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Folks, This Ain't Normal: A Farmer's Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World Hardcover – October 10, 2011
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"Joel Salatin might seem like a vision of our agrarian past, but in fact, he's distinctly modern, looking beyond the conventional toward a new "normal" based on community, ecology, and flavor, too. Salatin's book is as practical as it is reflective; as necessary as it is radical."―Dan Barber, Chef/Co-Owner, Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns
"Joel Salatin is a down-to-earth 21st century pioneer, one of those rare contrarian thinkers whose words and work have the power to transform the way a generation thinks. 'Folks This Ain't Normal' will help seed the new nature movement and inspire people everywhere -- especially young people in need of some practical hope. And here's the bonus: The book is great fun to read. Sacred cows beware."―Richard Louv, author of "The Nature Principle" and "Last Child in the Woods"
"In Folks, This Ain't Normal, Joel Salatin says it's high time we stopped taking our industrialized food system as a given and instead consider local, sustainable food production as the norm. Good plan. Whether or not you agree with his contention that we would be better off if the government got out of food regulation, his ideas are compellingly written, fun to read, and well worth pondering."―Marion Nestle, Dept. of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health, NYU, and author, Food Politics
"Chances are slim you'll agree with everything in this wonderfully cranky book. But I'm almost certain you'll agree that Joel Salatin has earned the right to his convictions, and that they shine a powerful light on some of the paths out of the predicament we find ourselves in as a world."―Bill McKibben, author Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet
"Joel...is one of the most creative, productive and sustainable farmers working in America today...His message is that we eaters can change the world, one meal at a time."―Michael Pollan, in the introduction to Holy Cows and Hog Heaven: The Food Buyer's Guide to Farm Friendly Food
About the Author
Joel Salatin is a third generation family farmer working his land in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley with his wife, Teresa, son Daniel, daughter Rachel and their families. The Salatin Polyface Farm, an organic grass-fed farm, services more than 3,000 families, 10 retail outlets and 50 restaurants through on-farm sales and metropolitan buying clubs. Joel Salatin writes extensively in magazines such as Stockman Grass Farmer, Acres USA, and American Agriculture.
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The cover was attractive in a sense that.. it made you go "What?"
And that's what got me... I don't even know really how I ended up reading this book. But I'm glad I did.
I kind of want to get a couple of chickens if for nothing else, excellent pest control.
Joel Salatin is too much of a character..just isn't normal! (I bet he's an alien #HumorTag )
Joel's book, Folks, This Ain't Normal is a labor of love by a man who is a voice crying out in the wilderness in our perverse culture where people live longer but live worse. As a farmer he chastises the farm industry. As a Christian he chastises fellow believers for our general uncaring attitude toward the environment. No one gets a free pass but none of his criticism is unwarranted and none of it is given in a vacuum.
Folks, This Ain't Normal is chock full of common sense (an uncommon virtue today) sprinkled with pretty savvy writing. Don't let the big glasses, suspenders and "aw shucks" mannerism fool you, Joel is a very bright guy and is not only bright but someone who sees through the garbage peddled to us by those who decide what is healthy for us in the belief that we are too dumb to think for ourselves. The basic message of the book is that as a culture we have completely lost control of our food supply in a historically unthinkable way. We all know people who think that meat magically appears on shrink wrapped foam platters in the store or that milk doesn't actually come from a cow. Joel is simply calling on people to get involved in one of the most basic functions of human life, namely eating. In a country with epidemic levels of diabetes, heart diseases, obesity and all other sorts of food related maladies, shouldn't we start wondering why we are living longer but living sicker? Joel looks at the ridiculous regulations, the growing threat of the armed food police, the efforts to monopolize food production, the historical reality of food production vs the modern industrialization of this most basic need. On and on, each chapter is valuable and engaging. Not one chapter had me yawning or wishing it would just end.
Although he goes to great lengths to encourage those who are just explaining that anything you can do helps, including a series of practical tips to put into place at the end of each chapter, you can feel overwhelmed. How can the average Joe who lives in a quarter of an acre in a suburb with association rules do anything to take control of his diet? I am not sure there is a solution to this but those who feel that way might try rereading the book and focusing on the places where Joel encourages the little steps that combined make a big difference. While I can see where some people might brush this off as pie in the sky utopian thinking, I found it to be absolutely reasonable. We might not all have a family farm large enough to sustain multiple generations but we all can do something to take control of our diet.
There are few books I recommend quite as unreservedly as this one. I am sure a lot of people don't like this message, many who would agree with me on most issues but who, thanks to the unquestioning allegiance to corporatism in what passes for conservatism in America, see a guy like Joel as a rabble-rouser and dangerous. Nevertheless there is a critical need for people to think seriously about issues of liberty and if the government can tell you what you can or cannot eat, there is really no limit to its power. The place I have arrived in my thinking on issues of liberty and freedom mesh quite nicely with the message of Folks, This Ain't Normal and we are already taking some of the steps outlined in this book. Are we even 5% of the way there? Not at all but each day we get closer as we raise our own hogs for meat, chickens for eggs and a cow for milk, as we plant a sizable garden and as we try to eliminate the worst offenders in our diet. We have a long way to go but Folks, This Ain't Normal has been an important wake up call for me and one that a lot of people need to hear. Get this book, read it and prepare to be challenged!
This is not a book about how to do farming, although the attentive reader would pick up many good points. It is more about a philosophy of self-sufficiency and using nature rather than battling it. The first part of the book handles that very well. Basically, the author contrasts the way food is raised on a "traditional" but well managed nature-embracing farm and the way food is produced in the industrial approach to raising vegetables and meat. Needless to say, he illustrates the horror and unhealthy results of the latter. He also makes excellent points as to the true costs of our over-subsidized industrial agriculture - particularly with respect to energy consumption.
Along the way he illustrates how the farm life, lived his way, creates emotional strength and satisfaction for the farmer and creates children who are happy, confident, realistic and responsible. He does a great job of selling this approach to self-sufficiency and community stability. My only problem with some of his methods is a health worry. He is big on pasturing both cattle and hogs (and having chickens follow them around). In fact the hogs go rooting in the forest, to the forest's benefit.
I believe all this, but I worry about the possible downside -- parasites. I wince when I watch TV and see the feral hog hunters eating the pork they catch. I have to believe parasites are a problem when the meat producing livestock just wander through nature. On the other hand, industrial meat (and vegetables) may be free of parasites, but they create a number of anti-biotic resistant mutant microbes and viruses, not to mention the steroids and other unnatural chemicals we eat.
Now, after this bucolic picture of farm life revealed in the first half, the author gets to another area. He talks about the conflict between the industrial food producers and the "little guy." There he reveals that he isn't all that little. He would appear to be relatively wealthy from his writings. His home farm is 550 acres and he rents several others. He wants to sell his produce far and wide. To me this seems inconsistent with enjoying a natural self-sufficient life on your own land. He wants to be a mini-industrialist. This bothered me.
Nevertheless, he makes terrific points about the idiocies and hidden agendas of government regulation. He appears shocked to realize that the regulations are not so much to protect the consumer (despite support from "consumer advocacy" groups), but rather to protect the big producers from competition. I'm not shocked. I'm old enough to remember numerous times when a free-market-loving industry is confronted with upstart competition that it runs to its well-paid politicians for protection and relief. This is nothing new. But, it is bad. Of course the shock of actually going to free markets is something no politician would really like to see.
He makes a good point about trying out new regulatory schemes on a small limited scale to see the real effect before rolling them out to cover everyone. That's something business has always known, and government never. However, I think he, like Milton Freeman, embraces the free market concept but is pretty naïve about how one gets rid of the bad actors. True, in small areas of society where everyone knows everyone else the word can get around and the bad actors decimated. That's not so easy in our population-crammed society. He thinks one solution is that we all just have contractual relations with no limits on what we can agree to. That could work if we were all equal, but we're not.
Amusingly, he absolutely hates lawyers for good reasons (and I am a recovering lawyer), yet in this land of free contracts he would have things done by "arbitration." He needs to think this through more thoroughly. Just an aside - He thinks our politicians and judges should come more from the common people and not the lawyer class. Actually, we used to do that. My first law case was before a non-lawyer judge, the last one in Missouri. He was terrific, although I lost the case. Also, Harry Truman was a non-lawyer judge before going on to bigger things.
So, the bottom line is that I love the book, although I'm not sure I agree with all his ideas. The author, Joel Salatin, is very creative, articulate, and puts a lot of material in his books. He also includes some great excerpts from Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. We should all meditate on these. This book will perhaps inspire you, definitely make you think, and maybe even act. So, despite my quibbles I give this 5 stars.