This past week I went to visit Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm in Staunton, Virginia. I have long admired Salatin’s work and writing. Even though I lived in the Shenandoah Valley for years, I had never heard of Polyface until I moved to New York and started paying more attention to the types of food we eat and where our food comes from. Somewhere along the line we watched the documentary Food, Inc., which features Salatin and his farm, Polyface. We have been Salatin fans ever since.
Turns out, Polyface is only a short drive from my parent’s home. My dad, daughters and I drove out to Polyface last week. I have had a craving for roast chicken and I was hoping Polyface would have some pastured chicken for sale. I also wanted to see the farm for myself and was hoping there would be some animals out and about for my girls to see.
The rocky hills of Virginia were at their finest the day of our visit. Mist gently hugged the hills as we drove along windy, country roads to Polyface. The closer we got to the farm, the lower my cell phone reception got. By the time we got to the farm, I had no reception.
Polyface was nestled among the hills and when we turned into the driveway, we were greeted by several chickens roaming freely in the field next to the driveway. The farm store set back behind the house. The store was larger than I had anticipated. It was meticulously clean and well-stocked with a variety of pork, poultry and beef products. I was excited to find that Polyface sold meat products not typically found in a grocery store, such as chicken feet and pork fat. Indeed some of the products Polyface carries, I have not been able to find from my own local farmers. The store also had t-shirts and Salatin’s books and DVDs for sale.
On one of the store walls was large map of the farm and magnets with pictures of each type of animal on the farm. Each magnet was placed at the corresponding location where the animal was located on the farm so we knew where to go to find each type of animal. Polyface is one of the only working farms in our nation that allows people to explore their farm beyond the farm store. Do not misunderstand-Polyface is not a petting zoo or u-pick type of farm. Polyface is a working farm. It is a farm that believes in openness and as Polyface states, “Anyone is welcome to visit the farm anytime. No trade secrets, no locked doors, every corner is camera accessible” (Polyface Guiding Principles, n.d.).
After purchasing our items, we set off to explore the farm. The rabbits were our first stop. My girls were fascinated by the rabbits, which nibbled the blades of glass from my girls’ delighted, but timid, fingers. Our next stop was the chickens and then cows. Finally we made our way to the pigs. There were pigs of all sizes and colors housed in a barn. Bails of hay were stacked to the ceiling in one section of the barn, while the other parts of the barn were divided into various sections to hold different-sized pigs. The girls enjoyed seeing the smaller pigs, while I was surprised to discover most of the pigs were actually larger than I am.
We spent a few hours at the farm, roaming around and exploring. I loved being surrounded by the rolling Virginia hills, but at the same time I felt isolated (more about this in a future blog post). I also felt overwhelmed, as the realization of all there is to do on a farm started to sink in. There is no shortage of things to do on a farm where the animals are taken care of from their birth all the way to selling their meat. Yet, each thing that needs to be done has purpose and involves life- creating, growing and sustaining life. We all need to eat. This is a simple fact. Yet, I think here in this simple fact is where so many of us do not comprehend the significance of our choices.
At first when my husband and I started analyzing and changing our eating habits, it was with the goal of being healthier. Of course it is healthier to eat wholesome foods, as well as know where our food comes from and what it is made out of. Now that we have been doing it awhile, we have realized we continue not just because it is healthier for us, but also because it connects us with the land (even if it is not our own), those around us (builds a sense of community) and our creator. There is something incredibly fulfilling to knowing where our food comes from and knowing exactly what is in our food. Tonight, judging from the scent wafting through the air, I am going to thoroughly enjoy the roast chicken we will be having for dinner and I am thankful that I know a farm not too far from where I am staying where I can find wholesome food.
Polyface Guiding Principles. (n.d.). Polyface. Retrieved April 25, 2012, from http://www.polyfacefarms.com/principles/