- Paperback: 480 pages
- Publisher: Polyface; 1st edition (June 1, 1998)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0963810928
- ISBN-13: 978-0963810922
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.3 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 254 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #24,491 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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You Can Farm: The Entrepreneur's Guide to Start & Succeed in a Farming Enterprise 1st Edition
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About the Author
Joel Salatin and his family own and operate Polyface Farm in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. The farm produces pastured beef, pork, chicken, eggs, turkeys, rabbits, lamb and ducks, servicing roughly 6,000 families and 50 restaurants in the farm’s bioregion. He has written 11 books to date and lectures around the world on land healing, local food systems.
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However, there are also some big scary flaws in the book that make it somewhat dangerous in the wrong hands. First of all, Salatin's list of BEST farming enterprises is very persuasive but doesn't account for differences between farms, regions, and markets. He ranks poultry operations as being highly profitable, but today chicken feed prices in the west (can't speak for elsewhere) are so high that all the small-scale poultry operators I know have gotten out of the business. Meanwhile, new farmers keep trying to do poultry because of Salatin's book, but I have yet to see it pencil out in reality for anyone.
Also, there's a big math error in that chapter as well. While he endorses vegetable growing as a viable enterprise option, he kills it with faint praise when he says this:
"In order to move $30,000 worth of stuff, you need a lot of pounds of stuff, and you need a lot of customers. If the average person spends $600 per year on fresh vegetables (which I'm sure is a high estimate), you would need 500 customers in order to gross $30,000. Because the price per pound and average purchase is higher for animal proteins, we here at Polyface can do that volume with fewer than 100 customers, on average. That's a hefty difference."
The problem with this analysis? $600 x 500 = $300,000!!!!!!! To make only $30,000, you would actually only need **50** customers paying $600 each. Big mistakes like this really bother me, especially when they're paired with such a strong argument in favor of one thing over another ... I just wonder how many uncritical readers have read this point and turned towards livestock production rather than fresh veggies (which is what we grow on our farm -- and we have found to be HIGHLY profitable). And, by the way, our average customers spends almost $1000/year on vegetables.
I also have a hard time swallowing Salatin's aggressive marketing techniques. He admits to GIVING AWAY free pullet eggs at market even though there were other farmers selling eggs that same day. He's even proud of this decision! Here in Oregon, the best resource we have are other farmers. We try our best to cooperate, even as we compete in the same markets (some call it "cooperatition"). Giving away product or undercutting others prices is not a good way to make friends with (or be fair to) other farmers.
Finally, I think that in Salatin's enthusiasm he verges on making farming sound TOO do-able. Let me tell you: farming is hard. You CAN farm, but new farmers need to have training, knowledge, good health, physical strength, money, land, time, and energy (and much more too). I have seen so many people start up farms with big dreams but not enough resources. Some of them have made it after fumbling a lot, but many others quit.
The advice in this vein that annoys me the most is when Salatin claims you can hypothetically farm without a tractor (and goes on to recommend buying a large BCS tiller, which is nowhere near as versatile as a tractor). Meanwhile, Salatin himself has a tractor. Every successful farmer I know has a tractor. Maybe on a very small scale you can make it without a tractor, but the reality is that to really succeed, YOU NEED A TRACTOR! They're useful for so many things besides tillage. And, getting a tractor is just not a big deal -- tractors are available used in all scales and price ranges, and they're not that hard to learn how to operate.
So, in conclusion, I'd still recommend this book to a wanna-be farmer, but with some big caveats: Salatin is a highly opinionated, fairly extreme (Libertarian Christian) man who offers his advice from his particular point of view. Take it ALL with a grain of salt and be prepared to tailor everything he suggests to your own farm, region, and market.
ETA 11/28/11: I've given this review a lot of thought and reflection since I first wrote it, and I've come back now to change it a bit. First of all, I've changed the review to three stars. Really, the book probably deserves more, but I want to make sure the points I make here stand out, because I feel like they really are important to note for possible future farmers (especially the bit about math and veggies).
But, upon reflection (and reading some of the comments), I definitely have been too harsh in my attempt to offer an alternative opinion here and point out the problems that I see. I've been reading more of Mr. Salatin's work and thinking more about our own farm experience, and honestly I can't think of an author I would recommend more to an aspiring farmer (along with Wendell Berry). The thing is, (in my opinion), when Mr. Salatin gets it right, he gets it really really really right. But there are moments when his strongly voiced opinions are seriously OFF from my real world experience. I think that in all his books (including this one), Mr. Salatin consistently underestimates the real world cost of animal feed and labor. Some of this might be related to the time of writing or the region or the fact that Polyface Farm uses apprentices rather than paid employees (a system that is very useful but unfortunately not legal - there have been crackdowns on intern programs here in Oregon lately).
Overall, I think that when Mr. Salatin speaks about specifics from his personal experience, he shines, and I seriously love the man. When he starts getting prescriptive about other farms (such as the top ten enterprises list), I start to get frustrated. This is true for me with any farm writer. Ultimately, every farm is so unique that it is up to the farmer to "figure it all out." Mr. Salatin acknowledges this in every book, including this one, so hopefully that is the take-home message for readers, and I'm glad to emphasize it again here: Ultimately, YOU have to figure it all out!
I can't even begin to tell you how many times already I've read about the guy's disdain for telivision - but what that has to do with being a successful farmer is still beyond me! I only just finished reading page 84 (the end of chapter 8), there are a total of 38 chapters with just over 480 pages in the book - I can only imagine how many more times I will have to read about how much he thinks TV is a waste of time.
For that matter, the guy seems to imply doing ANYTHING with your money and time that doesn't MAKE you money must certainly be a WASTE of those resources. It's like saying that work is the only thing worth doing, that enjoying anything outside of your labours is naught but folly.
Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that one can't enjoy their job, in fact I imagine anyone reading this book wants to farm for a living because that's the type of life they enjoy, but to insist that it is the ONLY thing one should enjoy if you are to succeed in the industry is just ridiculous!
Also, the author is obviously an avid church-goer, and even though he seems to have set out to help anyone and everyone regardless of their faith, he can't seem to help himself but to be a bit too preachy and discriminatory. He is especially harsh it seems on people who follow faiths that worship nature, let that sink in for a moment will you? A farmer, a man whose very livlihood is literally grown from the Earth, mocks those who would consider the source of all that as divine?
Also, I'm 8 chapters in and I don't feel like I've learned that much about farming in general, actually I feel like there is more bitterness than anything, it most certainly hasn't been super encouraging.
I plan to finish reading the book, after all I did buy it for a reason, and maybe I can drudge up some usefulness out of it by the end, but at this point I most certainly cannot recommend it to anyone.