Joel Salatin touts benefits of local food to full house on Tuesday

by University Communications,

Thirty years ago, all of Joel Salatin’s customers knew how to cut up a chicken. Today, he says half of them don’t know chickens have bones.

To Salatin, owner of Polyface Farm in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, this ignorance strengthens his resolve that local food will solve the crisis plaguing this country’s food system.

“It doesn’t take an act of Congress, it doesn’t take a grant to start the healing process of participating in the local food system,” he said. “Every one of us can do more than what we are doing.”

A self-described “lunatic farmer” featured in Michael Pollan’s best-selling book, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” and the film, “Food Inc.,” Salatin delivered the 2013 Dempsey Lecture Tuesday night.

Originally scheduled for Willamette University’s Rogers Music Center, the lecture’s venue quickly changed to Smith Auditorium to better accommodate the 1,000-plus people who came to hear Salatin speak.

During his talk, Salatin spoke about the 10 ways local food comes to the rescue, from protecting people from food scarcity to saving energy consumption in transportation.

He railed against federal laws that curb innovation and commerce among small producers, and he touted the benefits of eating fresh, nutrient-dense foods.

Salatin also advocated schools adopt a spring-through-fall academic year to correspond with the growing season, and he encouraged people to reacquaint themselves with the home culinary arts.

“The more you do it, the easier it is. It’s called skill,” Salatin said about cooking. “Skill comes with practice and practice starts with starting. … If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing poorly first. You have to learn these things.”

Although not everyone may have agreed with Salatin’s ideas, Joe Bowersox, chair of Willamette’s Department of Environmental and Earth Sciences, said Salatin’s visit demonstrated what the Dempsey family had in mind when it established the lecture series 12 years ago.

Before delivering the lecture, Salatin spent time with first- and second-year students in an Intro. to Environmental Science course. He also visited Zena, a university-owned forest and farm where students participate in on-site classes and research to learn about plant ecology, sustainable forestry and wildlife.

“I think for many of our students it was truly a life changing event,” said Bowersox, who choreographed Salatin’s visit. “He challenged, he provoked and he got everyone — students and community members alike — to reconsider their assumptions and dare to think out of the box. He challenged each of us to do just a bit more to save this beautiful world, and in the process, to save ourselves. That was amazing.”

The event was sponsored by the Dempsey Foundation and Willamette University’s Center for Sustainable Communities.