by Troy Bishopp
QUARRYVILLE, PA — When grass farmer, author and the most recognized farmer in America comes to town, it’s more like a revival than a farming conference. Having a passion for the bucolic lifestyle and seemingly endless stories and poignant one-liners, Joel Salatin has made a living at farming and preaching the gospel of grass-based production models. “We need more eyes to acres,” said the master of the pasture.
There were plenty of eyes and ears as the two-day 25th annual Southeast PA Grazing Conference, sold out the venue at the Solanco Fairgrounds in Quarryville. Drawing farmers in from 14 states, the Lancaster County Graziers group, led by the entertaining dairyman, Roman Stoltzfoos, wanted to celebrate their past successes and mentorship but also look ahead to the next 25 years. “We recruited seasoned visionaries for our anniversary in an effort to refocus our minds and hearts around the benefits of grass-fed production for our farms’ viability, our soil, our customers and our communities. Cows like to move; grass likes to stand still. It’s always been a great relationship,” said Stoltzfoos.
One of the pasture prophets was Jack Fuhrmann, hailing from Gretna, VA, who, with his wife Kim and their nine children, have transformed a former tobacco farm into a grass-based operation named; Our Father’s Farm. The once commercial airplane pilot and missionary in Chad, now turned farmer, shared the gospel that “God designed animals for particular purposes and that farmers should try to work with, not against, those designs. We desire to serve the community with healthy, life-giving foods raised and grown the way they were created to be. We count it a privilege to be in this place.”
Jack and Kim described how their 100 percent grass fed, A2-A2, raw milk is sold through “shares” in a cow under a private agreement (legal in Virginia), where the farm provides the care and boarding for the animal. “(The customer) pays us monthly for the labor of taking care of the cow. Milk is a free byproduct of having your own cow. One share equals one gallon of milk per week,” said Fuhrmann. The couple also produces related products that are retailed to their existing customer base which include grass fed beef, pastured poultry, eggs, kefir, yogurt, butter and cream. “God is doing incredible things and we are here to work with others and to exchange ideas that honor his vision.”
Another visionary stepped into the limelight to “cultivate gratefulness” and kept the crowd entertained with stories. The always jovial, Amish master mechanic and Yale educated, storyteller savant, Leroy Hershberger shared his humorous adventures of growing up Amish in Iowa; from nature and folk-lore to sacred wisdom on making life’s choices. Known around the Reno County, KS community for his spectacular mechanical prowess, Hershberger appears pleased by many things in life, from the crowded tool chest, to fixing things that are out of order, to telling a good story. “Storytelling not only delights, but also enlightens and heals. Everyone should do it,” said Hershberger.
His storytelling all began with his nieces and nephews. “I love them and wanted to entertain them,” he said. It then ballooned when those nieces’ and nephews’ friends’ parents called to hire him to tell stories at family gatherings and company picnics. “Then I learned people would pay me to tell stories. It’s more fun when you get paid,” he laughed. He had the crowd roaring over his school lunch saga when he and his sister attempted to convince their mother to make sandwiches for their school lunch with store bought peanut butter, jelly and “Wonder Bread”, “just like all the other kids.” In spite of their plea, his mother said, “The whiter the bread, the sooner you’re dead.” Needless to say, their wish was not granted.
Headliner Joel Salatin, of the now iconic Polyface Farm in Swoope, VA, captivated the audience with epic soliloquies designed to stir the pot of thinking, challenge the status quo of the food system and stimulate opportunities for the next 25 years. With 11 books published along with documentary films, Salatin never lacked for content to expound on. “Our land-healing ministry really is about cultivating relationships: between the people, the loving stewards, and the ecology of a place, what I call the environmental umbilical that we’re nurturing here.”
Salatin started his multiple presentations using his own 550 acres of grass and silvo-pastures and diverse livestock and wildlife as a backdrop for the future. “Perennials and herbivores are the dietary foundation of a culture,” he said.
He called his pasture symphony method the 3M’s: mobile, modular and management intensive. “The use of portable electric fence to control livestock mimics the kind of movement that happened through migration when there was no land ownership or predation. We have mobile water, shelter, animals, people — mobile everything.”
“Through the concept of modular technology involving small mobile infrastructures, you can scale with retained earnings and build one piece at a time,” emphasized Salatin. “To have multi-generational fluidity on the farm, we have to have easy ingress and easy egress, and this doesn’t happen with a half million-dollar payment on a piece of infrastructure. To scale up by adding modules, we can divorce the farm from the land.”
“Mobile modular infrastructure requires more people to run a farm which provides for more people to be involved in the food system. That’s what the government’s been preaching for a while now,” said Salatin. “For how long have we, as a culture, been trying to figure out how to get rid of farmers? We applaud that we have so few farmers. We have almost two times more people in prison than we do farmers in our country. I’d have twice as many (book) buyers if I wrote how to be a successful inmate,” he joked. “We need our best and brightest running our food system. On our farm, our equity honors skill, information and customers, and you don’t have to borrow those from a bank.”
In his other humorous, thought provoking, action-oriented dialogues he chronicled his fight with over-zealous regulations, being a lunatic farmer, inspiring the next generation and developing a Food Emancipation Proclamation, where any American has the right to choose the food and to choose the source of that food. “I like people who connect with their food. We enjoy people who want to be food heretics. We want people to know their farmer. You, as a food buyer, have the distinct privilege of proactively participating in shaping the world your children will inherit.”