A Special Birthday Gift

Thursday was Andy's birthday, and after Turner Ashby, we had some time before our evening screening at Shenandoah University. 

Chris suggested we head over to Polyface Farms, which sounded like an especially wonderful idea, considering that it was such a beautiful day, and we'd spent many hours of our previous days watching Polyface in the documentary. 

We pulled up and saw Joel approach in a bright yellow hard hat and Carhartt jacket. I mentioned that it was Andy's birthday and that the three of us wanted to walk around and take in the day at the farm. 


A pig in a hoop barn at Polyface. (Photo A. Trimbach)

Joel greeted us after we parked behind the sales building and generously began to give us a tour of the farm. We looked at some pigs in a hoop barn that had been built since my last visit, and Joel showed us a cool innovation that included putting long thin strips of concrete down the middle of the barn. In between the concrete, just soil. Then bedding on top of that. In the spring, when the pigs move out of the hoop barns, vegetables are planted in the dirt strips between the concrete, so the structure is productive year round. 


Daniel's rabbits, twenty years in the making. (Photo A. Trimbach)

From there Joel proudly showed us the rabbits that Daniel, his son, has been raising for over 20 years, selecting for healthy rabbits aggressively, and in the process raising a large, happy rabbit that eats almost entirely grass. The pride in his son's work was apparent in his tone and excitement by Daniel's creation. In one of the raken houses, Joel pulled out a baby rabbit, still blind, and put it in my hands. It was warm, and helpless. I almost dropped it, but then caught it as it fell. For someone too often with electronics in my hands, the warm body of a baby rabbit cupped in my hands was a reminder of something more sustaining.


A baby rabbit, with eyes unopened. (Photo A. Trimbach)


The egg laying hens, Bards- I think, head into hoop barns before winter. (Photo A. Trimbach)

After a brief hello to Daniel and the interns trying out for next summer, we went in and talked with Joel's wife Teresa as she prepared for lunch with some of the interns.  

There's an old GMC suburban that the Salatins recently purchased that acts as a tour vehicle/airport shuttle for the growing farm. Chris, Andy and I piled in, and Joel drove us up the dirt road, deeper and deeper into the hills. He was intent on showing us his new pig paddocks, which have been yielding and incredible amount of food for pigs. The food falls from the oak trees, acorns which pigs naturally burrow through the soil to eat in the autumn and early winter months. 


A pig's snout gets dirty after digging for acorns. (Photo A. Trimbach) 

It doesn't get any better than this, in my opinion Joel said as we walked down the hill. The pigs out in the forest, were calm, happy and just seemed to fit in the place where they were. 


Joel Salatin shows us the pig paddocks in December, 2012. (Photo A. Trimbach)


Pigs dig in acorns in one of the pig glens at Polyface. (Photo A. Trimbach)

The ride back we talked about our coming film, which is focused on young farmers and by coincidence, Joel is working on a book of the same topic. The excitement to begin the film and to read Joel's new book is growing exponentially these days in Virginia. One can feel a major shift taking place, an unspeakable power rooted in the land that promises to transform our nation's agriculture and put some of our nation's people to physical, purposeful, spiritual, healing work. Chris asked Joel if he had a favorite spot on the farm. He pulled the wheel of the Suburban tank and we shot up onto a grassy knoll that was higher than those around it. We looked out on the brown and almost purple woods, without leaves, as they prepared for winter. You can see Daniel's house from here, and see all a long way in all directions. It was a quiet, reflective place, especially as winter approaches. Chris pointed out a Gipsum root, which was a reminder of the remaining work to be done, and we laughed about some of the ways the weed had been used, and drove back down the road to the sales barn.

We said goodbye and thanks and headed North, with a screening at Shenandoah University a few hours away.

About 80 people, a mix of students and community members, joined us for our Thursday night screening at Shenandoah University.  

It was way more than we were expecting with finals looming around the corner. I reconnected with Aggie, my cousin, and met some of her friends and boyfriend, Eric. Great people. 

The good folks who came out to Shenandoah University. (Photo A. Trimbach)

After the film, Kitty, a dairy farmer spoke with the energy and enthusiasm of a person who completely believes in what they are doing and saying. The students were especially excited about farming, and asked a number of questions about what they could do to get started. Kitty offered her farm up for any aspiring agriculturalists, and Chris and I listed out a number of organizations- Food Democracy Now, National Sustainable Agricultural Coalition, Organic Consumers Association, Weston A. Price Foundation and the Real Food Challenge- to name a few- where students could build their knowledge about farming, and food. 

Kitty, right, talks with a flair for humor and dramatic. Chris and I listen and smile. (Photo A. Trimbach)

The half hour ended fast, and scores of students came down to say thanks and get the free burrito cards, for which they had patiently waited. 

Some farmers were in attendance, and took the time to come up and say thanks, and a 10 year old came up to say he liked the film and offered some help on the marketing side of things, which was greatly appreciated. 

Goodbye and thanks, and we were back in the car, driving North to prepare for our dawn shoot with young turkey farmer Laverne Long.

Do you like this post?

Be the first to comment