Joel Salatin, farmer at Polyface Farms and cultivator of charisma, opened the conference with “Fields of Farmers”. He discussed farming as a business and developing working models for regenerative farms. In Joel’s words:
Every place has an asset and a liability. Every person has talents and skills to bring to the table. Until we have two salaries from our enterprise, it is not a business, and it is not sustainable. In the next 15 years, 50% of America’s farmland is going to change hands. Old people [can] leverage their experience on youthful energy and enthusiasm [to develop the next generation of farmers]. When the young people can’t get in, the old people can’t get out.
So what are some of the impediments to entry?
1) Capitalization/cost of land. 2) Lack of information. 3) “No money in it.”
How do we create farms that are magnetic to young people? First message to the group: we have not even begun to leverage the resources under our feet. There is not a piece of property in the world that is not fully developed, ecologically speaking.
At Polyface Farms, gross is $8000/acre, versus neighbors who are grossing $250/acre. How? Polyface is not just cattle–they also have pigs, chickens, and rabbits, on 100 acres. BELIEVE you can do more with the property that is being done. Implement portable infrastructure. You do not have to own the land when everything is portable.
Side note: the government is trying to separate Concentrated Animal Feed Operations (CAFO) from produce–because of poop–Joel calls this the “poop paradigm”.
Cornell University performed a study in New York state on how much farm land has been abandoned in the last 15 years. The result? 3.1 million acres. One of Joel’s interns from Ithaca, NY, had 3 unsolicited offers within 30 days of returning to NY, asking him to farm a total of 1000 acres of land. Find these opportunities! People who own land are seeking those who wish to work it.
Farm equity is in the management and the customers. Know how to make a beautiful landscape, a place that people want to come and visit. Let’s let permaculture design show order that is aesthetically penetrating! Have a place to put unfinished projects! [Peter Bane’s Garden Farming Pattern Language, Pattern #56: Zones of Accumulation] Look at your farm from a food writer’s or National Geographic eye. Equity is portable, and in information and management, you have wiggle room. You have got to create value added on your place. Leverage your resources. If you are not putting 2000 hours per year on your tractor, you need to rent one.
Farm with 1) the belief that the farm is not anywhere near its potential; 2) portable infrastructure, information and management; 3) value-added, stacked enterprises. You need marketing. Go with a last-born child; 80% of marketers are last-born; you need a “gregarious, storytelling schmoozer.” These things have to be done to make a magnetic, profitable farm. Multi-generationalism, with at least two salaries, is necessary for a regenerative farm with a continuity plan. Remember: production, processing, accounting, distribution, AND marketing.