Every city in the world could be self-sustaining in veggies if most of us decided to use even the smallest spaces available to grow food – from pots to verges and empty lots – and revive skills like pickling, canning and plainly cooking from scratch. That’s what reckons Joel Salatin, one of the most innovative farmers in the world.
Salatin finished his latest tour of Australia in Vic Park, on Labour Day public holiday, with an inspiring one-hour-plus talk about what urban folk can do to make our food system healthier for us and lighter on the planet.
Owner and operator of Polyface Farm, in the American state of Virginia, Salatin has been advocating a different way of producing food for decades. In his farm, he practices an intensive rotational method reliant on the energy of the sun as captured by a cocktail of diverse grasses and turned into meat by a half dozen different animal species.
What is most striking about Salatin, however, is how easily he goes from talking about his farm to the bigger picture. “The way I produce a chicken is an extension of my worldview”, he likes to say.
That worldview was in plain sight at the Vic Park talk, when Salatin came up with 3 steps for urban dwellers to start changing things around.
First up, do something, think of yourself as a “co-producer” – not entirely consumer, not entirely producer – and start growing some produce. The verge in front of your house, according to Salatin, is a great place to begin. “I don’t care if the City says it’s not legal, just do it anyway”, he dared. “Ask forgiveness instead of permission, put some tomatoes in there”.
In the same line, he advised residents to get chickens, even if you have no backyard. “One of the hottest food farming deals in New York City is the in-house chicken, they can eat all of your food scraps and convert them into eggs!”
Still under “do something yourself”, Salatin recommended that everyone get a compost bin, reminding us that they come in all sizes and can be used even by apartment dwellers. In nature, he pointed out, there is no “away” and everything gets turned into something else – the same should go for our home economics.
“You can’t expect things to ultimately change without changing them”, he summed up.
Secondly, Salatin recommended that we find local, good farmers and become their best customers. Go to farmers markets, get to know farmers, visit farms and look out for clues about how good they are: there should be lots of biomass around, there should be a variety of crops and animals, and the whole farm should smell good.
And if you think that food produced in good farms is expensive, he suggested, try comparing the most expensive potato you can find in the farmers market to processed potato chips: you’ll see how cheap they really are. “Patronize good farmers and good food”, he emphasized. “There is a connection between planetary health and our own microbiome”.
His challenge to the audience was to “take whatever time and money you were going to spend in entertainment and recreation this year, and invest it in your good food farm treasures”. He pointed, however, that those are not available in the aisles of Woolies and Coles. “It’s a subculture that is not flashing, you have to go find it”.
Salatin’s final point was a pretty simple one: get in your kitchen. Cook your meals from scratch, eat leftovers, forget single-serve convenience food: it means we eat seasonally, it grounds us, reminding that we are dependent on the Earth. “Kitchens are sexy cool places”, he reckoned.
“We cannot have an integrity food system
until it is fundamentally home-centric”.
Joel Salatin was the guest speaker at Collective Conversations on March 6, 2017, hosted at Connect Vic Park. The Vic Park Collective had the invaluable support of Town of Victoria Park to make his talk possible for the local community.
Some resources we have collected for you are as follows:
Manning Markets - local farmer's markets located close by on Saturdays.
Vic Park Markets - a smaller market located at John McMillan Park on Sundays.
Urban Revolution - permaculture loving store located in Vic Park.
Kooda - for those of you who don't think they can compost, these guys do it for you.
Life Cykel - an interesting Perth company who recycle cafe coffee compost to grow mushrooms.
Ripe Near Me - find or register your own local backyard food (as Joel would say "other people's inventory problems")
Seed Savers WA - This is one of many seed saving groups in WA.
Open Food Network - connecting farmers to consumers, encourage your local farmers to jump on board and there doesn't seem to be any WA farmers on there yet.