Thursday, April 2, 2009

Annual Newsletter to our On-Farm Customers

Hi dear friends-- Spring 2009
What’s going on with the term local? Believe it or not, the obfuscators are at it again. When you’ve been at this clean food business as long as we have, you start seeing patterns. In the late 1960s when we sold at Staunton’s Curb Market and Joel peddled his eggs around the neighborhood, nobody had ever heard the word organic.

Then it gradually came into vogue and eventually the big players in the organic movement brought politics in and finally the government owned the word. Unless Polyface paid money, filled out paperwork, and compromised its composting and other farming practices, we could not use the word organic. Now industrial organics has taken over and the term has degenerated to a minimalist list.

The organic police have to be sued by consumer advocacy groups to enforce the standards against the industry. Due to the compromise, Polyface began using the phrase beyond organic. Organic says nothing about local marketing, social issues, worker issues, breeding or pasturing in its normal sense. Last year, the organic police sent a letter threatening legal action against Polyface because we had the audacity to use the term beyond organic on our website, and they said we were not certified to use the word organic. We turned the matter over to the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund (everyone should join this organization) and their attorney handled it. But what a tyranny that the government absconds taxes to pay salaries to these word police.

Due to the adulteration of organics, all marketing surveys now show that local is the new operative term to describe the ideas behind organic. But guess what, folks. Now local is being abused. A couple of years ago a new chef hired by James Madison University in Harrisonburg to institute a local food program could not get Polyface product in due to protective clauses in the food services contracts with institutional vendors. No matter. The college began buying from one of the big Harrisonburg processors (Tyson, Purdue, Cargill) and called it local chicken. People who use the word local don’t mean Tyson.

Like the word organic, local has certain connotations. It means your business is local. That the president lives in the community. That you don’t bring in undocumented foreign workers. That you allow visitors. That your scale is neighborhood friendly. Get the picture? It’s more than just how many miles from kill to plate. Joel always says: “The way to certify for organic is to look at the farmers’ bookshelf and magazine rack. It’s about a perception of life and worldview.”

Two weeks ago a chef in North Carolina told us about a natural foods store in the area that was offering local chicken. It was from a huge operation with huge houses with huge no trespassing signs—but since it was located in the same county, the store grabbed the local mantra.

Which gets us to thinking. We need a new term. So let’s start using transparent. As you all know, Polyface has a 24/7/365 open door policy. If you think we’re doing something you wouldn’t like at 2 a.m., you’re welcome to come out and see. Don’t wake us up, but you’re welcome to visit. We don’t even trademark the word Polyface, nor Eggmobile, nor Salad Bar Beef, nor Pastured Poultry, nor Pigaerator Pork—all terms we’ve developed. This is open source ideation.

We share our rations, we share our techniques, we let you gather eggs and poke around anywhere. Have you ever seen locks? We don’t even lock our houses or field gates. Joel doesn’t even lock the car when he goes to town. Look, folks, an outfit that won’t let you walk their fields, look through their shop, open the doors of their barns and buildings, is probably an outfit with something to hide.

Several years ago a TV station did an investigative piece about free range poultry. They visited nine farms from Massachusetts to Tennessee, ending the investigation here, the last of the farms they visited. The reporters said: “This is the first farm where the reality is better than the promises.” You can rest assured that transparency is and will continue to be, the number one priority here.

FOOD SAFETY A national chorus is beginning to sing a refrain demanding a new over-arching food inspection agency at the federal government level. You will hear things about not enough inspectors, conflicting responsibilities, oversight falling through the cracks, and our favorite: “smart regulation.” The unintended consequences of these sincere-sounding rhapsodies is clear: destroy Polyface and all other community-imbedded, nature-mimicking, land healing food systems.

Remember, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. The chief executive of the peanut company most recently implicated in pathogenic food was and is a crook. You can’t eliminate crooks any more than you can legislate integrity. The more we allow government bureaucrats to determine what you can and cannot eat, the more we will have what we currently have: Twinkies, Cocoa-Puffs and Mountain Dew are safe; raw milk and compost-grown tomatoes are unsafe. What a crock. Don’t be duped by harmonious calls for more tyranny and insanity.

Food safety is subjective and faith based. You choose the entity in which to place your faith for safe food. And zero tolerance does not occur this side of eternity. Things happen. A risk-free life is one with no freedom.

WORKMAN’S COMPENSATION Now that Polyface has three employees, we’ve entered that dubious land known as mandatory workman’s comp. We entered this murky world last fall, going through the vetting process and trying to fit our square peg through an industrial round hole. Within five days of sending in our premium check, the system kicked us out for auditing, which we have finally finished.

Sometimes people wonder why local or appropriate-scaled food costs more. Normally it has nothing to do with farming, but everything to do with asinine government mandates that do not appreciate innovation. For example, the way workman’s comp sets rates, all jobs are categorized according to risk. The more risk, the higher the rate.

As you can imagine, farms are high risk. According to the system, we cannot have a worker classed “Poultry” also work with “Cattle”. And of course the actuarial for “Poultry Worker” assumes an inhumane fecal factory concentration camp confinement house with whirring fans, feed augers, pulleys, and machinery. Quite a far cry from little floorless pastured shelters toted across the field, hand watered, and hand fed.

The regulations don’t allow eclectic workforces like we have at Polyface. Since we’re a farm, we cannot have a delivery driver like UPS. The only delivery driver we can have is a “Live Animal Hauler”—one of the highest risk categories in the whole shebang. Bottom line, we’re paying $10,000 a year for workman’s comp, a horrifying rate for a little outfit like ours. Just wanted you to know. And the Salatins have used Polyface Inc. board member status to exempt ourselves. If we get hurt, no coverage.

GIFT CERTIFICATES We now have attractive and professional-looking gift certificates for those friends or family members that could use an introduction to good food. Rachel put these together. We’re glad to send them in the mail directly to recipients, or give them to you at time of purchase.

THERMAL BAGS We have attractive thermal bags available for $5. They have a zipper enclosure and a thermal liner which helps to keep cold or hot depending on what you put in them. They hold approximately 3 brown paper bags’ worth of groceries and are wonderful for using over and over.

WOLFIE’S DOG FOOD Entrepreneur extraordinaire Adam Beslove approached us in 2007 about using Polyface animal parts for dog food. We agreed to let him have a go. Two years later, we have it in stock. Local vegetables mostly from Dayton Amish farmers and Polyface guts—what more could your Fifi possibly want? Come on out and get some. Raw and ready, sold in frozen one pound and half pound packages. Really good stuff.

RAW MILK Former apprentice Nathan Vergin is offering raw milk to Polyface customers via a totally legal herdshare agreement. He is operating on one of our leased farms, Greenmont, near Fishersville. Here is his information, in his own words.

I bought my very first Jersey cow at the age of 14 and my family named her Silky. Grazing on our pasture she gave us the richest sweetest milk. I was from then on addicted to milk and when I moved to Virginia to do my apprenticeship with the Salatins I bought another cow so I would not be without a milk cow. I am now starting my own business with the dream of allowing people to have the same wonderful experience of being able to drink wholesome milk from their own cow.

I have for sale a limited number of herd shares in my small herd of Jersey cows. A herd share is simply a name for an agreement in which I do all the work of milking and feeding your cow and you get the benefit of having milk from your own cow. If you would like to pick up your own milk at Polyface or Greenmont (Fishersville), or if you want more information, please check the box on the order blank. Silky
Cow farm is independent of Polyface and the Salatins but I would like to thank them for letting me share my story in their newsletter.

For a long time, many of you have asked us to add dairy. This is the start. Now is the time. Nathan welcomes you to come and visit your cows. Each herdshare provides a certain amount of milk per week, and you can purchase as many as necessary to feed your family. It’s the way to get real milk legally in Virginia. Just check the box on the order blank and Nathan will be in touch with you. Thank you.

T&E MEATS Last June, Teresa and Joel, along with partner Joe Cloud, co-purchased T&E Meats, the only Shenandoah Valley federally inspected abattoir, in Harrisonburg. Located on Charles St. on the north end of town, it processes beef and pork for restaurants and the individual cuts you find at Polyface. It is the vital link between the farm and legal sales. Tommy and Erma May, who had owned it for four decades, were 80 years old and slowing down. Joel has taken countless potential buyers to see it over the past 10 years but to no avail.

Its retail nook now offers Polyface chickens and meats. Gradually, we hope to add our full inventory variety. We hope to develop this resource into additional products like ponhoss, lard, jerky, and smoked items. Stay tuned.

PL 90-492 Because Polyface has been under the federal PL 90-492 20,000-bird poultry producer-grower exemption for processing, legal expansion requires that other independent growers process their own birds under their own labels. This year Polyface has placed independent growers on each of four farms Polyface leases. Every grower has served an apprenticeship or internship here at the farm, and we are collaborating extremely closely on everything. You may see labels with one of these farms’ names on it, but a green “Polyface Approved” sticker will verify it as a Polyface pastured broiler.

As you know, we have tangled many times with the food police that want to deny you freedom of choice to opt out of industrial government-sanctioned fare. We believe we’re on firm legal ground with these additions. Just remember, the poultry industry considers us bioterrorists for letting our chickens commiserate with red-winged blackbirds, which take our diseases to the science-based environmentally-controlled fecal concentration camp industrial chicken houses and sicken the world’s food supply. Strange thought, no? We’re in exciting times.

WENDY GRAY Most of you realize that when you call, a cheerful non-Salatin answers.. In the last two years, when our two houses received 50 phone calls each in a day, we found ourselves hating our homes. Last year Wendy came on board to answer the phone during business hours, daily 8-5. She does this from her home in Richmond. She’s been a lifesaver and it has made us incredibly more efficient.

We’ve added to her duties keeping track of farmgate sales—what we call the green sheets—for this year. She will be sending out postcard reminders and tallying your orders. Last year it was a coordinated effort between Joel, Sheri, Daniel, and Wendy, and we experienced the inherent problems that come with too many cooks in the kitchen. Joel still has your patron card in his file box on his desk. But Wendy will be handling your orders. In order to free up the Salatins to innovate, administrate, and educate, some of these former responsibilities have to be delegated to other team members. We tell you this not to scare you, but to fully disclose what we’re doing. Transparency.
FARM BLOG Sheri is maintaining a farm blog with the most recent happenings at Polyface as well as recipes from our kitchens and some shared by patrons. It started out as a way for our buying club customers (some of whom never make it to the farm) to get in touch with happenings at the farm. We would love for you to stop by and enjoy the dialogue. You can find it at

FOOD INC. Many of you are familiar with the New York Times bestsellers Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser and Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. In June, the same financial backers who released Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth are releasing a movie titled Food Inc. Polyface features prominently in the movie as the good guy against a backdrop of industrial food obscenities vividly depicted in the full length feature. The two narrators are Schlosser and Pollan. It has screened in Berlin and Toronto to rave reviews and will be opening in 20 metropolitan markets in mid June.

The DVD is scheduled for release in late fall. You will appreciate the beautiful cinematography of Polyface Farm. A companion book by the same title is being released in conjunction with the movie. Edited and compiled by a New York publishing house, it is comprised of about 20 chapters, each written by a different author; one is Joel.

Rachel Graduates Since last spring, Rachel Salatin has completed her Interior Design degree at the Art Institute of Charlotte. The economic downtown quashed the job she had lined up, so she has been at the farm creating power points for Joel, overseeing living room renovations, drawing up plans for a new apprentice cottage, and helping with chores. She can absolutely make a room come alive, and would be happy to do that for you upon request. She can do anything from space planning to color choices, consultations or complete design concepts. If interested in talking with Rachel, you can directly contact her at

As always, we deeply appreciate your confidence in us and look forward to serving you throughout 2009. Remember that everything is first come, first served so don’t dilly dally in getting this order back into us. Fill out the second one for your reference. Comments are always welcome. See you shortly.

Gratefully yours,

The Salatins of Polyface Farm

1 comment:

Sheryl said...

This is fantastic! I'm glad to see Polyface is getting credit for its humane and healthy appraoch to farming. Also, I would like to know your opinion on HR 875- I think that in its current form it could prevent small farms from growing and selling me local, fresh produce. Check out the Resolution- as I am very interested in your thoughts!

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