Thursday, May 20, 2010

In Your Polyface!

Ok, those of you out there know the goal of Grill-a-Chef is to advise people on what avenue I think is required to achieve the best flavor possible given the circumstances.
While I subscribe to all of the socioeconomical benefits of supporting local farms, they are sometimes superseded by my quest for yummy.
Fact is, sometimes the processes behind the good grub makes too much sense to overlook. At Polyface Farm in Virginia, Joel Salatin has been working on a system of raising animals that's challenging the norm for both organic and industrial farmers. You've probably heard of him, he's kind of the prime minister of "farming pioneering". His secret, of course, is not a secret. He's farming how people once farmed, without hormones, antibiotics, pesticides or any other unnatural aids; but he's doing it in an uber-efficient way.

There are a million videos of Joel Salatin on youtube. Most of them are worth watching.

Any endeavor to grow food, be it in your back yard or on a 50,000 acre farm, essentially hinges on the capacity to convert sunlight into consumable calories. The issue here is that for the past 50 years scientists have been striving to maximize this efficiency with profit as the goal. Resulting in specialized breeds of animals, given hormones for growth and antibiotics aimed to help them survive their conditions. All this to maximize pounds of meat produced per acre of land.

To do it, this sun energy is captured in the leaves of corn plants in say . . . Ohio. Which convert it to delicious corn calories, which are then trucked to say . . . Wyoming. Where the corn is fed to chickens who dutifully convert the corn into delicious chicken calories. The chickens are then shipped to say Colorado, where they are processed by the tens of thousands and then transported in refrigerated trucks across the nation. They're then purchased by us who then use those calories to get through our day. That brings the distance traveled from the sun to your plate to somewhere around 92,955,820.5 miles.

Part of what's wrong with this picture is that to maximize the the sun's energy, industrial farming subsidizes it with fuel. An issue I'm not even gonna go into.

So what Joel focuses on is maximizing his farms ability to capitalize on the suns energy. His solar panel of choice? Blades of grass, which are utilized by rotation of animals each preforming a different task. The cows, who in addition to fertilizing, mow it down for the chickens. The chickens then clean the fly larvae out of the cow patties and do a little fertilizing themselves. In preparation for winter, some manure is reserved, mixed with grass and hay, and left to compost under coops and barns for the winter. The decomposition generates heat to warm these structures.

The average farm budget allots 50% for fuel (yes 50%). Joel Salatin's fuel budget hovers somewhere around 5%. (yes 5%) He does have production shortcomings relative to what butterball produces per acre, but he more than makes up for them by raising beef, chicken, eggs and pork on that same acre. Dwarfing any industrial farms potential, and doing so without chemical aid of any kind. An amazing feet to say the least.

All that said, are his efforts delicious?
I can't speak from experience, but chefs and customers clamor for his products when they're up for sale.
I hope to get down there for a taste myself sometime soon.

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Grill-a-Chef by Joshua Stokes is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.