Those who pursue a different path often meet with skepticism in our society. This is perhaps nowhere quite as true as in the area of agriculture.
In The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer, Joel Salatin tackles the status quo head-on. He draws a sharp contrast between conventional farming wisdom and the alternative path he has chosen, evaluating the effects of each system in four key areas:
- Nurturing the earth.
- Producing food and fiber.
- Respecting life.
- Promoting community.
Each system has a radically different approach to handling everything from soil building to livestock disease prevention to marketing. The differences in the results are equally dramatic:
Today’s conventional farmer lives in a world of fear. Indeed, perhaps we could say our entire culture lives in fear. In sharp contrast, I feel like I live in forgiveness. I don’t wake up every morning worried about an epizootic, economic disaster, or ecological calamity. Instead, I can’t wait to go out and make animals happy. To participate in a wondrous ecological dance. To embrace my ecological umbilical, and to appreciate that things are right in my world because I have endeavored to create forgiveness and resiliency.
The insights Salatin brings to each topic are rather amazing, reflecting a lifetime of keen observation, wide reading, and deep thinking. He is not known for pulling his punches, and he certainly doesn’t in this book. That said, the insight is not without sympathy for the needs of struggling farmers, concerned conservationists, and wary consumers alike. In Salatin’s paradigm, the needs of all groups can indeed be met:
An economy can only be as healthy as its farmers. Farmers drive the lion’s share of landscape stewardship. Ultimately, if the landscape ecology fails, the economy will fail. Farmers drive food quality. Ultimately, if health fails, the economy will fail. The reason I’m beating this issue is because I find myself fighting the ‘just a farmer’ mentality. I get on an airplane and the seatmate smiles and asks: ‘What do you do?’ ‘Oh, I’m just a farmer.’ Please forgive me, Lord, for answering that way. No, no, no, a thousand times no. How about this instead: ‘I’m a professional land healer super nutrition food purveyor landscape architect nurturer.’
The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer has been criticized for being everything from negative to arrogant to overly sarcastic. While it is certainly true that Salatin spares no group, his book presents a positive and much-needed alternative to the present-day world of agriculture, beset with poverty, pollution, and poor health. Farmers can live abundantly, and so can consumers. This book offers the philosophy to make it happen.