Joel Salatin

In this third and final review of Joel Salatin’s audio message, I want to consider some of his charges regarding community values. Parts One and Two of this review series addressed Christian credibility and the worldview that forms the basis of our food choices.

Listen to the speech audio here.


Joel Salatin attributes many of the weaknesses of the commercial food industry to its outgrowing of small communities. When small businesses become too large for their local community, he says, the community no longer appreciates them and the businesses become unattached and unaccountable. A good food system, he advises, is small enough to be embedded in a local community—lending the business greater potential for transparency, integrity, and humility.

2011 07 16 Farmers Market

The best kind of food system will respect the heritage and traditions of the people in any given community. Such a food system will further the healing of the land instead of exploitation, and will promote individuality of animals instead of seeking to make them identical in size and production. Striving for healing of the land, Salatin says, “extends redemption in a visceral way” and brings significance to the minutia of life. As human beings, we express our inherent, divine design in unique ways, and we should think about the same philosophy for our land and our animals.

Today’s business plans for industrial agriculture do not account for values: relationships, community, tradition, healing, ecology, or diversity. In the attempt to return to smaller businesses embedded in local cultures, new business plans need to account for these values. Getting away from planning for and accounting for values is what has led businesses to be valueless, and eventually—unaccountable and corrupt.  Some suggestions toward reviving interest in smaller food systems included relaxing of laws in order to encourage small farmers, and helping people to appreciate values as an important part of the food system. There will need to be deconstruction of some things—prohibitive laws, and carelessness about values—in order to reconstruct a new paradigm.

Values as they relate to food production are much broader than they may seem. In one way, a value-rich food system is not only about the food but extends into the rest of our lives. Joel Salatin gives the example of the Jeffersonian idea of the “intellectual agrarian.” Thomas Jefferson’s fruitful estate was just one facet of his love for husbandry, his love for community and statesmanship, and his vision for the future of the American nation. This type of farmer is not someone who just drives the tractor that an agricultural conglomerate tells him to drive, but is a persona whose wide range of knowledge, skills, and interests matches the respect that farmers deserve. Food that is raised in a valuable way extends not only to the people eating it, then, but affects the relationships and other pursuits of everyone involved.

Similarly, the other way in which conscientious food production (and consequently, food purchasing) is valuable, is that it is not just about us. Consumer habits, the ecology of the landscape, the status of farm workers, the pollution of waterways—all of these affect the work and livelihoods of other people, even people beyond our own community. Organic produce, for instance, not only keeps us from ingesting pesticides, but helps farm workers not to be daily exposed to harmful toxins as they tend the crops.

Pursuing the establishment of values in our food systems will give us more consistency, and ultimately, credibility. Caring for others is a principle of Christianity, as is accountability. It is my hope—and Joel Salatin’s bold charge—that Christians would desire credibility in our food choices and farming methods. Not only will this benefit our own lives and witness to unbelievers, but better communities will be advanced.

Thanks for joining us for this series!