Sunday, March 7, 2010

Tara Firma Farms hosts Joel Salatin at IONS

So many things to write about these days and so little time with the new job and all.  I was lucky to snag one of the last seats at the Joel Salatin a few Wednesdays ago, sponsored by Tara Firm Farms.  I had vaguely remembered Mr.Salatin's frank manner from the documentary, Food, Inc. But his principles and farming style really stood out to me as I read about Michael Pollan's experiences living and working on his Virginia based Polyface Farms, in the book, The Omnivore's Dilemma. Pollan ended up there because he had inquired about Polyface shipping him some of their beef or chicken so he could compare it to standard grocery store fare (he lives in Berkeley). Salatin wouldn't have it, only selling to people who can come to his farm to pick it up. I was captivated by Pollan's apt description of Polyface's committment to rotational grazing animals and fowl in a systematic way.  This method regenerates the landscape for continual energy output and leaves a negative carbon footprint while allowing the animals to exercise their innate animal instincts (letting chickens be chickens).  Salatin writes books, lectures and produces instructive videos as to how to practice his farming methods. The folks at Tara Firm are dedicated to farming using these standards. In fact, reading his materials and watching his videos is how the Smith's decided to start a farm, and they use these instructional treatises to help guide them through each step of the process.

The setting for the dinner and talk couldn't have been more special. Held at the Institute of Noetic Sciences, way up on the hill above San Antonio Valley.  San Antonio what?  For those of you who never make it over the bridge (shame, shame), San Antonio Valley is the beautiful rolling acreage you see on your left as you cross the Sonoma-Marin County line driving north on Hwy 101.  It has always been one of the more captivating landscapes in the area to me, and even 25 years ago when I was a peon in Santa Rosa I remember gazing at the beautiful countryside and falling in love.  This time of year is the greatest, as the bright sun hasn't had a chance to dry out the hillsides and the mustard is just starting to go off in its expanse of yellow carpet.  The oak trees seem happy (I swear) as does the grass, the burgeoning poppies, the flowering plums which are just coming into full bloom and the myriad of wildflowers about to burst forth even more spring goodness.  Okay, I'm gushing, but you would too if you were surrounded by all of this beauty - its hard not to smile.

Up at IONS, which incidentally has been around since the 70's at least, they host talks, seminars, retreats and the like.  Their facility is huge, set on about 200 acres high up on the hill.  The main purpose behind IONS is that they "conduct and sponsor leading-edge research into the potentials and powers of consciousness—including perceptions, beliefs, attention, intention, and intuition."  (sorry I lifted it straight from their website).  I'm no stranger to IONS, as for many years they have been one of the only private funding institutions for alternative medicine research, you know, the kind that isn't really in the market of making money, but instead dedicated to the health of the population and prevention of many of our society's ails.  They are more focused on metaphysical and spirituality based research now it seems, which is basically just another factor along the continuum of health as far as I can tell.

Did I digress?  And you are surprised!!??  About 100 of us lucky ticket-holders gathered pre-dinner sipping wine in the dining room and roaming around the gardens.  What a wonderful space- it reminded me of Esalen in Big Sur (minus the crashing waves and hot tubs).  A diverse crowd showed for the event:  folks who volunteer their time to manage the drop-offs of Tara Firma's CSA boxes, writers, photographers, a local Dad whose daughter brought him along to educate him about what she finds important for her health and hopefully her family's.  I ran into a couple of familiar faces but chose to sit at a table where I knew no one, as why go to an event alone if not to meet new people, right?  I must have had my homing device well tuned, as it turns out that I ate dinner next to Robin Carpenter, producer of KWMR's Farm Report that airs on Mondays (http://www.westmarinradio.net/).  She was a real hoot and gives workshops on non-fiction writing with a bend toward the environment, sustainability, and of course, food.  She has interviewed Tara Smith for her radio show a few times and judging from Tara's ease in front of an audience, I'm sorry I didn't catch them. 
Tara Smith is the most natural public speaker I've seen in a while.  She has a warm, confident and humble way of communicating her farm's mission and even threw in a few self-depricating jokes to keep us attentive (get that poor woman a manicure!).  Most of the crew behind Tara Firm Farm was there and put into the spotlight for all of us to applaud, as well as the staff behind the great dinner we proceeded to scarf down.  Cooking dozens of chickens, pork loins and an incredible array of vegetables, all from Tara Firma, I'm sure took a couple of days of prep.  The did a great job with hand massaged kale with lemon and pumpkin seeds, roasted butternut squash, salads and beets, chicken simply roasted to bring out the natural flavors, and pork with cranberry glaze.   Another gal made a huge production of meyer lemon cake which was incredible, as I  usually don't even eat dessert.

After dinner, we made our way across the courtyard to an intimately small amphitheater to meet the guest of honor.   Salatin entered the small lecture hall, serious behind big glasses, adorning an academic blue jacket and khaki pants, with charachatures of chickens embroidered into his tie.  His effervescent personality was captivating, bubbling forth like a minister, cracking jokes and quoting statistics that had us all in wonder and laughing at the same time.  Quite the wordsmith, Salatin strung adjectives and movements together in long run-ons that I can't even attempt to mimic or replicate.  When the crowd laughed, he repeated his hyphenated adjective string, rolling off his tongue like a new catch phrase for a movement that all 100 of us are in the crux of incubating, a very small percentage of the very small percentage of the population dedicated to the organic/sustainable food movement.

Geez' I'm sounding like a holy roller here.  You'd think I just joined a cult or something.  You have to understand though, what he does is so "no brainer" that it leaves my head spinning as to how our food production system has gotten so fricken out of whack: cows eating corn, and chickens never seeing the light of day.  Salatin has the intellect of a professor, scientific facts rolling off his tongue, equally at ease speaking of how to slaughter a chicken as he is of current government legislature aimed at trying to overregulate small (not government subsidized) farms.  His words were dense and left me much to think about,  ruminate on, digest.  Perhaps it is bad journalism on my part, no tape recorder, no notepad, just taking in someone's energy and passion. And passion is an understatement when it comes to Salatin. As he puts it, when things start to change the people at the front of the movement are called "lunatics," he views himself as only slightly past that label, if at all. However, because most people are followers and not leaders, it only takes 10% of a population to hit the tipping point, when the new paradigm becomes the standard.   A guest asked him how to get his message out, how to convince their skeptical friends.  He said not to try to convince them.  They will only see when they open their hearts.

You may find his lecture on http://www.russianriver.tv/
Rent Food, Inc. 
check out his website:  http://www.polyfacefarms.com/