It’s possible to rejuvenate an entire room just by moving some furniture around. Joel Salatin, who has been described as America’s most influential farmer, is doing exactly that on his 500-acre farm in Swoope, Virginia. But Salatin isn’t moving tables and chairs – he’s moving fences, animals and hen houses to freshen up the earth and grow more food. For over 25 years, Salatin has refined this “everything is portable” approach to farming which creates healthy, fertile soil while maximizing productivity.
In 1961, Polyface Farm was an eroded, ravaged property. The Salatin family purchased it and began operations patterned after the processes of nature. Now, every day on the farm, cattle are moved from one grazing area to another, chickens roll around on wheeled henhouses, and pigs aerate compost by stomping around freely in cow manure and wood chips. Salatin hasn’t planted a grass seed in 50 years but by harmonizing the behaviors of his animals, he has recovered 12 inches of nutrient-dense topsoil on what was once dry, rocky and unproductive ground.
Polyface’s mobile approach has also significantly cut the cost of both energy and feed. Salatin estimates his farm’s revenue at $3,000 per acre, vs. $150 per acre for typical small and medium-sized enterprises that emphasize grazing. Revenues in 2011 topped $2 million, nearly doubling the farm’s earnings in 2006. Operations are also expanding with leases on seven local farms now managed by former Polyface interns and apprentices.