate theology of the soil. That’s… To me that’s almost as bad as anything we’ve talked about. So doesn’t that seem bizarre to you that no one has really thought about that in all this time? And here you are. You had the children of the Reformation coming here and they’re off on their boats and they land and they want to sort of build a city on a hill but what you find—and no one’s saying anything against that—what you find is just the application of God’s principles seem to sort of kind of get constricted and weren’t applied in this broader sense. It’s astounding to me.
Joel: Yes. Well, I think partly because—I don’t know if this is the whole reason—but certainly partly because it’s a whole lot easier to talk than walk. It’s a lot easier to talk about love than do it. I was at a UN council up in… Where was it? Nova Scotia it was held and the host of the meeting was the… What was he? The prime minister or whatever he is—he’s like second in command under the king of the little Hindu country of Bhutan, which is kind of sandwiched between Nepal and China, up in there. And if you recall, that’s the king who in the 19—like ’52—decided that instead of measuring his societal progress based on gross economic development or gross domestic product, they would measure it based on gross domestic happiness and they have now spent half a century creating mathematical formulas so that measuring—they’ve got four pillars of measuring gross domestic happiness—and they’ve actually created a formula so that a society can actually measure gross domestic happiness. Well anyway, I’m certainly not a Hindu or a Buddhist but…
Bill: Buddha would be happy about that but… Yeah.
Joel: Anyway, they did this meditation. I was sitting there in the… attending… I was one of the speakers and I was in there with whatever it was—there were 800 people or something—and he said, “I want you to… We’re going to do a meditation”—the little guru came in—and he said, “We’re going to do a meditation. We’re going to meditate on love and we’re going… What I want you to do…” And he went through this exercise for about five minutes. We’re all sitting there with our eyes closed. Well, and I’m sitting there—“Oh boy, this is going to be good.” And it was good because what he said was, “I want you to think about someone you’re going to encounter today and how you are going to demonstrate your love for them.” Now in my Christian circles, my friends as I go down this story, they start to shudder—“Oh…” But we don’t think… We read “love…” We say, “Well, yeah we’re supposed to love” and we read this—“God’s love”—whatever—but it’s a very academic exercise. And the thing that I took back from this experience was these guys were actually trying to create a visceral manifestation of something as cerebral, seemingly, as love. And so I thought, “You know that is a difference.”
So when you talk about these denominations coming in here, my goodness—they were… They had no problem sitting down and haranguing over a prepositional phrase in a catechism. That’s fun. That’s what you do when you’re godly, you know? That’s holy talk. That’s sacred discussion—immersion or sprinkling or security and condition or whatever, you know? There are a million different things. But we don’t want to taint our lives with discussions of Earth and physical things. And in fact, it’s a bit of the… The flipside of that coin is the environmental movement, which grew out of the Romanesques—Visch, Shelley, Keats and nothing is beautiful as a tree—from Aldo Leopold to Thorough and Audubon. When you’re trying to think of these offhand you can’t think of them all.
But anyway, the environmental movement grew out of an inordinate worship, if you will, of the Earth and so you have this dichotomy in the culture when you have reformations and awakenings and things. It was all almost so spiritual that the physical manifestations were not… certainly not codified and you had this other movement almost simultaneously—yin-yang other movement—that was coming up out of the Earth and developed into Gaia theory and all this and so the two sides naturally were… didn’t lack for love because of course the Christians viewed these other folks as total pagans and pantheists and the pagans and pantheists saw the Christians as being totally hypocritical and not caring about anything that was real—that was important. And so… And we still have that—from Sean Hannity to Rush Limbaugh to whatever—we still have that same dichotomy today and it’s why the religious right is scared to death to actually start using paper cups at church bazaars instead of Styrofoam and why recycling is sneered at and anyone who… Imagine—just imagine—if… What’s the guy’s name… the Chick-fil-A guy? Oh… Cathy.
Bill: What is his name? Truitt. Truitt Cathy.
Joel: Truitt. Yeah. Okay. Just imagine if during all the flap about him saying, “Marriage is between a man and a woman” and all that and all that brouhaha that developed, just imagine if he had come on the following week and said, “You know what? Not only are we going to follow God’s biblical mandate about marriage being a man and a woman, we are also going to follow the mandate about animal and planetary stewardship and are going to commit ourselves to within a year not buying any factory-farmed, concentration camp, abused chickens and we’re going to buy pastured poultry from local farmers to express this total package of God’s mandate on creation.” Can you imagine what that would have done to all the liberal folks that were picketing and carrying on about Chick-fil-A if he had come out like that? I mean it would have thrown the whole deal into a tizzy like we’ve never imagined.
Bill: Yeah, because you would have given a paradigm and say look, oh… Oh, there is a rulebook for behavior and it doesn’t just exist in the homosexual debate. That’s one small maybe important area if you think that’s an important area but compared to doing something…
Bill: And I think today… You just… You hit on something right there. I think what makes people Christian, in some sense in their minds today, is taking a strong anti-homosexual perspective and then it’s done. That sort of… And again, that’s Greek thinking, where we’ll discuss this over a beer with our friends and we’ll say this, this and this or comment about it and maybe we’ll even look up a Bible verse about it and then think that that’s finished, that somehow we’ve done a godly thing and then leave it alone. I think that’s a very… And I’m not trying to make the case for homosexuality or anything. The biblical case is on the other side of it but I’m saying you can’t just think about and chat about things with your friends and call that good. I think your idea is taking this redemptive motif and spreading it out. And what I was going to ask you next—because we’ve only got just a couple more minutes—one of the great shames, I think, in the world that exists—I’m an employer, Joel and I hire people—is seeing kids whose parents have done this—created abstractions—and so when the kids go to the workplace they have an abstraction for work but they don’t know how to work. Do you see what I’m saying?
Joel: Oh yeah.
Bill: Again, it’s a small, skinny little thing and they think work is talking about work rather than actually working. A garden is a great way to get a kid to—any child—to sort of… It’s a teaching moment. There is an apologetics issue here. There is an attributes of God—an opportunity to discuss the attributes of God—when you garden. Do you want to spend three or four minutes talking about that?
Joel: Well, yeah. One of the advantages of a garden is that it teaches that there is a bigger… that there is a much bigger plan here than just me. And I think that it is ultimately participatory and empowering and self-actualizing. Compare that, for example, to just growing up wiggling your thumbs in front of a video game where you’re simply tapping into somebody else’s creativity as a… sitting in the stands, if you will, and you have control at your fingertips of everything. You wreck your car, in a minute—in five seconds—the machine gives you a new car. Your icon gets blown up, five seconds later the machine gives you a new icon. This is not only not realistic—it is anti-realistic. And so what happens is these young people come into adulthood full of hubris that “I’ve got the world by the tail. Anything that happens, boy I just flick a switch and everything is hunky dory” and that’s a very jaundiced view coming into adulthood as opposed to a kid that works in the garden that actually has chores to do.
I speak about this in the Folks, This Ain’t Normal book. We’re the first culture that’s ever generally raised children with no chores—and I’m talking about chopping firewood and canning and gardening and these kind of things—and what they do is you can look back at the end of the day and touch what you’ve done. It’s real. It’s visceral and you can measure it and there’s personal stake in that equity, whether it’s a pile of green beans or a pile of weeds or a basket full of eggs or a wood box full. That is totally different than just cyberspace, electronic gadgetry and that power that comes from “I am a participant in this continuous thread that’s gone back to the beginning of creation, from planting a seed, from participating in living substances that are real and visceral that I can touch and smell and see,” creates a humility and a fascination, I think, with the fact that this is all way bigger than me. And I think it’s a very healthy way to come into adulthood as opposed to not having participated in that.
Bill: As we wind down, just… I want to jump in. Nick and I were talking before and ask you… You are writing a book about… We’re going to be a little Matt Foley on you and sort of be your motivators here. How is your book on apprenticeship coming? Are you working on that at all? Is that…? Are we going to see that this year?
Joel: Yes, I am. Yeah, actually it’s probably 70% complete. I’ve had some trouble getting enough time here to get it done but I’m going to Australia and New Zealand next week so I’ll have a lot of flight time and hopefully I’ll be able to knock out the rest of the 30% of it on this trip. And we’re very excited about it. The title is Field of Farmers and the subtitle is “Interning, Apprenticing, Mentoring and Farm Succession.” So it’s all about multigenerational transfer—how do we move this average, 60-year-old farmer…? Who’s going to farm that land? And so I have a lot to say to the old generation. I have a lot to say to the young generation. And we’re pretty excited about it. It’s definitely hit a cord. Everybody that’s heard about it realizes this is absolutely one of the next big weak links in agriculture.
Bill: It’s a great… It’s a weak link in about every area of life in connecting people and I think we’re wasting a lot of money on college that never gets applied—back to that Greek idea. Now where are you speaking next? Anywhere in the United States that our listeners could know to go hear you or anything or…?
Joel: Yeah, actually Wednesday, February 12—is that Wednesday? That’s Tuesday. Yeah, Tuesday I speak at Willamette University in Salem Oregon and February 13 I’m speaking at the Squaw Valley Institute in Olympic Village California and then I’m going to Australia. But all of these… My whole speaking schedule is on our website—PolyfaceFarms.com. Anyone can just zip on there and see wherever I am and I’d be honored and delighted to meet anybody that comes to these things.
Bill: A lot of our listeners actually are your customers. We hear back from them so they come to you and buy stuff from you so it’s kind of fun to do an interview with you, Joel. Now some day… I know you get together with your family and there are a lot of you on your farm and there are 20… Can I just show up some night for supper? Is there usually an extra plate or do you guys keep your doors locked or how…? How far can we stretch the word “community” here?
Joel: Well, the farm… The farm is open 24/7. Anyone can come from anywhere in the world anytime unannounced and see anything anywhere. Now a place at the table… We’re pretty hospitable. You give us some notice and some people get special dispensations and others don’t but we have a lot of people at the table. So we are glad to put on an extra bean in the pot and make a place.
Bill: So for our listeners’ sake, I guess, really you owe it to yourself—if you want to see how this whole thing works upfront, close, personal and some guy that’s got his fingers dirty, some guy that actually has sort of a philosophy that theology comes out of your fingertips, not necessarily out of your mouth. Go visit Polyface Farms this summer. Go get on the schedule and go—they have tours—go hang out. Joel, I know you’re a busy guy. As you just said, your schedule is full. So every time we talk to you, just so you know, we really appreciate it greatly.
Joel: Well, I appreciate what you do. I think that this blend of the two perspectives is just extremely important.
Bill: Thank you so much for your time and our listeners as well—thank you for your time—we know you’re just as busy as Joel, doing what you’ve got to do so thanks again for joining us today.