If Wendell Berry is our philosopher farmer, Joel Salatin is our evangelist. Kitsap residents had the chance to hear him speak at the annual Kitsap Community and Agricultural Alliance Harvest Dinner on Sunday September 27.
Farmers old and young, artisan food makers, club presidents, politicians, and food enthusiasts filled the Bremer Center at Olympic College. KCAA members, young chefs-in-training, and Chef Richard Kost himself served food from three tables, all supervised by our celebrated Chef Chris Plemmons. Each year the spread is more amazing. From the same tables you could have a gourmet vegetarian meal, with roasted tomatoes, kale salad, and every kind of vegetable you could think of: green beans, carrots, broccoli, beets and zucchini. You could have a soup and salad dinner. You could have a superb meat and potatoes spread with chicken, stuffed pork and scalloped potatoes. Or you could step into another culture with rogan josh and cassoulet. Tarts and carrot cake came out for dessert, with free coffee and water, and wine from the bar.
The convivial dinner conversation quieted to hear Joel Salatin preach. If you have ever read a book or seen a movie about the new food revolution you’ve heard about him. His Polyface Farm is famous for his committment to serving his local community, for the integration of animals and fields, and for championing small and natural against massive industrial food.
He spoke on the theme of his book Everything I Want to Do is Illegal. Industrial food is the new orthodoxy. “We’ve come to very strange places in our culture”, where raw milk is considered dangerous but soda is safe.
We have a segregated food system, one in which people believe they don’t have to participate in growing or cooking food. This has developed into a class system where sophisticated white people don’t have to get their hands messy while unsophisticated brown people till the land. Even more alarming, we’ve lost track of the reality of the physical world; we think we are so wealthy that we are apart from nature. “We ARE nature,” he thundered.
This is a new development. Historically food was created through participatory symbiotic systems. Today, with people separated from the sources of food, livestock in the neighborhood becomes alarming. The industrial system separates food production from food processing. The regulatory envrionment is scale prejuidicial, favoring large producers and pricing small producers out of entry. All these factors make it difficult to impossible for a family to grow and process food on our own properties and sell it to our neighbors.
Salatin sees this as a civil liberties issue. The choice of what we eat is at least as self-actualizing as our religion. The only reason our founding fathers did not include it in our Bill of Rights is that they could not imagine a world in which you couldn’t bake a pie and sell it to your neighbor. What we need, he said, is a new system in which liberty expresses itself as food security.
This begins with changing the regulatory environment. Kitsap County is currently revamping its agricultural code. Salatin fastened on a few of the minute rules – like requiring 200 square feet for interns on a farm. “What if I want to live in 100 square feet? Why should you deny me the right to do that?” He advocated creative workarounds to meet the letter of the law while retaining the ability to produce local food.
The audience gave him a standing ovation. To round out the night, KCAA announced the Farmer of the Year. By popular vote, the honor went to a farmer known for her animal husbandry and commitment to the local community, one who provides raw cow milk to Kitsap families – Karen Olsen. Congratulations Karen!