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Cutting Your Budget Can Be The Best Thing For Your Child’s Future with Steve and Annette Economides and Joel Salatin – Episode 118

Today’s guests on the first half of the Off the Grid Radio Show, Steve and Annette Economides, have developed a Smart Family Money System that will help moms and dads break free from the umbilical cord of dependency that has their children attached to them for years after they should be out on their own and independent adults.

The second half of our broadcast today features Joel Salatin and continues this week’s self-reliant theme. Joel Salatin is a third generation farmer whose farm, Polyface Farm in Swope, Virginia, and agricultural methods were featured prominently in the documentary film, Food, Inc.

It seems that more and more food providers want food from small, independent farmers that is actually cheaper to process, but because the distribution networks, in order to be insured, operate under guidelines written by Big Ag, it’s not available to the consumer. Alternative products are actively blocked from getting from the farm to the table. Joel joins host Bill Heid to tell us all about it.

Off The Grid Radio
Ep 118
Released: August 30, 2012

Brian:               Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Off the Grid News—the radio version of OffTheGridNews.com. I’m Brian Brawdy sitting in for the first half hour for Mr. Bill Heid who will be joining us in the second portion of our show. I am very excited today to be able to interview two folks. You know you see books, you see… You go into a bookstore or you go online and you’re looking at the covers and different things jump out at you but we’re going to talk today… Here’s the tagline—“Teaching financial independence to children of every age.” I really like that. Who we have today is we’re talking to a group that’s going to help us—help parents, help families—succeed against the mounting odds—when you look at anything in the news, you hear it on the radio, you watch it on TV—about what the financial future might look like.

We’re very excited today to be joined by New York Times bestselling authors Steve and Annette Economides and they are unveiling their Smart Money family system. I’m going to ask them about this, Jeremy, but I’m pretty sure it’s coming up pretty quick. Their book shares a proven plan on how to fight the costs of raising children while teaching them how to make great financial decisions for a lifetime, regardless of their age, regardless of when they learned that lesson. I think they said that they have five or six kids—we’re going to learn here in just a minute—and that they paid their first house off in nine years. Imagine how cool that would be—being able to pay it off in nine years. Ladies and gentlemen, please say hello to Annette and Steve Economides. Guys, how are we doing?

Annette:           Good morning, Brian.

Steve:               Hey Brian, it’s great to be here.

Brian:               Thank you so much for joining us. Like I said in the intro—the Smart Money family system is the title of your latest book—teaching financial independence to children of every age. Boy, we could probably do this for three hours. 30 minutes—we’d better let you guys tear into it.

Steve:               Well Brian, the book came out of an observation that we had of families across the country that were supporting older children. These parents are paying the way for kids that are in their 20s, 30s, 40s—even 50s—and we sat there and we said, “Why is this happening?” The parents are spending their retirement raising their financially dependent children instead of raising financially independent children and there’s got to be a way to do that. And we looked back at what we’ve done with our five kids and they have paid for their own clothes at age 11, they have bought their own bicycles, they have bought their own cars, they’ve paid for camp tuition and they’ve paid for their own college education without loans. And we thought, “We’ve got something here that we’ve got to share with the nation.”

Brian:               Well you know it says that you’re wearing the title of America’s cheapest family with pride and that you developed a system to instill careful spending habits and thriftiness in all levels of family life while still eating well and learning to appreciate life. But to me that sounds more intelligent than it does cheap. I interviewed someone not too long ago that said his parents believed at a very early age they weren’t raising kids—they were raising adults. And Steve and Annette, I would say that’s exactly what you all are doing.

Annette:           Well thank you so much, Brian. We agree. You know the name “America’s cheapest family” did get us on lots of national TV but we do believe in some ways we are America’s money smart family and so that’s why we wrote our book and we do really believe that kids can be such an asset and such a blessing to the family today but they have to be taught and trained and if you don’t learn these concepts at home—the schools don’t teach them, colleges don’t teach them—there is no place out there that teaches this.

Steve:               And Brian, if we don’t teach it to our kids we will fall victim to what we talk about in the book. It’s called the 5-50-500 rule and nobody knows what that is but we’re going to tell you because this is the thing that will help you retire if you pay attention to this rule. If you ignore this rule it will keep you supporting your kids until their 50 or 60 years old. And basically, the 5-50-500 rule is that between the ages of 0 and about 4 years old any time your child wants something it will cost a little bit of money—let’s say $5. And if you give it to them you are reinforcing this dependence—financial dependence—on the parents. If you teach the child to somehow earn that item—make it a little tough for him, let him have to save, let him have to work a little bit for it even at 4 and 5 years old—they become a little bit financially independent.

Annette:           Even waiting with delayed gratification is a very good principle to start teaching a very young child.

Steve:               Now if you don’t teach the child at the first stage—the $5 stage—the price escalates to $50 between 6 and 11. Between 12 and 18 it escalates to $500. And we didn’t want to make the rule too long but it continues because between 18 and 24 when they head off to college or trade school or out on their own it goes to $5,000 and 24 and above, it’s $50,000. Any time they want something, if you haven’t taught them to be financially independent, it’s going to cost the parents. And what we’re looking to do is to cut that umbilical cord of the flow of money to the kids. And it sounds hard-hearted but the truth is it is so beneficial. We use this example and I think it really speaks highly. If anybody watched the Olympics in the last few weeks you notice that there were stellar athletes, fine tuned bodies, excellent skills and they performed phenomenally—gold medalists. Well how do you raise gold medal financial kids? And the truth is those athletes in the Olympics didn’t get to be gold medalists by their parents going and doing the workouts for them. They became gold medalists because they put in the sweat, the tears, the agony, the hard work—and that’s what we’ve got to do with our kids financially.

Brian:               I think that’s a great point, Steve, and Annette, you should know that I have two younger children and I often think that when you teach them things it’s just like a language. If you don’t teach them French and then you go to Paris and run around would you be surprised if they weren’t fluent in French?

Annette:           Right.

Brian:               You know what I mean? So we’d be saying, “Oh, they’ll learn. They’ll learn.” Well where? If you don’t learn how to swim, if you don’t learn how to do… It’s almost just like in any athletic endeavor, Steve, as you mentioned the Olympics. If you don’t learn in advance how to do it then how will you ever know when you need to do it?

Steve:               Exactly.

Annette:           Right.

Steve:               And the point came home to us one night… It was in 1993 or so. We had just finished meeting with a couple, helping them get their finances straightened out—and we’d done this kind of regularly on a volunteer basis—and our son, who was at that time about 8 or 9 years old, came to us and said, “Dad, Mom—when are you going to do financial coaching with me?”

Brian:               Very cool. Very cool.

Steve:               I’m going, “Man. He’s watched us but we haven’t transferred the knowledge.” And so we started to search for a system—a way to methodically, intentionally transfer what we’d learned about patience and savings and being a smart consumer to him—and that’s where the development of the Money Smart family system.

Brian:               And you know I’m looking here on the back jacket where it says that raising you five kids while spending 77% less than the USDA predicted and the money they did spend was also used to train their children to become financially independent. And it’s like any other skillset, I would think, that you start off… And Steve, that’s what I love about you all’s 5-50-500 rule. You start off small—just as if you were going to teach them how to do pushups—a little bit of progressive adaptation. You have them do a little, then a little more and a little more. And then Annette, by the time you know it they’re doing 100 pushups and they’re nailing them on their own.

Steve:               That’s right.

Annette:           Right. Well how many parents are already giving their kids $20 to go to the mall or $20 to go to the movies? You know they’re already spending money on their kids and so what we’re saying is take the money you’re spending on your kids and use it as a training tool to start teaching your kids financial responsibility and independence.

Steve:               Let’s look at it from a business perspective, Brian. If I’m going to… Let’s say I spend $20 a month on my kids giving them money to go to the mall. That’s $240 a year. Now if I were to take that money and invest it in… who knows what? Let’s just say the stock market. Let’s say it’s doing good. And so we’re investing money in the stock market. We’re going to expect something out of that money. We’re going to expect a return. We’re going to expect a multiplied value of that money. When we give money to our kids and expect nothing of them we’re basically saying, “I don’t want anything back. I don’t want an investment. I don’t want to see a return.” And the return we’re talking about isn’t money. The return is character. The return is wisdom. The return is learning—education. And so when we give our kids $20 or we have them earn the $20—when we have them earn it we’re getting a return on our investment because they’re learning tools of patience, perseverance, diligence, organization—and that’s what we want to do with the money we’re spending on our kids.

Brian:               And that makes perfect sense when you think about it. But here is the question that I have, Steve and Annette, because when I was little, growing up, they made the old joke that we let the backyard babysit him. You know I was raised by a single mom so she was off working and we were out doing different things. So for me, to try to learn how to make my own way I had a paper route by the time I was in fifth grade, I think. I probably shouldn’t say this on air but by seventh grade I think I was working under the table at a pizza restaurant or something. I was doing all these other things.

But here’s the question. One—are you getting any pushback on the book? And here’s the reason that I ask that question. Are there parents out there that want to have it better than their kids had it and because of that they think that by giving them everything they’ve achieved that—where they were able to do for their kids what their parents weren’t able to do for them and they look at it very short term in terms of an understanding of financial independence and how that can atrophy if you don’t learn it at an early stage.

Annette:           Absolutely. We are definitely getting mixed reviews. A lot of people are loving it. Our Amazon… Our book on Amazon is getting wonderful reviews. But then we’re also getting just some silence, I would say, from some folks that really are doing exactly what you’re talking about doing. And I wish people would take a bigger picture like you’re saying and realize that giving a kid everything that they never had is not really helping that kid to stand strong, to grow up responsible. You know you having a paper route at five and working at a restaurant at seven is one of the best things your mom could have ever done because kids today need to learn how to work and they need to work with pride and excellence. There is something good to be said for kids that feel accomplished because they’re earning something.

Steve:               We were sitting in our living room with a TV crew a few weeks ago and the sound engineer was just listening to us talk and we walked out to the car with him and he said, “What you’re teaching is unbelievable. When I was in high school there were two brothers who came from a very wealthy family and they used to drive to high school in Jaguars and they wrecked the car and the parents bought them another one. And they wrecked that car. And the parents got a little frustrated so they thought they were being tough on them so they said, ‘No more Jaguars. We’re buying you a Volkswagen.’”

Annette:           A brand new Volkswagen.

Steve:               And he said, “The kids at school would have died for the Volkswagen.” And he’s going, “They didn’t help those kids.” And there was a little silence. Then I said to him—now this guy’s in his 50s—and I said to him “Where are the kids today?” And he stood there and he looked at me and he said, “They’re both dead.”

Brian:               Yeah, I believe that.

Steve:               Drug overdose, indulged life. The parents thought they were giving their kids the best and they gave them the worst.

Annette:           You know we say save your money for vacations—for great vacations—for trips to other countries where you’re serving the people—the poor of another country. Save your money for charities that you can… and charitable events that you can be involved in and give to. That’s what… If you’ve got… If you’ve been blessed, that’s how you can use your money. Don’t give them cars and designer clothes and… How are they going to sustain that? How can they possibly sustain that lifestyle?

Steve:               Let’s say that you’re earning $100,000 a year and you’re able to give your kids all these things. But what if your child wants to be a musician, an artist, wants to work for a ministry or some type of relief organization and will never earn what you earn? You have handcuffed them to your lifestyle by giving them all those things instead of teaching them to work and earn and live on what they can earn. And the truth is if they do attain a higher income level, teaching the habits of industry and self-reliance and good financial independence based on what they earn will only increase their buying power.

Brian:               Well it increases their buying power. It also increased, I would say, a stamina—a mental stamina—that I go back to if you didn’t teach them how to speak German and then you’re hanging out in Berlin, it’s not like you can fault them. So it’s almost as if they’re allowing those muscles to atrophy when they do everything for their children—albeit well intentioned—they’re just looking at it more through a microscope than a telescope. They’re looking short term how they can do it as opposed to long term what parents are doing to their kids by adopting that philosophy.

Annette:           Correct. And our Money Smart kid system—training system—talks about how kids can earn money, earn points for different things and we do pay our kids for chores. We don’t believe in allowance. We think allowance to just give a kid for living and breathing is not a good idea.

Steve:               It’s kind of like welfare—paying for nothing.

Brian:               Sure.

Annette:           And we’ve gotten a lot of pushback on people saying, “Well kids shouldn’t even be paid for chores” and we’re saying, “I understand that concept and if you were just looking at chores it would make sense but look at the bigger picture. How are you going to teach financial responsibility and independence to your kids?”

Steve:               See, initially we…

Brian:               Well and you know, if I could interrupt real quick and then what I would say if someone had said that to me is that “Well, we probably shouldn’t be dissecting frogs by the time we’re in junior high, right? If you’re looking at it this way—we don’t dissect frogs to dissect frogs. We dissect frogs to learn.

Annette:           Right.

Brian:               Learn about biology; learn about different branches of science, right? Learn about life. So you’re not paying them for doing chores. You’re teaching them that one day in the not too distant future a boss is going to go “You want a check? I need some work out of you.”

Annette:           Yep. Exactly.

Brian:               How is that paying them for chores?

Steve:               Yep. And initially we started off by not giving an allowance and not paying… We said, “Whatever money comes in we’ll teach you how to manage.” But it was so sporadic. You can’t teach a child a principle if you do it once every…

Annette:           Three months.

Steve:               Once in a while—once every six… You know it’s inconsistent. So we needed a consistent habit. And I’m learning that in life the things that benefit us most are the things we do most consistently. So we came up with this payday system and every Sunday is payday. Just like at work, you get a paycheck on a very regular basis. And if they don’t fill out their timecard—which we have a little timecard in there that tracks what they do—they don’t get paid. Wow—a real life concept, you know? And if they do extra stuff and they get more points than what’s required they get a bonus. They get double pay. Now we require them to do certain things with the money like 10% to give, 20% to save and the rest to spend until they turn about 9 or 11—then we require them to buy their own clothes. Now that’s a real life responsibility. And from there it expands into buying other things.

Annette:           And Brian, I just want to interject for a second that everybody that goes to our website—AmericasCheapestFamily.com—and buys our new book gets a bonus deal. We have all kinds of free stuff that we’re giving away so…

Steve:               Even a copy of our last book, Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half, which is an incredible book.

Brian:               And it is an incredible book. I have to… The question that’s jumped to my mind, guys, is that when is it too late? Now my son—and although we’re doing some of the things that you all have suggested—my son is 11; my daughter is 9. I’d like to kind of make sure that especially after having some time of meeting you all and hanging out on the show, when is it too late—if at all—to start teaching young folks that responsibility?

Annette:           That’s a great question Brian and we say it’s never too late and our book has chapters for every age group—for the young kids, for the teenagers, for the adult kids—we’ve got chapters in there for everything. So we talk through a lot of the teenagers issues—from technology and cars and working your first part time job to college—and then what happens when you have those kids in their 20s that want to come back home after college or have had a divorce or an addiction or recovery? How do you deal with all of that stuff? We’ve got chapters in this book to deal with all that stuff.

Steve:               There was a time we were sitting down with a couple. This guy had worked for a very large corporation and traveled around the world, lived in villas, lived the privileged life and earned close to $200,000 a year and he had to take a cut in pay. He worked for a small, industrial company and was earning $60,000 a year. Now by most people’s standards that was pretty good money but when you’re used to the $200,000 level, it’s tough. And we sat down with his kids around Christmastime and we said to them “Look, your mom and dad are working really hard to manage their money but Christmas is going to be a little different this year and they aren’t going to be able to provide the things that you used to get but they’re going to be able to do something” and “Can you work with us on this?” And you know the kids responded so graciously because they knew the parents loved them and they knew that it was going to be okay and there was communication.

Annette:           And they were older, teenage girls, right?

Steve:               They were. They were heading into college years. And you know those kids went to college, they got scholarships, they graduated, they’re raising families of their own and they learned that Mom and Dad didn’t have to give them everything. They learned that resiliency. So it wasn’t too late. It came down to the point where the parents had to say, “We love you but we can’t continue doing what we’re doing. As a matter of fact, what we were doing wasn’t doing you any good anyway.” And kids will respond but the parents have to take the stand and realize that they will be able to love their kids even if they can’t… Even if the kids complain—even if they can’t give them what everybody else is giving them—it’s going to be enough. And there is going to be freedom. And they’re going to be able to retire and the kids are going to be able to stand on their own feet.

Brian:               And that’s why I think your website is so important. I’m on there now—AmericasCheapestFamily.com—and I love the tagline—“We’re here to help you find creative ways to live within your means, avoid debt with a smile and reach goals you never dreamed possible.” And so I think this website is for people of all ages. Now granted, I don’t imagine that there are going to be a lot of kids that log on right here but for parents to get some first steps, some money saving tips, to learn about kids and money—I think this is a great website to learn about your message and to kind of jump in.

Annette:           Well thanks, Brian.

Brian:               Not at all. Oh, look here—it says you get $93 off for being Money Smart before September 2nd, which has got to be coming up. I think today’s the 28th. So if you go to AmericasCheapestFamily.com you’re going to… I see acquaintances of mine on there. I’ve done The Today Show. Oh, here’s Matt. I think I saw Charlie Gibson from Good Morning America. I saw Lester Holt. So you’ve got… You’re making the rounds, teaching… Because everyone needs to learn what you all are teaching in your books and on your website.

Annette:           Well thanks, Brian. We really do want to improve the lives of families in America, encourage them, cast a vision for greatness because we think the American family can do great things but the propaganda coming from a lot of different places is, I think, getting in the way of that.

Brian:               Well speaking of propaganda, I want to ask you this, Annette, because I found this fascinating. If the USDA calculates that it will cost the average parent $261,000 to raise a child from infancy to the age of 17 but you all calculated that it’s going to cost us 77% less than what was predicted—talk about propaganda.

Annette:           Right.

Steve:               Yes. So here’s the question is what is that $261,000 including? And I dug into those numbers and what they’re saying is every child in America needs so many square feet in a house, so many cubic inches in a car, so much money a year spent on clothes, food, medical care. Now you know that the people who come up with these numbers probably live in Washington DC, which is one of the most expensive cities in the world to live in and they probably didn’t shop at thrift stores. They probably didn’t use coupons. They probably didn’t shop online. So their numbers, in my mind, are as accurate as the government’s predication of the recession was three years after it started. So I don’t believe that these guys that come up with these numbers… Their intentions are good but I don’t believe they’re accurate. So I ran the same calculations based on our expenses.

Annette:           And we have five kids and so ours came out to about $58,000-60,000 per kid but we were then saying, “Well if we didn’t have five kids…”—which of course we love having five kids—but if we didn’t and we only had the average American family size of two, we wouldn’t need as big of a house. We wouldn’t need as big of a car. So our expenses would be even less than that.

Steve:               But basically, the USDA is saying you’re going to spend $14,000 a year on each child. The average household income is around $49,000 a year. You’ve got to do the math and realize that there isn’t much money left over for anything else. So the numbers are not accurate but the truth is, you don’t have to spend a lot of money to raise your kids. Kids don’t need all the stuff. What they need is their parents to spend time with them, to encourage them, to walk alongside them, to help them learn and get an education so that someday they’ll come to you like our son Joe did—he’s our youngest son—he’s 20 years old now and he’s in college, got three semesters to go, he had no loans and he said, “Dad, I don’t want you guys to pay for a penny of my college.” I don’t believe that there is probably 1% of parents in America who heard that line come out of their kid’s mouth but we have. And that is the end result of spending years with him—training him, loving him and encouraging him to reach goals.

Brian:               But I would also say, Steve—I’m sorry to interrupt—but I would also say that you’ve also given him a deeper sense of appreciation.

Annette:           Yes.

Brian:               You know what I mean? So as much as you’re like “Man, we’re digging this”—well, he’s at the other end with a much greater sense of self-esteem because he is doing it on his own. He isn’t constantly coming back and looking for Mom and Dad to help, although I’m suspecting in terms of spiritually and the like, you would be there to help. But just talk about that for a second, about how kids, when they learn the lessons that we’ve discussed today, how it gives them that deeper appreciation, how when they use their hard-earned money they have a greater respect for the widgets that they do buy.

Annette:           Actually, we just did a local NBC spot and the host asked Joe “How do you feel about being different from all your friends? How did you feel growing up as a teenager when you saw your friends get all these kinds of things and your parents wanted you to live with your earning power and you couldn’t get all those things?” And he said, “Do you know what? First I was a little bit jealous and then I realized how could they have any pride in that? Their parents just gave it to them. I had to earn mine and even though I didn’t have everything that they had and I didn’t get it as quickly as they did, almost always I ended up in the same place but I earned it myself and that made me feel so much better.”

Steve:               You know our role has changed. Compared to other parents, our role is not the financial resource parent. What we are is we’re the coach—the life-coach—and our kids… Like last night we were sitting around the coffee table just talking and Joe was getting a little discouraged. He just started his first day of college classes back this semester and Abby is 18 and she just started at the same school and he’s going “I just don’t know if I’m going to make it. I’ve got this semester covered. I’ve got $800 saved towards next semester and I’m working” and we’re going “Joe, you’re going to make it. God has provided up to this point. We’ve had scholarships come in. You’re going to make it.” And that’s our job now is to help him have the vision and not get discouraged—that he can stay the course.

And he knows… And we’ve told him “If you run into problems we’re here. We’ll help you. We want you to graduate so we’re going to give you the money and you can pay us back” and he understands that we’re there as this safety net but parents are supposed to be giving a hand up to their kids—not a handout. And handouts don’t really benefit anybody, just like welfare doesn’t benefit families. We need to help them be strong and that’s our job now is we’re the coach and we’re cheering for him.

Brian:               And I think that the reference you made earlier to the Olympics is great. You know what I mean? There are not a lot of parents that are going out running a marathon and then trying to transfer by osmosis that athletic ability to their kids that have been sitting on the couch. So I think you raise a very valid point. We’re talking… And this has been great because I keep thinking about my kids and how we can do it and then I think of the tagline—“We’re not raising children. We’re raising adults.”

We’re having a great conversation with the creative team behind AmericasCheapestFamily.com. You’ve got a little bit of time left to get $93 in savings for being Money Smart—and you can get all the details on their website—AmericasCheapestFamily.com. New York Times bestselling authors Steve and Annette Economides. Guys, we only have about a minute left. Is there a thought that you’d like to leave our listeners with that you hope will have the same impact on them as your conversation has had on me?

Annette:           I would just say don’t be discouraged. Don’t feel hopeless. No one has taught this to us and any one thing that you start doing to move in the right direction is going to benefit your family.

Steve:               Brian, we’ve got… There was so much we had to write in this book. The college chapter alone is the largest chapter and we talk about savings, clothes, spending limits, things parents shouldn’t pay for—there’s a whole list of those—one chapter. And actually, we’re supposed to turn in a manuscript that was 70,000 words. We turned in a manuscript that was 90,000 words. We had to cut some chapters so we’ve got two bonus chapters on our website.

So if they go to the book page for the Money Smart family system there is a chapter—two chapters. One is to the Mom, which is Annette’s heart to Moms—to encourage them to stay the course and she gives them some tips, some things she’s learned over 30 years of marriage and 29 years of raising kids. And I’ve got a page that I wrote to the dads and I was sometimes a jerk of a dad, Brian. I didn’t get it always right. And I extrapolated seven… I think it’s nine gold nuggets from some painful times in my life—painful times for Annette too—that I share with dads because I want dads to realize that they are key to raising a money smart family. And if I can leave them with one thing I want to leave them with you aren’t a critic—you’re the coach—you’re the cheerleader. Most dads can be super critical with the gift of criticism and seeing faults and we need to stop that and we need to be a cheerleader for our kids.

Brian:               Well Steve and Annette, unfortunately we’re out of time but I want to thank you and I want to tell our listeners to check out AmericasCheapestFamily.com. There will be the bonus chapters that Steve had mentioned—one written by him as a dad for dads, one written by Annette as a mom for moms and most certainly check out The MoneySmart Family System:  Teaching financial independence to children of every age. Steve and Annette, I really want to thank you because I’ve got to get to work. I’m going to go into the next break and then I’ve got to get my kids on the phone and start implementing some of this stuff as well. Thank you all so very much for your time.

Annette:           You bet. Thanks for having us, Brian.

Steve:               Go get ‘em, Brian. It returns great dividends, I’ll tell you.

Brian:               Thank you, my friend.

Steve:               Okay, bye.

Brian:               Farewell.

Bill:                  Hey, good morning and welcome. It’s Bill Heid with Off the Grid News and my co-host here in the studio, Nick Huizenga. Nick, welcome.

Nick:                Thanks Bill. Good morning.

Bill:                  And our guest today is Joel Salatin. Joel is popularizer as well as a pioneer, I would say, of sustainable agriculture. Joel, welcome.

Joel:                 Thank you. It’s great to be with you again.

Bill:                  Good to talk to you again as well. I wanted to kind of touch base and see what was new with you, what’s going on over there at Polyface Farms and just what have you been thinking about lately?

Joel:                 Well, I guess from the farm standpoint the new thing is we built some roadworthy shade-mobiles for the cows. You know we run these cows around and they want to camp under trees and in the creeks and stuff like that and so we want to spread the manure out in the fields. That’s an integral part of carbon cycling and not having to buy petroleum-based fertilizer, which is all a part of being… I think when you say off the grid, this probably has morphed into a lot more ramifications than you normally just think about electricity plug in. And so these shade-mobiles are on hay wagon chassis. We can put 60 head on them. We can hook them together like a train and we can have four hooked together and have enough for 250 or better head and move these around and it gives the cows more comfort and allows them to deposit their manure where we want them to deposit instead of where they want to deposit it.

Bill:                  What a great idea. And you know here—I don’t know about the weather that you’ve had—but here we’ve had drought conditions. It’s been really, really dry and the days have been hot, Joel. The days normally here, you know in August maybe it gets up to 90 degrees a few times and occasionally we have some obnoxious 100 but we’ve had 110 degrees. And so cattle really start to flag a little bit in that hot weather, don’t they?

Joel:                 Yeah, you’re right. They do. And of course we grass finish. We don’t use grain finishing. So that’s another opt-out of the system deal that we’ve got going but to do that you… Corn covers up a lot of sins and one sin is stress and so by having these shade-mobiles we can get the stress off of them and they can do very well just on grass. But that’s just one thing. I think the other—if I can broaden the picture a little bit—the other thing that we’re working on, which is taking a lot of our time right now, is we’ve had in the last two months… We’re not a large farm by any means as far as compared to Tyson or anything like that but we are a large farm in this movement and so being the old dog in the race and being of a little bit of a size, we’ve actually gotten calls from some fairly large institutional buyers who are looking at local food—integrity food.

Fascinatingly, some neat things are coming on. Like for example, our pastured pork—our Pigaerator Pork—that runs around, the fat is unsaturated and so even though an institution might pay more for our pork than they would out of a factory farm type situation, the kitchen work—the labor in the kitchen—is substantially less because our fat is not saturated, which turns into kind of paraffin, and when you’re pulling pork apart you’ve got to actually separate the fat from the meat for it to be serviceable. Ours, the fat is so soft that it just melts into the meat and there is nothing to separate. So what they’re telling us is that from a kitchen standpoint—the prep work in the kitchen—they can get ours ready in half the time. Suddenly, even though ours is more expensive off the farm, it’s actually less expensive on the plate.

Bill:                  That is an amazing breakthrough, especially in the marketing side for small farmers. I would say that is an amazing thing to be able to go to the restaurant or whatever.

Joel:                 Absolutely. And so… But here’s the kicker. We’re not in there yet because these big institutional buyers want it on the distribution network that they’re already using—Cisco or US Food Services or whatever—and those… Are you ready for a little circle here?

Bill:                  Sure.

Joel:                 This is a little dance. All right. So the big distributors like Cisco and US Foods, Aramark, Mariana—those kinds of places—they… Of course they want to protect themselves from pathogenicity and suits and litigations and all this and so their insurance companies want to make sure that they’re only handling food that is relatively risk free. So the insurance guys sitting in their ivory towers say, “Well where would we go to find the answers to what is non risky food? Ah!  We’ll go to land grant universities and we’ll get them to write production protocols and processing protocols that are low risk.” So they go to the land grant universities, which of course are linked… are tied in—talk about a grid—they’re tied in to the Monsantos, Cargills, Archer Daniels Midland, Avantis, Syngenta and those outfits and so those guys write the low risk, which believe it or not does not include composting.

It does not include pasture based. It does not include raw. What it requires is sterilization, irradiation, chemical fertilization and pesticides, herbicides, vaccines, antibiotics—all the things that are required there. So what you have is you have a client—a business—that wants to buy our food. The business is 30 miles away from us, okay? They’ve been here to the farm. They want our stuff. Their patrons want our stuff. We want to sell it to them. We have it to sell to them. But they want it on a Cisco delivery truck, which will only put on their truck what their insurance underwriter will allow, which will only allow things that are low risk as defined by the land grant university, which is defined by the large corporate structure.

Bill:                  Wow.

Joel:                 So you see…

Bill:                  Wow, Joel.

Joel:                 So here we are. Here we are, 30 miles apart or 20 miles apart, ready to do business and you have this entire juggernaut—this gauntlet—of what I call a fraternity of ideas that is obviously a permutation of the grid that you’re talking about that locks out from access an alternative product like ours. There is a tremendous amount of inertia in the food and farming system to make sure that the big players are protected for eternity.

Bill:                  That’s an amazing story. You cover that in Folks, This Ain’t Normal a little but there’s a chapter on this and for people that haven’t read that book, I think that’s kind of a good place to get started. I don’t know if that’s your favorite book but that’s certainly a good book that really analyzes in a couple of chapters exactly what you’re talking about. But Joel, I think the only way to beat these people is education in the marketplace and then to beat them in the marketplace and force demand to change the risk factor at that core level. Otherwise you’re never going to get… You’re going to have to get them to go back in and rethink this because someone else is taking money. They won’t understand anything until somebody’s taken money out of their bank account—Mariana or whoever doesn’t get that account—because someone wanted a little different type of pork this time. Sorry, you don’t get that business. “Oh, why not?” the rep says. Well, let me tell you why not. So then two different things happen when that happens. Number one—they either try to regulate you out of business or they join you.

Joel:                 Yeah. Yeah. And this is… You asked me “Now what are you working on?” and so yeah, I told you the story but what we’re working on is we’ve actually got some traction in the system to get us on one of those trucks. And actually, one of these big institutional buyers uses Cisco and one uses US Foods so I’m going back to the executives at both Cisco and US Foods and saying, “Okay, I’m meeting with Cisco tomorrow. I’m meeting with US Foods today. Whichever one of you punches through this first is going to be the first one that really opens the door for local foods and you’re going to have business up the wazoo.” So exactly… Yeah, I wasn’t… I might have been born at night but it wasn’t last night.

Bill:                  Yeah, you get those big guys competing against each other, if you can sell this concept, why man… Then they’re going to be… You’re just changing the zeitgeist on them instead of letting them become the paradigm informers. You’re sort of going back and creating the paradigm, which is what we have to do.

Joel:                 Right. And the great story—the one that’s been most positive in the last five years for us—has been our being able to get into Chipotle Mexican Grill, which is a huge corporation. We now supply all the pork to two of their restaurants here and they had the same kinds of things—“We can’t accept food unless it’s on a refrigerated truck.” We don’t have a refrigerated truck. “We can’t do…” this and this and this. And bless their hearts—their quality assurance folks just haggled it out internally and they got little temp strips for us that go in—these little Band-Aid size temp strips—that were developed in the industry to keep the reefer trucks from turning their reefer units off between Kansas and Baltimore going across country.

And these little Band-Aid size temp strips go in at the slaughterhouse. They come out with the product at the end-user and they go in a USB port and give a real-time, like 30-minute interval temperature readings to track that product’s temperature from the processor, all the way to the end-user. Fantastic technology and it was one of the ways that we were able to get in and I love it when we take a technology developed due to the lack of integrity in the industry and that becomes our guerrilla circumvention tool to get in the system from the back door. And it’s just… It’s very exciting.

Bill:                  That is very exciting. One of the things that I’ve always appreciated about your perspective is you’ve kind of been candid enough—and I know this doesn’t always play well—people still love your books but it doesn’t always play well with people because I think people want to have their backs rubbed and so forth. But your philosophy about life really being a summation of all of the decisions that we’ve made and who’s been… It’s not President Obama or President Bush or Big Ag or any of these people that have done this to us. We have to… If we’re going to get to Point B we’ve got to say, “Where is Point A?” Point A is a side of the consumer—all of us—where we have to say, “Look, it’s me.” So it’s like the old Negro spiritual—“It’s not my mother or my father. It’s me, oh Lord, standing in the need of prayer,” right?

Joel:                 Yeah.

Bill:                  It’s me, making a bad decision because I’m existential or something, because I want a Pop-Tart quick—and we’ve made a series of those bad decisions for a lifetime and all of us together, as a nation, have made this decision and it’s got us where we are.

Joel:                 Absolutely. You know when we decide that we’re going to be far more interested and informed about the latest bellybutton piercing in Hollywood celebrity culture than we are of what’s going to become flesh of our flesh and bone of our bones at 6:00, that’s a decision that we make. And our whole culture is a cumulative sum total of these billions and billions of individual decisions that we’ve made—you know the decision to stay out of the kitchen, the decision to buy already processed food, the decision to get a flat screen TV instead of put $100 in our good food for the year, buy $100 pair of designer jeans with holes already in the knees instead of high-quality food.

Those are all individual decisions and all of us… We’ve been—in our culture—we’ve been so disempowered by the gimme-gimme-hand me kind of socialist structure of our culture that everybody feels like a victim, you know? And they’re all standing around here on the sidelines, waiting for somebody to change our system, realizing that maybe Pop-Tarts and Oreo cookies and Twinkies for breakfast isn’t the best thing in the world and waiting for somebody to fix it. And what we’ve got to do is realize the answer is in the mirror. It’s us. It’s participation. We don’t lack for money or resources or know-how. What we lack for is participation.

Bill:                  Well, and I think for us to get people to make decisions, another philosophy of yours that I appreciate is I think sometimes when we want to participate we say, “Look, I want everything to be perfect. I want to totally get off the grid and I want a Polyface Farm myself before I’m going to do anything” and I think that’s the wrong approach. I agree with you—anything worth doing is worth doing a little poorly at first. In other words, one of my old friends used to always say that “movement is better than meditation.” Take some step. You don’t have to do all of this at once. Make one good move today. The power of one person making one choice today adds up.

Joel:                 Yeah. Yes. Yeah, you’re exactly right. Yeah, and that’s been one of my mantras now is if there’s anything worth doing, it’s worth doing poorly first because we don’t do it well first. We never do anything well first. And we come into adulthood… We come into infancy completely peer independent and our own… whatever… uncaring about what anybody thinks about us and then the older we get, we get bruised and beat up a few times, laughed at, mocked, taunted—big ears, big nose—whatever. You laugh too much. Your eyes water when you laugh. Whatever. And as we come into adulthood with these dings on us, we become less and less ready to step out and do something different. And so what I tell people is you know “Hike up your diaper, climb up that chair leg and be willing to fall back if you want to.” When people laugh at you just look in the mirror and say, “I’m going to hike up my diaper, climb up this chair leg and I’m going to walk anyway.”

Bill:                  I agree completely. Now from our standpoint and our listeners—I think a lot of interviews you do, you have to be careful what you say—with our listeners, I think that they’re looking for philosophical and certainly theological perspectives on which to build a life. To what degree does your theology create this stewardship motif for you?

Joel:                 Oh my. What a wonderful question. In fact, I’m being asked to speak quite a lot about this and that’s another one of my book projects is basically Christian environmental ethics. That’s not the title—it’s too boring for a title—but it will definitely be something jazzier than that. But the basic thesis of this… Here is the one sentence thesis and that is that all of physical creation is an object lesson of spiritual understanding. And so the question is “How do I create a physical manifestation of God’s attributes of spiritual truth?” And so for example, on this farm what we want is a farm that is beautiful. Well what is beauty? Well, beauty is something that is attractive. We’re not repulsed by beauty. And so when you have a farm, for example, that is plastered with no-trespassing signs, sheep dip and hazardous material suits and stinks to high heaven that is not an attractive place to be.

So first of all, we want farms that are aesthetically and aromatically—sensually—romantic. So that’s beauty. I mean it’s attractive. And then forgiveness—I mean that is such a huge part of our spiritual universe and actually, from whatever place you’re from—I think the Christians have it down better than anybody, for sure—but anyway, forgiveness. So how do we make a farm that’s forgiving? How do we make a food system that’s forgiving? Well that means I want a farm that sees the veterinarian less and less, that wants a better immune system that has less sickness, less disease. We live in a culture right now that assumes that if an animal gets sick it must be pharmaceutically disadvantaged and everybody’s searching around for “What drug am I not using today that let this animal get sick?” And so a forgiving farm is one in which immunological function is becoming stronger and stronger—not being debilitated. It’s a place where, for example, the buffetings of nature—whether it’s drought or flood or wind or rain or cold or hot—where those buffetings of nature are ameliorated by design.

And so that’s one reason why we’re big pond builders. You know it’s been amazing to me to watch through this Midwestern drought the different USDA stories coming out about “genetically and technologically and we’re doing better”—blah, blah, blah. And the best thing that could happen would be for these farms to build ponds because there was rain back in the winter during snow melt and floods and we need to be capturing that rain to keep the raindrops as high on the terrain as possible for as long as possible. That’s how we get the most benefit out of them.

You know the radical environmental agenda or fringe is pretty much an environmentalism by abandonment. It would be great for the planet if all of us died tomorrow—then everything would be great—thank you very much. Well I don’t find that a very appealing direction or vision for me and so I look in the mirror and say, “Well why do I have this big brain and these opposing thumbs? Why did God give me this?” And I would suggest it was given to me to bring my creativity and innovation as a human to this physical landscape—to the land, area, water, resources, air—to bring it and create the proper massage to massage this ecological room into greater production, greater solar conversion in the decomposable biomass, soil building, better hydrology—all of those kinds of things than nature would in a static, fallen state. That is my mandate. That is my calling.

And so I look at all of these issues as “How can I build in forgiveness?” And it extends even to well then “How do I have a forgiving economy—a forgiving local economy? How do I have customers with a better immune system that don’t have pathogenicity and toxicity?” Well, it comes by getting my animals out of fecal particulate in a confinement house. There are just tons of ramifications of this. So those are just some of the elements that we deal with on a daily basis as we try to make this farm for us or whatever physical that we’re touching—to make it actually magnify and glorify and be an object lesson of the kind of forgiveness, sufficiency, grace, abundance—all of those spiritual attributes that we talk about.

Bill:                  That’s wonderfully said. Think about it for a second. If a young man graduates from Bob Jones or Dart College or someplace and he wants to go start a farm and one guy says, “I want this to be a farm that’s very similar to what you just described” and that’s one young man’s goal. And another young man said, “Well you know I want to live this lifestyle and I want to make this payment and I want to own this and this and this.” Boy—those two visions, Joel, really create two different types of farms. Presuppositions are everything, aren’t they?

Joel:                 Oh, absolutely. And that is why I’d just as soon live a life without any money. I’d just as soon not have any money at all and trade and wampum, I guess, would be fine with me. But yeah, the acquisition of power, prestige, profit… And I’m not saying profit is wrong. I love profit. You’ve got to make a profit. But how much is enough? And…

Bill:                  And profit comes from stewardship and profit comes from something else. Those… I guess what I’m getting at is those chasing profit end up with probably profit—this is like something Christ would say—and those chasing a vision of grace and beauty and truth end up finding that.

Joel:                 Yes.

Bill:                  Two different farms.

Joel:                 Yeah, that’s right. And yeah, maybe a good example of what you’re explaining is here in the Shenandoah Valley—I’m here in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia—it’s roughly 80 miles long, 20 miles wide and we’re surrounded on the east by the Blue Ridge Mountains and on the west by the Allegheny Mountains. They’re part of the Appalachian Range. And for literally a couple of centuries from when the Europeans first came in here, they came in here to a valley that was just alpha soils. The early settlers said that they rode all day through the valley and could take the grass and tie it in a knot above the horse’s saddle. It was an extremely fertile, [inaudible 0:56:12.6] land maintained by the Native Americans with fire and with herbivores and wolves and periodic disturbance along with rest period.

And the Europeans came in here with grain being a Holy Grail—grain production—inverted everything with a plow and over a couple of hundred years sent three to five feet of topsoil down the Chesapeake Bay, exposed the subsoil—the rocks here—and of course created turbidity in the Chesapeake Bay that shut down the oyster and the crab population. As their farms… I mean gullies… When we bought this farm, one gully—from the bottom of the gully up to the top was 16 feet. Do you know how much soil that is from…? In one… That’s just one of hundreds of gullies—16 feet deep from rim to bottom is steeper than you can walk. And that was all over this place and it’s still here, all over the valley. Here were good Presbyterians and Methodists and Lutherans and Baptists and whatever sitting in their pew doing whatever—all the charitable things that they wanted to do—while their farming methods and their techniques were taking what nature had spent thousands of years creating and just destroying it, [inaudible 0:57:45.1] it.

Now if somebody had come in to the church door all of a sudden and screamed, “Hey, Farmer John!  Somebody stole your horse!” why in a minute, all the elders and deacons would be on the horses and have a posse formed to go find this horse thief and bring back. But here they were—their own techniques were taking away their own wealth—this millennially-created wealth—in just a matter of decades and it was as if this is just the way it’s supposed to be. And it’s tragic. It’s not like they weren’t busy. They were busy but they were busy about the wrong things. If all that tillage time had been instead used…

And today—we still don’t get it right today—as we speak today. If the petroleum used to grow corn and soybeans to feed cows that shouldn’t eat it anyway were instead used to build ponds up in these mountain valleys around us like we’ve done on our farm… We had millions of gallons of water in these high ponds up in these mountain valleys that gravity feeds down onto our farm, we can use for irrigation, watering livestock. There is no electricity, no pumps, no switches, no nothing. Where we had this big windstorm and we had power out around here for a week back in the summer, our water system… Everybody was going crazy because they couldn’t water their livestock, didn’t have water. Gravity didn’t stop at all. It just kept on pulling down out of those mountain ponds that we’ve built. The tragedy is not that we’ve been lazy. The tragedy is we’ve been busy about the wrong things. We’ve been building the wrong things instead of building resilience and forgiveness into the landscape.

Bill:                  Boy, that’s a really good point and a good point Joel, as we kind of run out of time. Where will you be speaking next? What’s your September schedule look like in case folks ever want to chase you down? Of course they can go to the Polyface Farms website—it’s just PolyfaceFarms.com—and read about what you’re doing but what are you looking forward to talking about here this fall?

Joel:                 Well, it looks like September 7th I’m going to do the Modern Energy Forum in Denver Colorado. That will be exciting. This is an energy forum that’s convened every year to deal with all sorts of alternative energy. So that will be my first huge energy consortium that I’ve talked to. That will be fun. September 8th will be the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund fundraiser here at Virginia. The Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund is a fund to protect farmers like us from the harassment of bureaucrats—the food police—who are trying to demonize, marginalize and criminalize heritage based foods.

September 14th I’ll be the keynoter for the Monticello Heritage Harvest Festival and I’ll be talking about Jefferson and the problems he had and how we’ve solved them and how his philosophy was the foundation for today’s industrial agriculture—the plantation mentality based on cheap labor, exports, tillage and mono-speciation. September 15th I’ll be speaking at the Campaign for Liberty in Chantilly Virginia—the Liberty Political Action Committee there—with Ron Paul, Rand Paul and that group. September 21-22nd—Mother Earth News Fair, Seven Springs Pennsylvania—wonderful fair; anybody should go. Got all sorts of exhibitors and vendors and just hundreds of things to see—a wonderful thing. And then September 30th—Farm Food Voices in McLean Virginia with John Whitehead of the Rutherford Institute. So that’s September.

Bill:                  You’re a busy guy. I’m not going to even ask about the rest of the year but Joel Salatin, you’re amazing—you’re a treasure. Thanks for all that you do. Thanks for your time this morning.

Joel:                 Thank you, Bill and Nick. Thanks for having me on.

Bill:                  You bet. God bless.

Joel:                 You too. Take care.

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