Folks, This Aint Normal: Joel Salatin: Book Review

So here we have it. Folks, this ain’t normal: A Farmer’s Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World. At last, after 7 self-published books on everything from ground-breaking poultry systems to inter-generational farming strategies, Joel Salatin has finally written a book aimed fair and square at the mainstream.

A self-professed Christian Libertarian environmentalist capitalist lunatic farmer, Joel Salatin is one of a kind. His family enterprise, PolyFace Farms in the Shenandoah Valley of Virgina, USA, is a unique example of profitable family ‘beyond organic’ farming. But that’s not what this book is about.

Folks, this ain’t normal seems to me to be Joel Salatin’s big chance to finally be able to articulate his extensive and passionate view on what has gone wrong with America today, and how it can be fixed.

This book has nuances of Joel’s previous self-published book The sheer ecstasy of being a lunatic farmer, crossed with the talk he gave at ANU in Canberra in 2010, crossed with a very lively fire-side conversation about how to raise children, followed by a big chat in the paddock the next day on how to farm properly, and what that means for our world.

If you’re at all familiar with Joel Salatin and what he does, you could be forgiven for thinking you have some idea of what this book involves.

Having read all his books, I thought I was in for a collated version with a couple of new experiences and metaphors. I was wrong. This book is a whole new level of Salatin-ness.

I really admire and whole-heartedly like this book for several reasons.

The first and biggest reason is that this is Joel Salatin being himself, in all his un-ashamed glory. The feminist in me jolts at the traditional gender values, so flagrantly and enthusiastically described. The heathen in me jolts at the unashamed godliness. But you know what? I’m with him, one hundred percent.

The reason for this is that I appreciate that it’s these particular values and perspectives that has made Joel such a uniquely valuable regenerative agriculture advocate, practitioner and writer. He’s real. He’s honest. He’s not like anyone I know. And that’s just fine.

This book is information dense. Denser than dense. It’s like your grandma’s chocolate mud cake, but made on kamut and quinoa with organic, fair-trade cacao. Completely unusual and nutritionally superior. Kinda super-cool and hair-raisingly traditional, all at once.

Joel Salatin in the fabulous 'Lexicon of Sustainability' project © Douglas Gayeton & Laura Howard-Gayeton

Reading this book was an experience of having my buttons constantly pushed. Both kinds of buttons – both the ‘i can’t believe he said that out loud’ and ‘i completely agree and I can’t believe no-one’s articulated that adequately before’.

Another reason I really like this book is because, while it’s Joel at his most open, it’s also Joel at his most accessible (stay with me here). This book is a conscious and, I think, successful attempt to draw in ‘folks that ain’t (yet) like us’ in their thinking, their eating and their outlook, and explain a completely different value system as a convincing alternative.

In this way, I’d liken this book to some of Michael Pollan’s work in that it makes the complicated and ethically dense aspects of our food system simple through stories and tales.

Thanks to Joel’s time in Australia in the last two years as part of his RegenAG workshops, there’s even some mention of some home-grown regenerative farming legends.

Joel Salatin, Nick and Col Seis at 'Winona', checking out Col's pasture cropping operation in 2010

Col Seis and his pasture cropping systems gets two pages, as Joel muses on regenerative cropping and grain production. Peter Andrews also gets a mention for his work with landscape hydrology.

And Permaculture practitioners get a nod as being true deep ecologists. Not bad for a self-professed christian libertarian capitalist lunatic…

This book is grounded in the perspective of a small-time farmer who has seen a lot, and who is ready and able to explain what he has seen to the rest of us.

The Salatins have had decades of struggle with the USDA and food police trying to supply their community with clean, ethical meat and eggs. Amongst many other farming and clean food supply challenges.

The Salatin’s have been around the block, they’ve weathered many storms and they’ve emerged as a successful, happy, loving, inter-generational, regenerative farming enterprise. Their setup, while perhaps not normal at this point in history, is clearly a sustainable, workable model of regenerative agriculture based in tradition, compassion, biomimicry and good sense.

But the point of the book is not at all Joel calling on America to head back to the farm. Folks, this ain’t normal does ask us to consider, however, how we connect with our food, our children and our parents.

It asks us how we spend our time. And it asks us what we eat. And why.

This book is a farmer, a husband and a father explaining a unique and heart felt point of view on farming, food and family, and asking us to consider his case.

And it’s a rare and valuable voice to have in the mix.

A truly useful resource for those trying to find path towards a future for our families and communities that involves clean, affordable food, right livelihoods and regenerated landscapes. Bring it on.

>> Folks, this ain’t normal: A Farmer’s Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World at Amazon.com.

Pre and post reading resources:

12 Comments

  1. Posted October 11, 2011 at 12:09 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Excellent review Kirsten – I can’t wait to read it too!

    I like what you said about relating to what Joel has to say – despite maybe the differences in gender, cultural/religious background – it doesn’t matter. He’s saying what needs to be said and he’s honest and upfront about it. That’s what’s important!

    Haha and this paragraph cracked me up:

    “This book is information dense. Denser than dense. It’s like your grandma’s chocolate mud cake, but made on kamut and quinoa with organic, fair-trade cacao. Completely unusual and nutritionally superior. Kinda super-cool and hair-raisingly traditional, all at once.”

    Haha, you’re awesome Kirsten.

    x Bel.

    (I love those images from the Lexicon of Sustainability project – so beautiful!)

  2. Posted October 11, 2011 at 12:14 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Looking forward to reading this. thanks for the review :)

  3. Posted October 11, 2011 at 2:59 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Given we’ve read everything else, I wasn’t going to get this one. I thought it would be a recap. You just changed my mind. Thanks for this great review Kirsten xx

    • Posted October 11, 2011 at 3:10 pm | Permalink | Reply

      I thought that maybe too. But it’s not! Thoroughly enjoyed it and my view is being corroborated as the book is now passed slowly around the woolshed…

  4. Posted October 11, 2011 at 4:43 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Great review Kirsten, now I’m definitely going to have to read it! Do you know if it comes in an e-book? I’m trying to avoid paper books and it would be nice to have that book on hand in my mobile electronic library wherever I am in the world.

  5. Posted October 11, 2011 at 9:31 pm | Permalink | Reply

    we are joel salatin wanna-be’s …. in every shape and fashion. may he and his son continue to lead the charge and challenge us to think outside the box and not be afraid to go after what is right. can’t wait to read this one. thanks for the review kirsten! looks like a doozey!

  6. Emily
    Posted October 11, 2011 at 10:41 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Thanks Kirsten, can’t wait to read it..still reading Joel’s YOU CAN FARM & loving it!!!

  7. Posted November 16, 2011 at 12:42 pm | Permalink | Reply

    A really comprehensive review Kirsten. Do go on to listen to it as an audible book.
    Joel reading it himself gives you all the charm, passion and nuances. It truly adds another dimension to the printed word. It’s available from Audible.com

    • Posted November 16, 2011 at 7:59 pm | Permalink | Reply

      I will! When Joel arrived at our place this August just gone, he was nearly speechless, having finished the audible recording just the day before… it’s on the christmas break audio book listening list…

2 Trackbacks

  1. By The Meaty Substance of Sustainability on October 26, 2011 at 5:33 am

    [...] you can read other people’s well-written reviews of them {The Vegetarian Myth Review} and {Folks, this ain’t normal review} that encourage you to do the same), regardless of whether you are or aren’t a meat eater and are [...]

  2. [...] salatin, clearly livin’ the life {via this book [...]

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