Following our Farm Dreams—Updated! Plowing into Week 4 of the Salatin Semester
Andrew Bennett, small-scale farmer and moderator of our Online You Can Farm Semester with Joel Salatin, reflects on the learnings of the first few weeks of “E-School”.
Note: This post was originally published after one week of the Salatin Semester and has been updated here with new content.
The first few weeks of the Joel Salatin’s You Can Farm E-School has flown by and it’s shaping up to be a real mind-expanding journey! For me, besides the obvious—soaking up Joel’s awesomeness in the seminar videos—it’s been amazing to feel this large, worldwide community of farmers grow from out of thin air. It really fills me with optimism and new drive that all of us in this course are really motivated to make changes in our lives and in our communities to follow our farm dreams, however those dreams may look…
So what does the course look like, and what have we learned so far?
Beyond the six hours of video classroom time with Joel already streaming (and 12 hours yet to come in the second and third parts of the full semester) the student forum has filled up fast and furious with discussions on all kinds of topics from the “Choreography Calendar”—a year-long dance through the seasons with many interactions between livestock, pastures, gardens, soils, weather and more—to growing our own animal feed, fermenting the commercial stuff, pasturing to avoid parasites, processing to keep the meat juicy and tender, and so much more.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg, both what’s already there and what’s yet to come. I mean, we’re just three short weeks in and things are going off! It’s crazy, really amazingly, inspirationally crazy…
Itching to get started on your own farm dream?
It’s not too late to sign up for the Salatin Semester.
Check out some clips from the video classroom!
We’re not stranded on our own, taking in videos and chatting among ourselves in the forum—as beneficial as both of those are. Every two weeks I comb through the forum and glean the most pressing questions. I actively canvas everyone to push their own questions, so there’s no shortage of deep ends to dive into! Then Joel gives us a call and we spend 90 minutes hearing his ideas and responses to our questions. It’s been hugely rewarding so far.
Joel covered a lot of ground on the 90-minute Nov. 6 call-in, from the pitfalls of curmudgeonly farming to propane heaters for portable brooders, from how to identify the intern that’s right for your farm (and whether you’re ready for interns at all!) to welcoming them right into the family (and welcoming the spotlight it puts on your weaknesses!), and from charging around your property with sticks tied to your butt scattering seeds (don’t you wish you were Joel’s neighbour) to mob-stocking ducks and sheep in the autonomous fiefdoms run by his 8 and 10-year-old grandkids!
Awesome, that’s what all that sounds like to me! And there are five more 90-minute call-ins yet to come, so we’re getting set to dive in deep!
What We’re Learning…
The Big Picture Stuff
Right now, in Part 1 of the Salatin Semester, we’re hitting up the “big picture” stuff, topics that have already received lots of interesting input on the forum like finding land to lease, how to set prices, working out apprenticeship-partnerships or even the standard models of employees or volunteers, marketing approaches and record keeping when you have products, customers, and sales coming out your ears. And we haven’t lost sight of the fundamental fundamentals: reminding ourselves why we want to farm in the first place and what we want to get out of this journey we’re dreaming…
Layer Pens to Cattle Breeding
But the forum knows no boundaries, so topics are popping up from layer pens to egg washing to Shaklee’s Basic H to livestock guardian dogs to portable shelters and hoop houses to grass-fed dairy animals eschewing the grains. Joel will cover these during his call-ins for Part 2, Pastured Poultry Profits, and Part 3, Salad Bar Beef.
There’s even a thread out there where folks share optimistic prose intended to drag us up by the britches and inspire us to get out there and bolster our wonderful Earth and each other with great soil and great food!
Much more pragmatically, another thread explores cattle genetics and breeding rules-of-thumb for grass-based systems.
And what about the latest topic, mixed-species-simultaneous-mob-stocking where people share experiences of putting cattle, sheep, goats, chickens, and more in either leader-follower systems or hucking them all in the same pen at once! There are definitely some good ideas brewing to save effort, increase plant diversity and consumption, improve soil and animal health, and heal the Earth faster!
On the Business Side of Things…
On the business side of things (the bedrock on which our future success will be built!) I’m really intrigued by the venture capital ideas brought up by some students, including ways to creatively use crowd-sourced online funding (like Kickstarter) to get capital-intensive projects like commercial kitchens, processing facilities, and dairies off the ground.
Also on the marketing side, people are contemplating how best to name their farm while great tips continue to roll out of the record-keeping threads on taking orders and keeping organized with customer lists and accounts.
We’re a big group now—more than 160 farmers and dreamers—so as the forum fans out in many, many directions, I’m out there doing my best to surf the waves and catch the biggest ones for the every-other-week ride with Joel. We’re sure the forum will continue to grow into a great repository of knowledge that’s easy to dive into for tips and experiences.
Beyond the farming knowledge base we’re collectively building, one of my favourite parts of the course so far has been meeting everyone else.
We’re all here to make a better living by feeding our communities and healing the planet
There are a huge range of experiences out there. We’ve got former Salatin interns and people with decades of farming under their belts. We’ve got self-described “newbies” and town dwellers itching for something completely different in a new life, like Fernando in Brazil. And no doubt we’re all here because we love good, wholesome food, like Chef Cari who wants her carrots “actually tasting like real live carrots, not sticks of orange water!”
The principles and ideas we’re discussing are applicable anywhere and everywhere. Rickey and Nancy live in the city but have managed to squeeze in a garden of veggies and medicinals, plus an orchard, and are holding firm to the homesteading dream. And we’ve got other folks with more than 10 acres with which to create, people like the “mother-daughter” team of Darlene and Stephanie in Tennessee. And some, like John and Marcy, grew up on farms and were driven away, but have been drawn right back to the countryside to try it all again…
It’s a huge bonus also to have some voices of experience weighing in strongly on the forum, farmers like Lydia Carpenter and Paul Ewing among others who have spent years with lots of livestock.
Bringing us first-hand experience of the “skin in the game” apprentice-partner model, John and Betsie McAuley interned with Joel in 1996, and another, Brian, is an apprentice-partner right now on Dennis’s Florida farm right now, running his own 10 pigs, 200 chickens, and 1-acre garden independently. That’s a model to explore more, and it reminds me of Joel’s advice in the seminar for parents to give their kids (and grandkids!) the opportunity to run their own, separate enterprise.
We’re all here to make a better living by feeding our communities and healing the planet. That’s a beautiful thing. I won’t bash our conventional education system entirely—I got a lot out of mine—but Fabian’s comments rang true: After a childhood of dairy cows and meat sheep he went to agriculture college to follow his passion for ecological farming and healthy food. He wrote, “I found that my education at school was very lacking on the unconventional side of farming and I want to learn more about raising livestock in a manner that not only protects the environment but also heals it.”
Hear, hear! And that’s why we’re here!
Some people have really focused hard on their “unconventional” education in ecological agriculture and permaculture, folks like Dig, a New Yorker originally from rural Russia, or Todd and Keri from Iowa. These students and others have traveled far and wide to get the good word from the likes of Mark Shepard, Sepp Holzer, Geoff Lawton, Elaine Ingham, and other great land healers out there besides Joel Salatin, of course!
Looking at all this experience out there can intimidate those of us who haven’t been there and done that… There are clearly many people in this course with much, much more experience farming than I have, for example, with many more good ideas and plenty more background. So lucky me, I’m going to be able to use their experience to leap forward in my own farming path!
The best way to spring off this educational springboard is to get right in there with our growing community, to get involved, to tell people about where we’re at and where we want to go, to voice our opinions whether or not we may change them later, to blurt out questions even if we’re sure it will betray our inexperience, and to relate our experiences even if they may feel pale in comparison to others coming from farms with thousands of animals and great tracts of land!
So join us on the forum and for the live call-ins!
It’s not too late to sign-up!
There’s still one week to catch the 6 hours of video and 1.5 hours of call-in recordings for Course #1: You Can Farm. Or just slide right into the next two courses – Pastured Poultry and Salad Bar Beef. You’ll get the entire forum, 5 more live call-ins, and 12 hours of video classroom time with Joel.
This course is not just about soaking up every last bit of Salatin wisdom, but about building a worldwide network of beyond-organic farmers. It’s a wonderful opportunity for all of us to be on this great journey together…
The farm of a thousand chickens begins with the first chick, so here’s to learning from Joel Salatin and each other to the fullest in the coming months!