Joel Salatin - lunatic farmer - quote

When asked “How would our world look different if thousands of people did what you do?”, Joel Salatin answers without skipping a beat. “The power, position, profits, and prestige of the entire world economy, culture, and foodscape would be inverted on its head,” he says.

“All of the winners would be losers and the losers would now be winners,” he continues, and adds that “the midwest would revert to biodiversified perennial prairie,” and that, due to increased accessibility to nutrient-dense
produce, “90 percent of the hospitals could close their doors and all of those doctors could become farmers….and that would really not be a bad thing.”

The passionate polyculture farmer has earned himself a reputation for being a radical proponent of redesigning our country’s foodscape. His family’s farm in the Shenandoah Valley, Polyface Farm, serves as a fully functioning example of how to work with the land instead of against it, which Joel believes is one of the most important principles by
which to farm.

“We are not in scarcity,“ he says, juxtaposing monocultural farming practices that strip the Earth with speed, as though its fruits are quickly running out. When one shifts perspective and understands that the Earth is naturally abundant and giving, then farming becomes less about controlling the Earth into giving up harvests, and more about aligning with natural patterns, cyclical flows, and the rich complexity of biodiverse ecosystems. As Joel frames it, “the Earth wants to give (to) us if we will treat it as a lover instead of a reluctant enemy.”

This philosophy of aligning oneself with the abundant offerings of the Earth was one of the main elements that transformed Joel’s farm from a “worn out, gullied weed patch that couldn’t even pay a salary” back in 1961 to a prosperous farm that brings in as much as $2.5 million in revenue while only conducting business within a strict 280 mile radius (remember: keeping food local is a foundational value of the family business).

The Polyface founders believe in total transparency and interactivity when it comes to learning about the source of one’s food. This “participatory environmentalism,” as Joel calls it, is the element of permaculture that best addresses humanity’s intense longing to reconnect with the land in a much more constructive way than we have in the past.

“The fact that human civilization has destroyed almost everywhere it has walked gives us, in our day and age, a kind of guilt complex and remorse, and I get it,” says Joel, who believes this guilt has driven us to what he calls “abandonment environmentalism.” Society, he says, fearful of perpetuating the damage our ancestors have done to the Earth, sees the land as almost “too sacred to touch.” In recent years, Joel says, we’ve accepted the idea that the only way to interact with the land with any integrity is to segregate it from everyday life and protect it with fences, as we do with our national parks, as if conservation is the only way to interact and build a relationship with the sacredness of this Earth.

The question comes to this: Can we find a way to meet our needs while respecting and working in cahoots with nature To this question, the Lunatic Farmer and many other permaculture teachers, farmers and engaged activists respond with a resounding YES!

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Most practitioners suggest that participation in a Permaculture Design Course is an important first step to understanding how to think about and design systems that actually support, and can even help recreate, nature’s abundance. There are growing examples, the world over, of permaculture projects that have healed desolate areas. Joel’s family farm is one, as is the Ashevillage Institute’s one-acre headquarters in the city of Asheville, NC. Just seven years ago, the site was a crack house and junkyard.

Inspired by Joel Salatin’s work, Ashevillage Institute invited him to be the opening presenter for their Permaculture Design Course, which runs April 12 – 26, 2014. To make Joel’s message, and the message of Permaculture, available to the broader community, Ashevillage Institute teamed up with the local university, UNCA, so that anyone can attend. The event will be held at UNC Asheville’s Humanities Lecture Hall on Saturday, April 12th, 2014 from 6 – 7:30 pm.

Contact Ashevillage Institute’s outreach coordinator, Kathryn Blau, at for more information about the Permaculture Design Course, or visit

by Megan de Matteo, Ashevillage Institute outreach intern

image: Next TwentyEight (Creative Commons BY-SA – no changes)