Friday, December 21, 2007

Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal - Joel Salatin

Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal
JOEL SALATIN / Acres v.33, n.9, Sept 2003 1sep03

Everything I want to do is illegal. As if a highly bureaucratic
regulatory system was not already in place, 9/11 fueled renewed
acceleration to eliminate freedom from the countryside. Every time a
letter arrives in the mail from a federal or state agriculture
department my heart jumps like I just got sent to the principal's office.

And it doesn't stop with agriculture bureaucrats. It includes all
sorts of government agencies, from zoning, to taxing, to food
inspectors. These agencies are the ultimate extension of a
disconnected, Greco-Roman, Western, egocentric, compartmentalized,
reductionist, fragmented, linear thought process.


I want to dress my beef and pork on the farm where I've coddled and
raised it. But zoning laws prohibit slaughterhouses on agricultural
land. For crying out loud, what makes more holistic sense than to put
abattoirs where the animals are? But no, in the wisdom of Western
disconnected thinking, abattoirs are massive centralized facilities
visited daily by a steady stream of tractor trailers and illegal alien

But what about dressing a couple of animals a year in the backyard?
How can that be compared to a ConAgra or Tyson facility? In the eyes
of the government, the two are one and the same. Every T-bone steak
has to be wrapped in a half-million dollar facility so that it can be
sold to your neighbor. The fact that I can do it on my own farm more
cleanly, more responsibly, more humanely, more efficiently, and in a
more environmentally friendly manner doesn't matter to the government
agents who walk around with big badges on their jackets and
wheelbarrow-sized regulations tucked under their arms.

OK, so I take my animals and load them onto a trailer for the first
time in their life to send them up the already clogged interstate to
the abattoir to await their appointed hour with a shed full of animals
of dubious extraction. They are dressed by people wearing long coats
with deep pockets with whom I cannot even communicate. The carcasses
hang in a cooler alongside others that were not similarly cared for in
life. After the animals are processed, I return to the facility hoping
to retrieve my meat.

When I return home to sell these delectable packages, the county
zoning ordinance says that this is a manufactured product because it
exited the farm and was reimported as a value-added product, thereby
throwing our farm into the Wal-Mart category, another prohibition in
agricultural areas. Just so you understand this, remember that an
on-farm abattoir was illegal, so I took the animals to a legal
abattoir, but now the selling of said products in an on-farm store is

Our whole culture suffers from an industrial food system that has made
every part disconnected from the rest. Smelly and dirty farms are
supposed to be in one place, away from people, who snuggle smugly in
their cul-de-sacs and have not a clue about the
out-of-sight-out-of-mind atrocities being committed to their dinner
before it arrives in microwaveable, four-color-labeled, plastic
packaging. Industrial abattoirs need to be located in a
not-in-my-backyard place to sequester noxious odors and sights.
Finally, the retail store must be located in a commercial district
surrounded by lots of pavement, handicapped access, public toilets and
whatever else must be required to get food to people.

The notion that animals can be raised, processed, packaged, and sold
in a model that offends neither our eyes nor noses cannot even
register on the average bureaucrat's radar screen — or, more
importantly, on the radar of the average consumer advocacy
organization. Besides, all these single-use megalithic structures are
good for the gross domestic product. Anything else is illegal.


In the disconnected mind of modem America, a farm is a production unit
for commodities — nothing more and nothing less. Because our land is
zoned as agricultural, we cannot charge school kids for a tour of the
farm because that puts us in the category of "Theme Park." Anyone
paying for infotainment creates "Farmadisney," a strict no-no in
agricultural zones.

Farms are not supposed to be places of enjoyment or learning. They are
commodity production units dotting the landscape, just as factories
are manufacturing units and office complexes are service units. In the
government's mind, integrating farm production with recreation and
meaningful education creates a warped sense of agriculture.

The very notion of encouraging people to visit farms is blasphemous to
an official credo that views even sparrows, starlings and flies as
disease threats to immunocompromised plants and animals. Visitors
entering USDA-blessed production unit farms must run through a
gauntlet of toxic sanitation dips and don moonsuits in order to keep
their germs to themselves. Indeed, people are viewed as hazardous
foreign bodies at Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs).

Farmers who actually encourage folks to come to their farms threaten
the health and welfare of their fecal concentration camp production
unit neighbors, and therefore must be prohibited from bringing these
invasive germ-dispensing humans onto their landscape. In the
industrial agribusiness paradigm, farms must be protected from people,
not to mention free-range poultry.

The notion that animals and plants can be raised in such a way that
their enhanced immune system protects them from kindergarteners'
germs, and that the animals actually thrive when marinated in human
attention, never enters the minds of government officials dedicated to
protecting precarious production units.


I have several neighbors who produce high-quality food or crafts that
complement our own meat and poultry. Dried flower arrangements from
one artisan, pickles from another, wine from another, and first-class
vegetables from another. These are just for starters.

Our community is blessed with all sorts of creative artisans who offer
products that we would love to stock in our on-farm retail venue.
Doesn't it make sense to encourage these customers driving out from
the city to be able to go to one farm to do their rural browsing/
purchasing rather than drive all over the countryside? Furthermore,
many of these artisans have neither the desire nor time to deal with
patrons one-on-one. A collaborative venue is the most win-win,
reasonable idea imaginable — except to government agents.

As soon as our farm offers a single item — just one — that is not
produced here, we have become a Wal-Mart. Period. That means a
business license, which isbasically another layer of taxes on our
gross sales. The business license requires a commercial entrance,
which on our country road is almost impossible to acquire due to
sight-distance requirements and width regulations. Of course, zoning
prohibits businesses in our agricultural zones. Remember, people are
supposed to be kept away from agricultural areas — people bring diseases.

Even if we could comply with all of the above requirements, a retail
outlet carries with it a host of additional regulations. We must
provide designated handicapped parking, government-approved toilet
facilities (our four household bathrooms in the two homes located 50
feet away from the retail building do not count) — and it can't be a
composting toilet. We must offer x-number of parking spaces. Folks, it
just goes on and on, ad nauseum, and all for simply trying to help a
neighbor sell her potatoes or extra pumpkins at Thanksgiving. I
thought this was the home of the free. In most countries of the world,
anyone can sell any of this stuff anywhere, and the hungering hordes
are glad to get it, but in the great U.S. of A we're too sophisticated
to allow such bioregional commerce.


Any power tool — including a cordless screwdriver — cannot be operated
by people under the age of 18. We have lots of requests from folks
wanting to come as interns, but what do we call them? The government
has no category for interns or neighbor young people who just want to
learn and help out.

We'd love to employ all the neighboring young people. To our
child-awning and worshiping culture, the only appropriate child
activity is recreation, sitting in a desk, or watching TV. That's it.
That's the extent of what children are good for. Anything else is
abusive and risky.

Then we wonder why these kids grow up unmotivated and bored with life.
Our local newspaper is full of articles and letters to the editor
lamenting the lack of things for young people to do. Let me suggest a
few things: digging postholes and building a fence, weeding the
garden, planting some tomatoes, splitting some wood, feeding the
chickens, washing eggs, pruning grapevines, milking the cow, building
a compost pile, growing some earthworms.

These are all things that would be wonderfully meaningful work
experience for the youth of our community, but you can't simply employ
people anymore. A host of government regulatory paperwork surrounds
every "could you come over and help us . . . ?" By the time an
employer complies with every Occupational Safety & Health
Administration requirement, posts every government bulletin
requirement, with-holds taxes, and shoulders Unemployment Compensation
burdens and medical and child safety regulations — he or she can't
hire anybody legally or profitably.

The government has no pigeonhole for this: "I'm a 17-year-old
home-schooler, and I want to learn how to farm. Could I come and have
you mentor me for a year?"

What is this relationship? A student? An employee? If I pay a stipend,
the government says he's an employee. If I don't pay, the Fair Labor
Standards board says it's slavery, which is illegal. Doesn't matter
that the young person is here of his own volition and is happy to live
in a tee-pee. Housing must be permitted and up to code. Enough
already. What happened to the home of the free?


You would think that if I cut the trees, mill the logs into lumber,
and build the house on my own farm, I could make it however I wanted
to. Think again. It's illegal to build a house less than 900 square
feet. Period. Doesn't matter if I'm a hermit or the father of 20. The
government agents have decreed, in their egocentric wisdom, that no
human can live in anything less than 900 square feet.

Our son got married last year and wanted to build a small cottage on
the farm, which he now oversees for the most part. Our new saying is,
"He runs the farm, and I just run around." The plan was to do what Mom
and Dad did for Teresa and I — trade houses when children come. That
way our empty nest downsizes, and the young people can upsize in the
main family farmhouse. Sounds reasonable and environmentally sensitive
to me. But no, his little honeymoon cottage — or our retirement shack
— had to be a 900-square-foot Taj Mahal. A state-of-the-art accredited
composting toilet to avoid the need for a septic system and sewer
leach field was denied.

When the hillside leach field would not meet agronomic standards and
we had to install it in the floodplain, I asked the health department
bureaucrat why. He said that essentially the only approvable leach
fields now are alongside creeks and streams, because they are the only
sites that offer dark-enough colored soils. Sounds like real
environmental steward-ship, doesn't it?

Look, if I want to build a yurt of rabbit skins and go to the bathroom
in a compost pile, why is it any of the government's business?
Bureaucrats bend over back-wards to accredit, tax credit, and offer
money to people wanting to build pig city-factories or bigger
airports. But let a guy go to his woods, cut down some trees, and
build himself a home, and a plethora of regulatory tyrants descend on
the project to complicate, obfuscate, irritate, frustrate, and
virtually terminate. I think it's time to eradicate some of these laws
and the piranhas who administer them.


I don't ask for a dime of government money. I don't ask for government
accreditation. I don't want to register my animals with a global
positioning tattoo. I don't want to tell officials the names of my
constituents. And I sure as the dickens don't intend to hand over my
firearms. I can't even use the "U" word.

On every side, our paternalistic culture is tightening the noose
around those of us who just want to opt out of the system — and it is
the freedom to opt out that differentiates tyrannical and free societies.

How a culture deals with its misfits reveals its strength. The
stronger a culture, the less it fears the radical fringe. The more
paranoid and precarious a culture, the less tolerance it offers.

When faith in our freedom gives way to fear of our freedom, then
silencing the minority view becomes the operative protocol. The Native
Americans silenced after Little Big Horn simply wanted to

worship in their beloved Black Hills, use traditional medicinal herbs
to cure diseases, educate their children in the ways of their
ancestors, and live in portable homes rather than log cabins. By that
time these people represented absolutely no threat to the continued
Westernization and domination of the North American continent by
people who educated, vocated, medicated, worshiped, and habitated

But coexistence was out of the question. Just like the forces that
succeeded in making it illegal for me to use the "O" word, the Western
success at Wounded Knee quashed the little guy. What does the Organic
Trade Association have to fear from me using the "O" word? If society
really wants government certification, my little market share will
continue to deteriorate into oblivion. If, however, the certification
effort represents a same-old, same-old power grab by the elitists to
exterminate the fringe play-ers, it is merely another example of fear
replacing faith.

Faith in what? Faith in diversity. Faith in each other. Faith in
people's ability to self-educate, thereby making informed decisions.
Faith in seekers to find answers. Faith in marketplace dynamics to
reward integrity and not cheating. Faith in Creation to heal. Faith in
healthy plants and animals to withstand epizootics. Faith in
earthworms to increase fertility. Faith in communities to function
efficiently and honorably without centralized beltway interference.
Faith in Acres U.S.A. to arrive every month with a cornucopia of
insight and information.

Our culture's current fear of bioterrorism shows the glaring weakness
of a centralized, immunodeficient food system. This weakness leads to
fear. Demanding from on high that we irradiate all food, register
every cow with government agencies, and hire more inspectors does not
show strength. It shows fear.

Indeed, official policy views all these minority production and
marketing systems that have been shown faithful over the centuries to
be instead things that threaten everyone and everything. As a teepee
dwelling, herb healing, home educating, people loving, compost
building retail farmer, I represent the real answers, but real answers
must be eradicated by those who seek to build their power and fortunes
on a lie — the lie being that genetic integrity can be maintained when
corporate scientists begin splicing DNA. The lie that, as Charles
Walters says, toxic rescue chemistry is better than a balanced
biological bath. The lie that farms are disease-prone, unfriendly,
inhumane places and should be zoned away from people.

Those of us who would aspire to opt out — both consumers and producers
— must pray for enough cleverness to circumvent the system until the
system cannot sustain itself. Cycles happen. Because things are this
way today does not mean they will be this way next year. Hurrah for that.

Often, the greatest escapes occur at the moment the noose becomes
tightest. I'm feeling the rope, and it's not very loose. Society seems
bound and determined to hang me for everything I want to do. But
there's power in truth. And for sure, surprises are in store that may make

society shake its collective head and begin to question some seemingly
unalterable doctrines. Doctrines like the righteousness of the
bureaucrat. The sanctity of government research. The protection of the
Food Safety and Inspection Service. The helpfulness of the USDA.

When that day comes, you and I can graciously offer our society honest
food, honest ecology, honest stewardship. May the day come quickly.

Joel Salatin raises grass-fed beef, pastured poultry, rabbits and
more on a model diversified farmstead, Polyface Farm, in Virginia's
Shenandoah Valley. He is the author of Salad Bar Beef, Pastured
Poultry Profits, You Can Farm, and Family Friendly Farming, available
from Acres U.S.A. for $30 each, plus shipping and handling. To order,
call 1-800-355-5313 or visit our website.

Acres U.S.A. is the national journal of sustainable agriculture,
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