015 - Joel Salatin

Participating in Abundance

Joel Salatin is a farmer, author, and storyteller. He is a leading voice in regenerative agriculture, and has a unique perspective on many aspects of life. If you haven’t heard him talk before, you’re in for a treat!


Join us on this episode as Joel and I talk about a paradigm shift. 

We talk about carbon sequestration, farming, and taking action, whether farmer or urbanite. The underlying theme is really that nature wants to work with us in the abundance of life.


You can find out all about him, his farms, and his books at:







Polyface farms, Virginia. “Most famous farmer in the world”.



Sequestering Carbon

- historically, mainline agriculture has led to depletion of carbon in the soil

- we need to be doing the opposite, putting carbon back into the soil




- came to US in 1961, Joel was 1 year old, bought a farm

- learned about organic farming from magazines

- felt sense of abundance with grandfather’s garden

- developed a desire to participate in that abundance

- very little soil on his parents’ farm, so his father got onto the managed grazing idea, migratory choreography of herbivorous populations using electric fences

- sharp contrast between his parents’ farm & grandfather’s garden

- through his teen years saw the land heal on his family’s farm, experienced that he could participate in ecological healing



The Abundance of Nature

- the “womb” of nature wants to provide abundance

- contrasting world views: many people’s opinion that the nature’s default position is scarcity and sickness, Joel believes earth’s natural state is abundance and wellness

- nature is a benevolent lover

- our job is to ask humbly of nature: how can I best help you do what you already want to do?

- over 60 years his farm has gone from barren, to the most productive, verdant farm in the whole region

- affirming nature’s template, that if it is nurtured, it will flourish

- this has been done without pesticides and chemical fertilisers, and hardly any seed-planting



Nature: Mechanical or Biological?

- orthodoxy of our age: we see life as fundamentally mechanical, see plants and animals as machines

- nobody seems to be asking: how can I make a happy animal/plant?

- quite materialistic and dispassionate view

- in Joel and likeminded others’ view, life is fundamentally biological, not mechanical

- mechanical things cannot heal; biological things can, they have a built-in desire for resilience & are responsive

- the ecosystem as an “underground cafe” of interactive weird organisms, like the cantina scene in Star Wars

- this changes the way we interact with nature, and the questions we ask of it



Historical Influences On Agricultural Thought

- in 1837, Austrian chemist Justus von Liebig presented idea that all life was a combination of 3 chemicals, a mechanical answer to biological questions

- world wars furthered this worldview that then impacted agriculture in a big way

- in 1943, Sir Albert Howard, “godfather” of modern scientific composting, released his book “An Agricultural Testament”, viewed as the start of sustainable agriculture

- Howard spoke about “artificial fertilisers” leading to an artificially sustained society: could be seen as prophetic regarding modern “healthcare” and pharmaceutical industry



Into the Soil

- best & deepest soils on the planet are under grasses

- grasses are more efficient as converting sunlight into biomass than any other plant

- this is due to its high metabolism, rapid growth & death cycle

- role of herbivores is to prune plant life, to send it back into green biomass production cycle

- seasons keep herbivores moving across the landscape

- this is the way nature builds soil, how carbon sequestration takes place



Making it Work On a Modern Farm

- use electric fence: cheap & effective

- steer a herd of “pruners” around a landscape as precisely as a mower

- supporting cast: portable shade (shade cloth, etc) and water

- 3 elements to make it all work: shelter, water, and control

- simulate what happens in nature, on a small scale farm

- by mimicking nature’s pattern over time, the landscape comes alive

- “pulsing of the pasture”, the land will rest, then exercise, and repeat

- water retention increases exponentially

- all of this reverses desertification



Landscape healing in Australia

- Australia is on the cutting-edge of bringing innovative land healing technology to the world

- severe ecological stress, paired with unparalleled capital wealth = the ability to innovate in healing design



On Joel’s Farm

- built numerous ponds on high ground

- gravity feed the water down

- move livestock every day

- following nature’s pattern of symbiosis

- birds follow herbivores, they are nature’s way of dispensing with waste & insects

- portable chicken houses moved to follow cows, increase fertilisation, sanitise the paddocks

- chickens are well-fed and produce eggs = another product to sell

- meat chickens also moved daily, fresh food & clean environment

- tree chips used as bedding for animals, who turn it from anaerobic matter into aerobic compost

- greatly increases income

- also greatly increases biodiversity, which mimics the biodiversity of wild places

- leveraging every aspect of the farm for maximum benefit to all



Closing Thoughts

- when you shift paradigm from looking at problems (e.g. pathogens & pests), to a more nature-respectful viewpoint, most of these problems solve themselves

- moving from a reactive approach to a proactive approach

- these systems become self-perpetuating

- get in your kitchen: build awareness of & connect with food, develop skill around what good food looks and tastes like

- do something yourself to viscerally participate in life: food scraps for worms, keep bees or chickens, tomato pot plants on your patio

- locate your local food treasures

Ben Klenner