Western Standard

The Shotgun Blog

« The Income Trust 300 | Main | Real Pakistan »

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Freedom Farmer

Pastured_broilers  Joel Salatin may be to farming what Jacques Chaoulli is to medicine.

I spent Christmas at our family farm and came across Salatin’s name after picking up a copy of the Western Producer. He’s the author of Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal: War Stories from the Local Food Front. Salatin is a self-described Christian-libertarian-environmentalist-capitalist (there is something in that description to please and/or offend everyone on this blog).

On Dec. 4, he was in Brandon, Man., giving a speech to the Manitoba Grazing School. (I hear their Delta Phi house is off the hook.) I can’t link to the Western Producer article because their online content requires a paid subscription, so let me summarize:

Joel Salatin is leading an army. His soldiers are farmers. His tactics are subversive. His goal is to liberate the family farm. And his sworn enemies in this war are the food safety regulations he thinks favour potentially dangerous industrial farming operations by denying market access to safe, local food producers.

In his book, Salatin tells the real life stories of guerrilla farmers like himself, those who employ subterfuge to get around food rules. When the government told one dairy farmer he couldn’t sell his unpasteurized cheese, he gave it away and asked his loyal customers for “donations.”  Some local food producers mislabel their products as pet food to avoid costly regulations that would put them out of business; their customers know what they are getting because they trust the local source and so regulators are thwarted. A lady in the U.S. rents her property by the square metre. In her state, Michigan, you can butcher an animal for your own use as long as it’s done on land you own or rent. This sneaky strategy, all within the law, allows her to expand farm gate sales of fresh, safe meat.

Will all small farmers become sneaks to serve their customers? Will big government force enterprising farmers into a life of crime? It’s hard to say. Farmers can be a powerful political force, but so is fear. Tainted food imports from China have put the normally complacent North American consumer in no mood to support Joel Salatin’s campaign for deregulation.

And politicians? Much the same. The federal government announced on December 20, 2007 that it is spending $5 million in tax dollars to establish an animal health and food safety vaccine production facility at the Bioniche Life Sciences Inc. campus in Belleville, Ontario. The project will create as many as 135 new government jobs.

Farmers like Salatin are arguing that small farms and decentralized, small-scale food production will do more to make food safer than $5 million in vaccine production and 135 more food safety bureaucrats. In other words, relaxing food safety regulations for small farmers may be exactly what’s needed to secure a safe, local food supply, though the idea may not be popular with the consumer at the moment.

In his address, Salatin said “Folks, it’s not about food safety. It’s about market access. We can raise kids on Twinkies and bon-bons, but we can’t give them raw milk.”

Come on, Salatin. We can give our kids raw milk. We just have it label it “cat food.”

By Matthew Johnston

Posted by westernstandard on December 27, 2007 | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Freedom Farmer:


It was dick-heads like you that gave us the Mad Cow outbreak. What in hell makes you think the average citizen supports you in sneaking around food safety regulations?

By the way, raw milk makes non-farm kids violently ill.

Posted by: dp | 2007-12-27 9:46:24 PM

Hey, dp. The closest I've ever come to farming is mowing the lawn. This is a news story about Joel Salatin - and the regulations he's avoiding have nothing to do with BSE.

Salatin has an impressive mixed farm operation. His views on food safety are worth listening to.

As for me, I prefer to trust my food to the good people at McDonalds.

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2007-12-27 10:06:19 PM

Yes, I was directing my feelings, at least, toward your subject.

Even though his actions are not connected to BSE, it's the prevailing attitude toward regulations that ultimately led to the outbreak.

When I see bumper stickers that proclaim farmers to be the only irreplacable link in the food chain, it really annoys me. That's why it's called a chain. My contribution to the economy is every bit as important to food production as some guy driving a combine. Is it too much to ask that they try not to poison my family?

Posted by: dp | 2007-12-27 10:17:01 PM

Even with a legion of inspectors, we still hear lots of horror stories about people getting sick on food that was processed in plants that had government inspectors. Most of us can't spend the time to find trusted producers even though that is the way to go.

Posted by: DML | 2007-12-27 11:22:59 PM

>It was dick-heads like you that gave us the Mad >Cow outbreak.

No, it was feeding cows ground up brains and spinal columns in their feed that gave us the Mad Cow outbreak. I on the other hand buy my beef from a local farmer whose beef is all grass fed. Milk, eggs, chicken, turkey and pork too.

>By the way, raw milk makes non-farm kids violently >ill.

Sorry, I have to call BS on that one. Raw milk is completely safe - if one of my farmer's two cows is sick, he doesn't milk it. On the other hand, if the milk comes from a huge operation with thousands of cows then yeah, I would prefer the milk be pasteurized.

What Saletan is against is regulation that is designed to protect food from the results of techniques used by huge farming operations being applied to small family farms. Seriously, try buying your food from the person who produces it, you will be surprised at the results. They care enough about their reputation, since they know all their customers, they are extremely conscientious in my experience.

Posted by: Jonathan Westphal | 2007-12-27 11:31:03 PM

Are we going to milk the BSE thing forever? Are *all* food regulations justified because of mad cow disease?

As John Stossel likes to say, "Give me a break."

Posted by: P.M. Jaworski | 2007-12-28 12:47:53 AM

The free market provides choices for people of all tastes and comfort levels of safety. There are or easily can be private standards for bacteria levels, handling, inspection etc in foods. There's also a great Latin term that is too often ignored, Caveat Emptor! (buyer beware).

I happen to think that "organic food" is the equivalent to a tax on stupid rich people but I am not forced to buy those expensive products. One size fits all mentality enforced by nanny-state regulators is what I believe Mr. Salatin is justifiably fighting.

Posted by: John Chittick | 2007-12-28 11:23:42 AM


I was raised on raw milk, in a dairy community. I have seen what happens when visitors give raw milk to city kids, and it's not pretty.

Just ask your farmer buddies if they eat the produce they sell, or if they keep a separate garden for personal use. You can bet that most of them would never eat meat off a store shelf. Their animals are kept separate from the cash animals.

Hutterites always have a separate garden for the colony to eat. They make sure no human waste goes onto that one. Not so sure about the cash crop.

When I actually stop and think about our food supply I lose my appetite. Don't expect me to sympathise with farmers who don't want to follow the rules.

I remember the hippy "back to the land" movement, and how many of them poisoned their kids. Everything from sheep manure on lettuce to botulism from raw honey to infants. All because they didn't believe the government had a right to tell them what they should eat. I guess communes are making a big comeback. I'm surprised to see support for them on this site.

Posted by: dp | 2007-12-28 12:00:35 PM

years ago, searching for my niche, i had meat goats. the ethnic market was (and still is, i'm sure) very lucrative. it's easy and legal :) to rent a tiny plot of land for a day to people who wish to procure their own meat.


raw milk doesn't make non-farm kids violently ill (one in a million... just like (hah!!) "inspected" food). look at the stats. don't pull "facts" out of your :)ss.

good night

Posted by: shel | 2007-12-28 2:19:23 PM

You had goats? What's a goat-person doing on a conservative blog?

Where did you get your stats goat-boy? I think the ones I got from my ass are more believable than the rantings of a goat herder.

Goats? Hide your head. You just went off the scale.

Posted by: dp | 2007-12-28 2:25:43 PM


raising meat goats was a fun experience when i was younger and looking for my niche.

you're a fag if you think there's shame in a man exploiting vacuums in the markets.

my point: forget your and my anecdotal evidence. look at the stats. there is little to no difference in safety efficacy between inspected and non inspected food. it's just another government intrusion into free enterprise and property rights.

i know. i was there.

Posted by: shel | 2007-12-28 3:06:38 PM

I'm not a fag goat-boy. I've met goat-people before, and not a single one was normal. Goat-people are usually hippies, who took a wrong turn somewhere. Once again goat-boy, which statistics are you quoting? You keep talking about stats, while calling my observations anecdotal.

So I ask you, goat-boy, are you going to name the source for your statistics?

Posted by: dp | 2007-12-28 3:14:29 PM

...umm, i'm a city kid who went on a nature kick to get pickle jar size bottled milk from a local dairy farm and didn't get sick.

I will agree however that kids today have no concept of raw food - the reason they get sick is initial reaction to new foods - like we'd do for foreign foods.

I'm sure Alberta beef is different than say the beef running around on African plains.

Speaking of holy cows, can't some get by here making a discussion without name calling?

Posted by: tomax7 | 2007-12-30 10:19:53 AM

We'll see some name calling when the first human BSE infection hits the news. That's when England had to face reality.

Posted by: dp | 2007-12-30 4:14:56 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.