To develop environmentally, economically, and emotionally enhancing agricultural prototypes and facilitate their duplication throughout the world.
Notice this does not say anything about sales volume. Thematically, this mission statement addresses farming directly and food tangentially. Good farming does not necessarily create good food systems because the food can spoil or be adulterated in processing. One thing is for sure, however: food can never be better than the farming that produces it. So while good farming can produce food that gets messed up on the way to the table, what’s served can never exceed the quality created at the farm.
With that in mind, we’d like to explain why Polyface is your best source of food not because it’s nutrient dense; not because it tastes good; not because it has delightful texture., although all of those are also true. The reason why Polyface deserves your patronage is because it heals land. Over the years, numerous scientists have used Polyface land to study our farming principles.
Nearly a decade ago a Smithsonian-sponsored spider study concluded that our systems yielded substantially enhanced populations of spiders, the insect world’s keystone species. If you’re scared of spiders, you’re not alone: so are grasshoppers, crickets, and flies. But unless you’re really small, they won’t catch you in their web. They just catch bad guys.
More recently, another group has verified enhanced diversity in bird populations, biomass variety, pollinator populations, and soil organic matter development (you could read that “carbon sequestration”). Having been at this for more than half a century now, we can attest to the fact that every time we touch a piece of land, all of these positive things develop.
More wildlife. More earthworms. Cleaner water. More soil. Higher fertility and more dense vegetation. We do not say these things pridefully; far from it. The clear and definite developments attest to the Creator’s design that we humbly follow. If they didn’t work, we would doubt nature’s template, nature’s pattern. But the fact that they do work, and work abundantly and aesthetically, proves the authenticity, the efficacy, of living systems’ design. Healing land is what we do. Your patron-age touches land through our hands. It’s that simple. Unless you’ve been sleeping lately, you know that the local food/alternative food space is getting crowded. Just 15 years ago Polyface was the only game in town. Today, dozens compete in this space. That’s a good thing, but just like any growing movement, it comes with downsides. All sorts of different narratives, marketing phrases, and claims vie for your attention. This chorus can be con-fusing at best; paralyzing at worst.
Over the years, several nearby land owners have approached us about managing their land, bringing our healing touch to it, and so far we’ve generally been able to accommodate these requests. With all of our creativity, energy, and investment going into these other properties over the last couple of years, we’ve frankly neglected marketing. We’ve launched numerous young farmers through our intern-ship/apprenticeship program and built a wonderfully efficient farm guild. Now it’s time to leverage it with additional production. The whole goal here is not business growth, but touching land with a more significant and strategic caress. Rather than viewing our patrons as customers, we view you as fellow-laborers in this land healing ministry.
Well, you might ask, isn’t everyone in this space in that business? Let’s talk about that. Shenandoah Organics came into Harrisonburg a couple of years ago with big money and government grants. They’re filling defunct factory chicken houses with organic chickens with lots of grain from overseas. The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) has just okayed 1 square foot per chicken for factory organic houses. Dear folks, this does not heal land. But it sure muddies the water when Polyface refuses to play the organic certification charade. How about Animal Welfare Approved? Sounds groovy, huh? But they want their male piggies to be castrated at less than a week old. The best farrowing systems are in sow pods (6-10) where such a procedure means death to the farmer. The certification actually hurts the pigness of the pig. And how about “we feed our pigs and chickens a vegetarian diet?” At Polyface, we want pigs and chickens to scratch and root, eating bugs, worms and scavenged delicacies. So again, the certification denies the most basic instinctual and dietary desires of the animal. By definition, you can’t have animals on pasture and certify a vegetarian diet. And yet this is a common requirement in certification circles. That’s not healing.
Whole Foods says Kosher and Halal is animal abuse. Relay Foods sells out to Door-to-Door Organics and moves out of Charlottesville. Wal-Mart becomes the world’s largest vendor of organic foods. Industrial organic dominates the food scene; farmer’s markets are in decline. Factory farmed organics offer ultra-pasteurized (read that, dead) milk that’s shelf-stable for months. Really?
Dear folks, I won’t bore you with all the nuances of certifications, but I hope this little foray shows why we don’t participate in any of them. We’d rather touch some more land than sit at a desk all day slogging through inane paperwork. Where is our credibility? In the seeing, the eating, the smelling, the touching. That is why we have always maintained a 24/7/365 open door policy. It’s our ultimate accountability in a world dizzy with bureaucracy and clever speak. The earthworms don’t lie. The bumble-bees don’t lie. The spiders . . . well, they lie in wait. Ha! In the cacophony of market-place noise, then, why should any-one patronize Polyface rather than Wal-Mart organics or anyone else?
The answer is simple: we heal land and we germinate farmers. Visitors always comment on the happy animals and happy farmers here, most of whom are under the age of 35. That is part of the healing, and perhaps the most significant part. Healing requires touching, and touching requires hands. Perhaps one of the most sobering cultural statistics today is that half of all farmland will change hands in the next 15 years. The average American farmer is now 60 years old, and as they age out, many, if not most, do not have a succession plan except the realtor. Who will touch this land? Foreign interests? Wall Street investors? More orthodox farmers dumping more herbicides and planting more Genetically Modified Organisms to receive nano-particles on the way to the store?
We have reason to believe that Polyface and its cadre of new young farmers are in a perfect position to touch this land with a decidedly healing approach. In order to touch more land, however, we need more patrons. Daniel has dubbed this “The Year of Marketing.” While this may sound like some sort of shameless promotion, realize that we have never, and don’t plan to ever, create a financial sales target like most businesses. We do, however, want to fill up the acreage we currently manage. We’ve developed extremely efficient and easily replicated production systems. The more of these we can get on the land, the faster the land will heal. The only reason for expanding our market is to open up more opportunity for land healing and germinating new farmers. Those are far more noble goals than business growth.