If you’ve seen Food Inc., you’ve undoubtedly seen a few scenes with one of America’s most well-known farmers (at least nowadays), Joel Salatin. Joel is a revolutionary farmer in so much as he has stuck with more traditional methods of raising and growing food. While he’s applied a few basic modern tools (such as low-power electric fences) most of what he does on the farm has been passed down to him by his father. I’ve seen a few videos of him talking now, and he’s so passionate about his quest for better food and accountability in the food system that it’s hard not to get caught up in what he’s saying.
I was reading a few excerpts from some interviews recently, and thought that this one was rather interesting. Here are a few quotes that I think are relevant, not just for farming, but for many high-tech businesses as well:
I am tired of traveling all across North America and finding that in every locality, only 5 percent of the food consumed there is grown there. Meanwhile, food being grown there ends up in some other community which is experiencing the same low percentage. This is not about production capacity; it is about corporate welfarism, sweetheart regulatory deals, and a host of other societal and economic weeds. Not the least of which is this unquestioned assumption that every business worth its salt must have a global marketing mentality. I see it in organics. I see it in every aspect of our business climate. Remember, cancer is growth. Growth in and of itself is neither healthy nor noble. And so as I’ve searched for noble goals for our farm, I’ve found great freedom in being liberated from competing with farmers outside my bioregion. I don’t have to wrestle with how to ship steaks across the country. I don’t have to wrestle with how to get 500 pounds of ground beef to a college in New York. I am freed from all that hassle. Ultimately, clarifying our market and defining our product has helped us stay focused on our ministry. Businesses that refuse to acknowledge the moral and ethical dimensions of their growth paradigms with eventually prostitute themselves joining Wall Street. And I’ve been terribly disappointed to see fledgling organic businesses and farmers who grew up on Mother Earth News and Wendell Berry allow themselves to get sucked in when someone dangles that economic carrot out there. Because the temptation is so great, we must take preemptive action, perhaps a business vaccination, against such business thinking. One thing it proved, though, is that if you truly hold to your convictions, the world will rise to meet you. The world is still starved for people who operate by non-negotiables–that’s a romantically intriguing notion that is hard to find in our world.
Here’s another one where Joel knocks it out of the park:
Never apologize for being small. Small is relative, anyway. Many would say that Polyface [Salatin’s farm], with sales now exceeding $1.5 million annually, is no longer a small company. But plenty of room exists before we become a Cargill or Tyson. Trust me. Small business still represents the lion’s share of all employment and business in America. The Fortune 500 companies are only a few percent of American business. We all have a skewed perspective of things because the big businesses are the ones that buy the most expensive and highly visible advertising. Why do they do that? Because their product, service, or idea are not big enough to capture customers by sheer extraordinariness. I think generally an inverse relationship exists between glitzy packaging and quality, advertising budgets and quality. The Jeffersonian ideal of the agrarian intellectual is about as culturally American as it gets–and I suggest as revolutionary today as it was in his day, when breaking from royalty and all its worldviews was as different as breaking from globalization, and its worldviews is today.