by Chef Barton Seaver of Hook – Washington, DC

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A Long and Snowy Trip

Keeping it Real

Happy Cows

Recipe for Success


The Polyface Model:

The working premise of Polyface farm is that it operates in tune with nature, with many different species coexisting on the same plots. Grass changes the energy of the sun into edible energy that supports multiple life forms, including ruminant animals, which are extremely efficient at turning grass into protein. Joel rotates his herd through different paddocks on a meticulous schedule, designed to maximize the health of both the animals and the land. A basic outline:
  • The cows eat their preferred grasses, adding 3-4 pounds to their weight per day, and chewing down the grass to a level at which the chickens are comfortable.
  • The cows are moved, and the chickens are let loose to scratch and claw their way though the pasture. By aerating the manure they spread it evenly throughout the field and add nitrogen (which enriches the soil) through their own droppings. The chickens also perform the very necessary task of pecking out all of the insects and parasites from the fields, which could cause the cows infection and disease. This helps eliminate the need for antibiotics and medicines in the herd.
  • After the chickens are moved the pasture is left to rest for a while so that the grass can recover.
Recommended Reading:

There is much more to his method than I can explain here. To read further, check out the chapter on Joel in Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma.

"I am proud to say that our venison is a lean, clean product based on the principles of sustainable farming."

~Trevor Pierce, Cervena Farmer.

For more info, please visit


A Field Trip to Polyface Farm

March 2007

Last month I took a trip down to Swoope, Virginia with Cathal Armstrong of Restaurant Eve and Patrick Horn of the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington. We were off to see Joel Salatin and the 550 acres of pristine rolling hills he calls Polyface Farm. Winter can be depressing, but even in the Valentine’s Day sleet storm this land felt prosperous and whole – the barren winter landscape still so full of life, simply at rest before its big spring debut. There is good work going on down there, and a variety of farms indicate a diverse farming community. We are all working to bring attention to the region’s many products, which even at this time of year find their way through the changing landscape and into DC’s kitchens.

This was my first trip to Polyface, a farm whose renown extends beyond the mid-atlantic region. Joel’s books are models for farmers and the environmentally conscious everywhere, and his poly-phase farming model is considered one of the most compelling farm philosophies in agriculture today. He was recently featured as the hero of Michael Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma. And yet for all of the hype surrounding Joel and what he represents, there is nothing notable about the facade of his farm. As we were introduced, I looked around and found exactly what I thought I would find: a dirty working farm. It seemed a comfortable old machine finely tuned to peak performance. For all of Joel’s contributions and inventions, there’s no shiny “latest and greatest” mechanism here; instead this is an example of how the forefront of modern agricultural and sustainable thought has ostensibly become a replica of the past.

What is so interesting about his operation is that it is purposefully small. Joel has developed a method that works for his farm. It works for the cows by creating a healthy environment, whose results are clearly evident in the meat. It works for the chickens and the myriad other species that live on the farm (Polyface produces unbelievably tasty chickens and eggs). Importantly, it works for Joel and his family. The farm supports two generations of Salatins, and is an integral part of a healthy and vibrant community. It is uncommon to find an operation that is so contented being all that it can be within its given frame. Joel does not want to have a maximum output model like the USDA recommends. He could cut down all of his trees and confine his herd to a very small area. He could have 10,000 cows, which would all live in misery. Instead he has a farm where the well-being of the animals is taken into account and each species is allowed to act as itself. He has become a steward of the land, working with it, not against it, to produce for our needs. This is how he stands apart from the agricultural machine.

In the last agricultural revolution small farmers began to grow what the big companies wanted, and in the process assimilated to the industrial complex and essentially disappeared. Now the big companies want what the small farmers are growing. This reflects a change in the way the consumer is thinking, much of which has come about through the efforts of chefs.We all agree that it’s important for food culture to come back around to supporting local foods. But the question on our minds is: will it be the large corporations or the small independent chefs that make the big difference? Joel spoke of a plan in which he would provide Chipotle with pastured dark meat chicken, but that would mean a huge commitment and scaling up the production of his grass-fed operation. Which leads us to wonder, how will fine dining chefs react to the popularizing of their once-exclusive ingredients? It’s important that the restaurants that helped to promote the product in the first place continue to have adequate access to the product. If not, there’s a chance that restaurant trends will once again shift away from local, in favor of a ‘return of the exotic’ as chefs seek to be unique. It is important that small farmers and chefs alike continue the process of incorporating local ingredients on our own terms. Just like Joel, we all need to find our own recipe for success.

Feel free to contact me with any questions or comments.


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