The farm’s pigs generate fertilizer by rooting around the floor of the barn, lured by sweet corn into aerating the mix of hay, cow manure, and wood chips. The finished compost is spread on fields. This process not only takes almost nothing out of the environment, it puts nutrients back in.
“We believe that the farm should be building ‘forgiveness’ into the ecosystem,” Salatin says. “What does that mean? That a more forgiving ecosystem is one that can better handle drought, flood, disease, pestilence.”
Salatin concedes that when his father bought the farm in 1962, the family’s initial emphasis on sustainable farming had more to do with environmental concerns than faith convictions. But as the business evolved, Salatin began to see himself situated at a unique place in America’s moral conversation.
“We should at least be asking, Is there a righteous way to farm and an unrighteous way to farm? ... The first goal is to at least get people to appreciate that how we farm is a moral question,” he says. “Once you get to that point, then you can actually discuss: What is a moral farm? What is a moral way to raise a chicken?”
How farm animals are treated on the majority of farms today dismays Salatin.
What Americans do to pigs, chickens, and cows speaks ill of the nation’s moral health, he says. “A culture that views its life from such a manipulative, disrespectful stance will soon view its citizens the same way and other cultures the same way. It’s how we respect the least of these that creates a moral-ethical framework.”
Don’t be confused: Salatin is no crunchy-granola transplant to Appalachia. He graduated from archconservative Bob Jones University in Greenville, S.C., with a degree in English. While he appreciates the “bearded, beaded, braless, Woodstock revolution” set who make up the bulwark of environmentally conscious farming, he’s delighted that half of those coming to visit his farm nowadays are involved in the home-school movement.