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Q&A With Joel Salatin: A Tree-Hugging, Christian, Libertarian Farmer

Alongside a recent trip to Polyface Farm, I had the chance to interview farmer Joel Salatin. He had much to say about faith, politics and environmental stewardship.

You resonate with the Christian right on economic freedom and regulation, but you also call yourself an environmentalist. What do you think about the way the Christian right engages, or does not engage, issues of environmental stewardship?

Interview with Joel Salatin

When Rush Limbaugh laughingly discharges his machine-gun into jungle monkeys or Sean Hannity disparages the notion of animal rights because the animals can’t write a constitution, Christians should be appalled at such an egocentric, disrespectful, sacreligious view toward life. […]

Nothing less than Christian authenticity is at stake when we cavalierly dismiss environmentalists as a bunch of tree-hugging idiots.  The fact that creation worshipers have taken the high moral ground of stewardship while the Creator worshipers have accepted the low moral ground of manipulators, dominators, and pillagers should be cause not for gaiety and jokes, but for deep repentance in sackcloth and ashes.

Isn’t it just like Satan to turn something as noble and righteous as creation stewardship—which includes nutrient density, animal respect and soil building—into a hippie, beaded, bearded, nut movement as perceived by Christians? What if our side had owned stewardship? What then? We’d own the high moral ground.

In your opinion, what is the number one way the agriculture industry is failing to steward the earth’s resources today?

The number one problem is carbon cycling. Some 80 percent of all material filling landfills in the U.S. is biodegradable biomass. The way God set things up, the Sun [obviously an interesting permutation on Son] provides all the energy for the whole program. Plants capture sun energy through photosynthesis and build carbon material. Out of 100, roughly 95 pounds of all plants is sun energy; only 5 pounds is soil.  In other words, the earth is supposed to be getting heavier and fatter every year.

This carbon drives the cycle of life, death, decomposition and regeneration. Everything living must die, and the deaths provide the fertilizer for the next generation. This life-death-decomposition-regeneration cycle is, of course, a beautiful picture of the spiritual regeneration that happens when we voluntarily die to self so that our sacrifice may live in others. Ultimately, to live is to die to self. Anyway, the idea that chemical fertilizers can replace this cycle strikes at the very basis of this creation truth and leads people to believe we can have life without death. A bag of chemical fertilizer has no life; a compost pile brims with life.

In a creation economy, therefore, the carbon cycle is fundamental to proper function, and by extension, to proper appreciation of spiritual law. That we have squandered life by burying it in landfills where it cannot be regenerated into anything is an assault not only on creation’s balance sheet, but also on the object lesson God intended to keep us apprised of—life’s value and death’s temporality (if it’s used correctly). To deny solar energy its rejuvenating capacity and substitute it with inert lifeless chemical material disrespects all parties to the plan. If all this buried material—which we’re still burying, by the way—had been and were currently used to feed the soil, it would drop our petroleum use some 25 percent and reduce the toxicity that is leaching from our landfills.

In your book, “Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal,” you talk in great length about how ridiculous it is to have a state ban on the retail of raw milk. What is it about your Christian faith that drives your passion for food freedom?

The idea that each of us is an asset or liability to the state creates an economic imperative to deny risky behavior through patronage, like not vaccinating our kids, drinking raw milk, fertilizing with compost or choosing herbology over pharmaceuticals—you get the picture.  The bottom line is this: what good is it to have the freedom to worship, assemble or speak if we don’t have the freedom to choose the food (fuel) to feed our 3 trillion member internal bacterial community to give us the energy to go pray, preach and congregate?

Stay tuned for part two of my interview, coming soon.