Joel Salatin – the lunatic farmer

Posted on May 1, 2014


By Tim Ashdown


IN 2010 JOEL SALATIN wrote a book called ‘The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer’. Talk about a great title, but what does it mean?

“I’ve embraced the notion of being a lunatic farmer for a long time because very little I do adheres to farming orthodoxy,” says Joel, who lives in Virginia, USA. “You’re supposed to use chemical fertilizer, not compost. You’re supposed to raise only one thing, not many things. You’re supposed to grow annuals, not perennials.”

But the lunatic farmer does a lot you’re not supposed to.

“We build crooked fences that fit with the terrain, rather than straight fences that disrespect the terrain. We believe we can hydrate the landscape, rather than desertify it – even while we actively farm.”

And the accolades are rolling in. TIME named Joel the “World’s Most Innovative Farmer” and the New York Times dubbed him “High Priest of the Pasture”.

But what Joel really wants is for us to grow and eat better food, something he learnt about early on.

“I grew up on raw milk, a big garden, home-canned and -processed foods, pastured eggs and milk-fed hogs. This climate created a basic understanding that food was fuel, and some produced health and some produced sickness.”

Does he see problems with our food system in Australia? You bet.

“It’s extremely similar to the U.S. Very little choice and destroying the ecology.” But it’s not all doom and gloom – there are things we can do.

One thing we can do is get into the kitchen. Joel says when enough people are interested in how food is prepared and processed, we’ll see the decline of “industrial food”.

He also recommends searching out local food treasures. “Every community has excellent farmers desperate for a dozen more customers in order to be viable. Find them and patronize them.”

And more trade between neighbours and small producers will create competition for the supermarkets, according to Joel. “All it requires is freedom for the market place to work. And a little faith that people can actually make good decisions without a bureaucrat referee,” he says.

“Life is not about convenience. It may be convenient to pollute the water, destroy aquifers, and reduce nutrients, but that’s not a legacy worth leaving to our children.”

Maybe he’s not such a lunatic after all.

This article originally appeared on

Posted in: Food