The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer – A Book Review

In Book Reviews, Joel Salatin by James4 Comments

Who is Joel Salatin? What is he all about? Most people reading this know the name, and you might have even seen him in the documentaries Food Inc. and Fresh, or read about him in Michael Pollan’s bestseller Omnivore’s Dilemma. But if you’re looking to get the full scope of what Joel Salatin believes in then his book The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer will do just that. Essentially the book encompasses his entire philosophy when it comes to farming and everything related to it. This was the one Joel Salatin book I hadn’t yet read, and after reading it I’m happy I concluded reading Salatin’s works on this one, as it wrapped the main themes of a lot of his other books up into one comprehensive pull-out big picture view of the man, his story, and convictions.

What’s in the Book?

The book is divided into four sections: Nurture the Earth, Produce Food and Fiber, Respect for Life, and Promote Community – all containing subsections which are listed below.

Nurture the Earth
     Growing Soil
     Grass Farmer
     Small is Okay
     Crooked Fences
     Water Massage
     Toxin Free

Produce Food and Fiber
     Growing Stuff to Eat
     Land Exercise
     Normal Food

Respect for Life
     Pigness of Pigs
     Portable Infrastructure
     Pathogen Cul-de-sacs
     Sensually Romantic
     Less Machinery
     Nativized Genetics
     Artistry and Microsites
     Honest Pricing

Promote Community
     White Collar Farmer
     Relationship Farming
     Direct Marketing
     Localized Economy


Portable Infrastructure

One of the things that really intrigues me about Joel Salatin and the Polyface team is their use of portable infrastructure. Most farmsteads are made up of a series of large permanent buildings and fences. The first thing most people think of when yo say the word “farm” is a large red barn. Not at Polyface, and it’s this difference that sets them apart from modern industrial farming and gives them the flexibility to be innovative and cost effective, while producing a superior product and improving the land and environment. Polyface’s portable infrastructure is what allows for them to have all of their animals out on pasture. It started in the 1960’s when Joel’s dad constructed their first portable A-frames for the rabbits Joel’s brother, Art, was raising. Ultimately the experiment failed because the rabbits kept digging their way out, but a few years later Joel’s dad pulled the frames out of storage and suggested Joel to put his chickens in them and that’s how pastured poultry was born. Joel also uses portable infrastructure in what he calls “eggmobiles.” These eggmobiles house the chickens which follow the cows out on pasture. The chickens scratch up the cow manure helping to spread it into the soil, and the chickens are rewarded with juicy fly larvae among other tasty critters. The chickens also eat all the fresh grass they desire and the end product is the most nutrient rich and flavorful eggs a chicken can produce. In addition to the moving eggmobiles Joel uses a portable electric netting to keep the chickens within a certain area which also keeps predators at bay. In addition to the infrastructure he uses for chickens he uses portable electric fencing for cows and pigs. The portable fencing can be quickly moved to meet the needs of the land and animals, while blending in with the natural scenery and of course costing much less in investment and maintenance than permanent fencing. Portable infrastructure also enables farms to maintain high standards of sanitation, innovation, and allows for farmers to use leased or rented land with little capital investment. Portable infrastructure is a win win on multiple levels.

White Collar Farmer 

Joel Salatin has shattered the poor farmer paradigm. Popular culture views farmers as lower socioeconomic blue-collar workers, and for good reason – they typically are. Part of this is due to the model of farming most farmers have taken to (mono-culture/industrial farming) along with the mentality or approach farmers have accepted as inherent in farming occupations. When you look back to early American history the best minds of the time were farmers. Today, the stereotype of the poor dumb farmer permeates throughout the culture.  When you look at the integrity of our current food system the notion that industrialization has eliminated the need for individuals of high intelligence being involved with farming it’s clear that the argument doesn’t hold.  More and more high integrity, nutrient dense food is making its way into the consciousness of the culture and this type of food is only scalable to a point, thus the need for people. Cutting out the middle man and marketing directly to customers is the best way for farmers to earn the professional wages they deserve – if they’re doing quality work. Now a little quote from the book:

I will never apologize for believing good farmers should be compensated well. Wouldn’t we have a better culture if excellent farmers received as much as excellent heart surgeons? What if we had such good farmers that heart surgeons became obsolete? What if we had such good farmers that we didn’t need school nurses anymore? What if we had such good farmers we didn’t need chemical companies anymore? What if we had such good farmers we didn’t need feedlots, CAFOs and pesticides anymore? If all the wealth going to CEOs of these detrimental or remediation businesses had been channeled into good farmers, what a different society we’d have. 

It’s the choices of the culture that is ultimately reflected in the market. As healthcare costs rise and people start shifting to prevention for healthcare rather than treating symptoms I believe the farmer who grows nutrient dense food that keeps people healthy will be able to make the white-collar salary doctors enjoy today. People also forget food is cheap because of government subsidies – people are paying for substandard food through extortion, I mean, taxation.  Further, Joel and many farmers alike are already proving that producing high quality, nutrient dense, land healing food will yield the profits deserved by such service.

Final Thoughts of a Wannabe Farmer 

Like so many others, Joel Salatin’s book You Can Farm was the book that started me on the journey into farming. He sets himself apart from a lot of other public figure farmers in that he understands the fundamentals of economics, free markets, and can concretize abstract terms like “freedom” and show in reality what freedom looks like in practice. Essentially freedom begins with self-ownership.  If you own your body, then you own the products of your body.  This leads to property rights which is essential for avoiding perpetual conflict over the limited resources our planet contains. If you own your body by definition ownership entails being able to choose what you put into your body. If somebody else is making that decision for you (and you’re an able minded adult) then fundamentally you do not own your body and you are not free.  Joel sets himself apart because he doesn’t only produce nutrient dense food, but he fights for people’s rights to eat it and exercise self-ownership, otherwise known as freedom. Possibly my favorite book of his Everything I Want to do is Illegal illustrates all of the freedoms we do not have when it comes to making choices about what we put into our bodies. We’re talking food, not chemical mixtures made in a bathtub.  The fire, passion and understanding he brings to the conversation is really in my view what makes Joel Salatin so special and unique. People from all political spectrums love the guy, but are challenged by the principles he stands for – usually because somewhere they are faced with reconciling some kind of contradiction they’ve been holding in their mind. He’s able to get a lot of people to shift their paradigms and look to first principles rather than popular culture when it comes to a lot big issues around food, agriculture, and government, and it’s educators like him that will inspire and change the world for the better. I hope to pick up where Salatin leaves off or join him in the good fight to enlighten, inspire, and contribute to healing the world in body and mind.

Check out the Lunatic Farm Tour Below 


  1. Addye Thole

    Great review!!! Thanks for keeping us appraised of the innovative, healing of the land & profitable for all methods that Joel explains so well. Truly inspiring when so much else in the world seems to be in the crapper. Thank you.

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