When Katie and I recently took a weekend trip out in the country to Shenandoah Park, we stopped by Polyface Farms in the Shenandoah Valley near Staunton, VA. Polyface has an open door policy, where visitors can come and walk around to see their entire operation-including the pastures, chicken butchering area, barns, and compost piles. No areas are off limits, other than the family's housing. We spent the afternoon walking around there and enjoying the beautiful Virginia countryside on a warm and sunny summer day. It really could not have been better.
Polyface has a very interesting operation, where all parts of the farm are integrated into the creation of food, from the grass (which feeds most of the livestock), to the animals, to their shit, to the waste left over after butchering, and the forests on the farm. Joel Salatin, the farm's owner, calls himself a "grass farmer" rather than a beef farmer, or a rancher. Polyface has developed a very specific grass grazing process where the cattle are rotated (using movable electric fencing) on a cycle which actually makes the grass grow stronger and faster than it would when left alone. This process has improved the land which was virtually ruined when Joel's father bought it many years ago. The chickens, turkeys, and pigs which are raised at Polyface are also fundamental to the farming methods. The farm produces beef, boilers, pork, eggs, rabits, turkeys, firewood, and timbers. The forests they have, which take up about 2/3 of their approximately 500 acre farm are also an important aspect of the operation. All that happens on the farm imitates what happens naturally in nature. The sun is the main power supply for all the energy on the farm, since it grows the grass and the trees, which in turn feed the animals, which create the fertilizer to feed the grass, and so forth. It is a very interesting operation since it can go on virtually in this cycle forever, and is much more complex than what I can describe here. Polyface buys almost no outside feed for their animals, save some corn for the chickens, and these birds eat mostly insects from the cattle shit, which keeps down the fly problems and other insect diseases. This whole process is described in much detail in Michael Pollan's book, The Omnivore's Dilemma, which I am almost finished reading and would highly recommend getting.
The Eggmobile-a movable hen house that follows the rotation of grazing cattle
We had and excellent time touring the area and it was great to see the Salatin farm and what they do there. We bought some pork breakfast sausage and made a mean egg-hashbrown-sausage scrable with it the next morning, as well as pizza later in the week. I have to say, it was some of the best damn sausage I have ever had. I would highly recommend it, and would tell anybody that is interested to come and have a look at the farm! They are great people doing really interesting things, and we are happy to support them.