Folks, This Could Be Normal: Nature’s Lessons from Polyface Farms

Preface: As a number of you know, last weekend we took a trip north to visit Polyface Farms. The event served as a formal fund raiser for the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund. What do they do? They bolster the #FoodFreedom movement. Pulling directly from their website, they protect the rights of farmers and consumers to engage in direct commerce (the rights of farmers to sell the products of the farm and the rights of consumers to access the foods of their choice from the source of their choice). They aim to level the playing field, making it more difficult for government agencies to win wars of attrition that drag farmers through administrative and judicial hearings. Essentially, these funds enable farmers to spend their resources on farming instead of legal representation. With that in mind, we happily paid the ticket price and packed for a trip into the budding swath of verdure within the Shenandoah Valley.

He even laughed at my bad joke. What a guy!

Polyface Farm – the farm of many faces – is primarily known for one, Joel Salatin’s. Sporting his trademark straw cowboy hat and glasses, his was one of the first greeting us Saturday morning. Joel is the second-generation patriarch at Polyface. At 59, he’s man of sturdy build and an academic, penning 10 books. He proclaims himself a ‘Christian libertarian environmentalist capitalist lunatic’ (I’ve a few other descriptions for him including: genius, progressive, and inspiring).

For the next 3 hours, Joel would lead us through grassy pastures and muddy trails, past thousands of chickens, hundreds of cattle and pigs, all while eloquently articulating the harmonious architecture of relationships he and his family have honed throughout their 50+ year agrarian practice – his father purchased the modest farm in 1961 as a ‘worn out, gullied weedpatch’ that couldn’t support a single salary (annual sales are nearing $2 millions now). Polyface, on a commercial-scale, successfully mimics Nature’s natural pattern. On Joel’s farm, the ecosystem is regenerative and boasts a net positive impact, meaning it gives more than is harvested – an impossible model within industrialized agri-business. The once gullied pastures now boast ‘ecstatic copulating earthworms…willing to testify to the healing.’ Every electrified fence, every livestock maneuver, every turn of the wheel at Polyface is planned and executed with specific purpose. The purpose, put succinctly into Joel’s words, ‘Respecting and honoring the marvelous pigness of the pig.’ It’s at the (grass)root of everything. The essence of his work, which is considered by many the greatest farm on earth, is healing. For Joel’s and farms of the like, if natural order can be intelligently integrated, repair happens. It isn’t just happenstance. The land regains it’s robustness and is more resilient to caprices of weather (flood, drought, etc). Animals live in accordance to their nature and thrive. And the environment regenerates – the health of the biome returns. It’s beautiful. As we left that evening, bellies and hearts full from a meal provided by Polyface, I found myself smiling and curious how I might share the bounty of inspiration within the confines of a fitness compendium.

Joel is the most natural soundbite generator I’ve heard. Practically everything he say’s is quote-worthy. Throughout the day, I found myself scrambling to make a note of some timeless axiom effortlessly rolling off his cuff. Parsing my notes from Polyface, a couple of notions started to crystallize…

Joel says:

‘The earth is not a territory to be conquered like a conquistador. The earth is a benevolent lover to be caressed.’

‘True agriculture should be aesthetic and aromatic, sensually romantic.’

What if we replaced ‘earth’ with ‘body’ in the first statement and ‘agriculture’ with ‘fitness’ in the second? It would read:

‘The human body is not a territory to be conquered like a conquistador. The body is a benevolent lover to be caressed.’

‘True fitness should be aesthetic and aromatic, sensually romantic.’

Silly/smelly jokes aside, the principles ring true, do they not? Why not make every decision with intention, with purpose? The purpose of enriching the experience of life. Do we cheapen our existence by failing to honor the humanness of the human? All too often, I posit we do. Perhaps through CrossFit (wellness), we are better-afforded a path mimicking our true Homo sapiens self. Like the flora and fauna of Polyface, we thrive when properly rested, feeding in our best interests, moving enough to promote fitness, and sharing relationships with those we love. In those ways, the CrossFit model resembles that of Polyface’s (no, I’m not calling you farm animals). In the same manner of the Salatin’s tracts of land, our health can be regenerated, restored and undoubtedly, thrive  – even if we’re ‘worn out and gullied.’ We only need begin. Like Joel’s legacy, our qualitative health ‘is tied to the cumulative effect of injecting sacredness and nobility into every little action’ of every day. Might we all starting living intentionally with the purpose of incubating the true essence of what life should be.

Where’s the beef?


Board of directors. (2016). Retrieved August 24, 2016, from

Salatin, J. (2011, July 25). Principles. Retrieved August 24, 2016, from

TEDxTalks. “TEDxMidAtlantic – Joel Salatin – 11/5/09.” YouTube. YouTube, 2009. Web. 24 Aug. 2016.