Everything I want to Do Is Illegal by Joel Salatin
February 4, 2010 by Bob Livingston
Virginia farmer Joel Salatin, owner of Polyface Farms, began farming as a teenager with the goal of milking 10 cows by hand. That would earn him $1,000 per cow per year, not a bad living for teenager in the late 70s.
But there was one problem. It was illegal. Virginia, like many states, had banned the sale of raw milk.
Salatin writes, “Even if we were to move forward with cheese or some milk product, we would still need a license and inspected facility. A friend who ran a Grade A dairy wanted to make cheese. But by the time he installed all the required machinery and hardware, it would have cost them (sic) $100,000 to make one pound of cheese. End of dream. He continues to struggle, barely making ends meet. I’d love to buy his cheese, even if he made it in the kitchen sink. And that’s important to understand.”
In the book Salatin laments the demise of the local farmer’s market due to government health regulations and the bureaucratic minefield that is designed to stifle innovation and benefit the large agricultural-industrial complex at the expense of the small farmer.
Continuing the story mentioned above, Salatin writes about how ideas start small and grow from there if they are good ideas. But government regulations—local, state and federal—are so onerous that the ideas are never given a chance.
“How do I know if I have a cheese that people will want unless I can experiment with a few pounds and try to sell some to folks? How do I know I have a decent ice cream until I make some and sell to taste testers? Innovation demands embryonic births. The problem is that complying with all these codes required that even the prototype must be too big to be birthed. In reality then, what we have are still-birth dreams because the mandated accoutrements are too big,” Salatin writes.
Salatin uses humor and common sense and tells his story of years of trying to figure out how to comply with the onerous regulations that have hampered his ability to farm in an ecologically sound, environmentally friendly, financially sound way. He covers all aspects of the effects of bureaucracy on his operation, including how the regulations change depending on the bureaucrat enforcing them. And oftentimes, Salatin writes, complying with the regulations not only makes no sense, it affects the quality of the food being produced.
Filled with personal accounts of Salatin’s experiences over the years, this book is an entertaining view of the life of an American farmer. It will give you a new perspective on your ideas about whether the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is looking out for the consumer, or looking out for somebody else.