Joel Salatin’s “Folks, This Ain’t Normal”: a book review.

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Hello folks!

I just finished reading Joel Salatin’s book Folks, This Ain’t Normal and am eager to infect some more souls with the knowledge and excitement that I came away with. If I could force the entire country to read just one book this would be the one. People might just realize how messed up our world has become, or as Joel says repeatedly “Folks, This ain’t normal.”

First off I don’t care if you read my review or someone else’s, in fact go click here to see a short video of Joel himself talking about the book. He describes it better than me anyhow. I just want you to read this book!

Joel Salatin is a second-generation farmer of Polyface Farms, famous in the circles of sustainable agriculture, Permaculture, and Virginians who value delicious pastured meat products.  At the Salatin’s farm they don’t use petrochemical fertilizers, pesticides, or in any way resemble concentrated animal feeding operations, yet produce delicious eggs and meats in a way that doesn’t destroy our planet. Joel is a self proclaimed “grass farmer” continuing and improving the methods his father began of raising grass. For more information visit http://www.polyfacefarms.com/story/ to learn about the amazing ways Polyface raises grass fed beef, pastured chickens, and delicious eggs.

One of the striking points in this book is Joel’s reverence of soil. At Polyface farm they take care of the soil, and it in turn produces amazing  quantities of food for them. Taking care of the soil means seeing it as a living ecosystem and supporting and encouraging the many forms of life within it. Rich earth has decaying organic material that hosts bacteria, fungus, insects, worms and so much more. This is the stuff that supports the life on this earth. And what do we do in  so called “modern scientific” agriculture? We till the soil and the sun bakes the earth hard. We spray chemical after chemical (derived from oil) into the soil to kill bacteria, insects, fungus, other plants. When it rains all the nutrients and the rich organic material wash away into the oceans. Then to make things grow we spray more chemicals on to the soil (also derived from oil). We have replaced the natural systems of fertility with artificial systems based on the availability of cheap oil. Joel describes all this in great detail and does a great job at showing just how backwards this system is, how it will inevitability collapse, and what we can do to change it.

Another topic addressed is the dis-connection between our society and the food we eat. There are many similarities here to Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma, another revolutionary book everyone should read. Joel states, in many different and colorful ways, that in our country we no longer know how food gets from the farm to our plates. We don’t have any idea what normal food production looks like anymore. This was once essential to life, everyone shared the basic knowledge of what was edible, what was good to eat. Yet now our country is in utter confusion about what foods are “healthy and nutritious”. This can be seen when you look at our obsession with food fads, and realize that journalists and “scientific studies” have dictated what we eat. Joel ties the increasing rates of diabetes, heart disease, allergies and other diseases of the affluent western world to the total disconnect we have created in our system of food production. He convincingly argues that if you don’t know the farmer that grew the food, you can’t say that you know anything about what you are putting in your body.

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Joel tells the history of how this came to be in our country, and it is a fascinating story. He shows the steps we took as a culture, seemingly wise, that eventually led us down a self destructive path. This includes wars,  the depression, and the many laws and acts passed in the name of food security. Joel shows the irony of how these laws have turned and created a country that is dependent on foreign oil to feed itself, the very opposite of food security. After reading this book I realized that chemically, when we eat processed food, WE ARE EATING OIL!

Now if you think he is just on a hippie trip against corporations and society you would find it interesting that Joel is a self described “ChristianlibertarianenvironmentalistcapitalistlunaticFarmer“. He believes in capitalism and the free market. He goes into great detail on the matter that our government is killing small businesses and small farmers with outrageous governance and regulations. If you think that the USDA’s main goal is to ensure healthy food in our country you would be wrong, and would find Joel’s arguments enlightening. He shows how regulations are currently designed for the large scale operations and have no consideration of small businesses, yet are forced on small farmers in ways that are incredibly nonsensical and unfair. He tells the outrageous story of one Mennonite dairy farmer who was raided by a the USDA with a SWAT team wielding guns! They stormed his farm and confiscated his “unsafe” dairy products THREE TIMES, ultimately taking $60,000 in product and equipment.  Joel advocates major changes in food laws and regulations to allow small farmers back into agriculture and production.

Throughout the book Joel shows us how our culture has become twisted and unsustainable, pouring energy into “solutions” that are only temporary fixes, actually causing more problems. He does an amazing job at outlining how and where we have gone wrong, even why we decided this way. There is a positive tone throughout the book that this is not the end, and we all have real power to change our course and restore our country and this planet. In each chapter he outlines solid ways the reader can help to change the culture of food, agriculture, and business. He believes in the power of voting with your wallet, and greatly advocates change by power of the free market. Emily and I certainly agree and do what we can to not buy the things we see as destructive to the earth, our country, and our bodies.

So, yeah. I enjoyed Folks, This Ain’t Normal and found it highly educational. There are many other issues he discusses besides these . Anyone who eats food should read this book, you will never see the world the same again.

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