At the Rhode Island Women in Agriculture Conference, the keynote speaker was Joel Salatin, renowned farmer, lecturer and author. Salatin raises livestock on his Polyface Farm in Swoope, VA.

Salatin gives sage advice and delivers lectures filled with his vast knowledge – mixed in with some humor – which makes it a pleasure listening to him speak.

His keynote in Rhode Island focused on “Creating the Farm You Love.” He stated that there are 12 essentials to creating the farm you love.

  1. Dream: Think back to when you were 10 years old. Your dreams were simple then, and you found ways to make your dreams a reality, as well as keeping an open mind. Dream about the kind of farm you’d like to have.
  2. Objective: If you can’t put your mission down in one sentence, you are not sure where you are going.
  3. Start with one something: You can start by putting your energy into one thing you want to raise. You can always add other things after you are comfortable with what you started with.
  4. Function over form: If it works, that’s all that matters – it doesn’t have to be pretty. No one does anything well at first.
  5. A beginner’s mindset: Don’t be afraid of what you don’t know.
  6. Build A team: Teams accomplish way more than individuals. There is shared risk, spheres of autonomy and the encouragement of brainstorming sessions.
  1. Diversify: Add complexity in your own space.
  2. Collaboration: Find partners that are strong where you are weak. Collaboration consists of three circles: what you know, what you love and what you’re good at.
  3. Margins: Is it making money or not making money?
  4. Carbon: Feed the biology. Fertilized land has carbonic acid and mineral depletion. You can change that. Organic matter is like a sponge.
  5. Mobile multi-use infrastructure: There are three development principles – access, water development and control (fencing).
  6. Don’t quit!

Salatin said, “We’ve been successful in life, but not at what we’ve enjoyed doing.”

Popular agvocate addresses Rhode Island Women in Ag

Joel Salatin is a well-known figure in agriculture – he has 15 published books and a thriving multi-generational family farm. Photo by Susan Llewellyn

He believes the main reason a farm fails is because spouses are focused in different directions, and therefore do not share the same goals. Couples should work together to find common ground while maintaining a mutual respect for one another. Relish being different while collaborating together. Find what you need and make it work. Goals should be precise, measurable and have a timeframe.

Salatin went on to say that no farm is sustainable unless it provides salaries for two different generations.

Circling back to margins, he noted you need to know if you are making a profit or losing money. Know what you are gaining/losing. Simple ways to avoid loss are reducing expenses, increasing prices and reducing turnovers.

He stated that the hardest thing to do in life is to make a decision. If you find it difficult to make a decision on what to farm, he said the herbivore is the answer to any grassy areas you own. Birds follow the herbivores, and then pigs follow the birds.

In conclusion, Salatin stated that you can really have the farm you love – it just takes some work and thought. You and your spouse, as well as your family, can work together to create the type of farm you can be proud of as well as making it a profitable venture.

by Susan Llewellyn