What’s a Polyface?

As this post goes live, Shaun and I will be picking up our Polyface Farm Thanksgiving turkeys. Because I’ve name-dropped Polyface on multiple occasions with little explanation, I thought today would be the perfect day to give you the low-down on this famous Central Virginia farm. People in Charlottesville liken Joel Salatin to a celebrity [holding him in higher regard than even John Grisham], but it wasn’t until I read Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma that I truly discovered the agricultural [and cultural] impact this farm has across the country and the world. As part of his research for Omnivore’s Dilemma, Pollan spent seven days at Polyface helping the Salatin family run the farm. On day one, he wrote,

“[T]hus far my principal conclusion was that in the event I survived the labors of the week, I would never again begrudge a farmer any price he cared to name for his produce: one dollar for an egg seemed entirely reasonable; fifty dollars for a steak a steal.” [The Omnivore’s Dilemma, 124].

Polyface raises chicken [and eggs], turkey, rabbit, pig and beef, as well as fruits, vegetables, and other produce in Swoope, VA. Its few hundred acres have come to be known as “America’s premier non-industrial food production oasis.”

Here’s what makes Polyface special. I’ll address these points in turn.

  • Joel Salatin
  • The Rotational Method
  • Direct Marketing
Joel Salatan: The Salatin family began Polyface in the 60s, with Joel taking over after his father.* Ask him if he’s a “farmer,” though, and you might be surprised by the answer. “On our farm, the animals do most of the work,” he told Pollan in Omnivore’s [125]. In fact, he calls himself a “grass farmer,” if anything at all. “Salatin is the choreographer and the grasses are his verdurous stage,” writes Pollan.

The Rotational Method: “Symbiosis” is the policy of Polyface, and grass is the glue that holds this policy in place. For those who know little about farming [myself included], now is the time to be absolutely shocked that Salatin can care for all of those animals and all of that produce on such a tiny plot of land. The reason? The “Rotational Method.” Salatin “rotates” his animals through the pastures so they can work together to produce the best product: (1) cut the grass for hay for the winter; (2) allow the beef cattle to graze the cut grass; (3) follow the cattle with laying hens to “clean up after the herbivores” by picking out the larvae and grubs, spreading the manure, getting rid of parasites, and laying eggs. Rinse and repeat [See Omnivore’s 8.2]. The best part is, the rotational method doesn’t deplete the pastures, it improves them. Thus, not only does Polyface have some of the best meat, it has some of the healthiest, richest pastures in the country. No waste, pure sustainability.

Direct Marketing: The only way to save and support local businesses is to buy local, and that’s one area where Salatin makes no compromises. According to Pollan, Salatin purchases his feed from local farms, trading with neighbors rather than importing grains. He goes so far as to refuse to ship his products, believing it to be an unsustainable process. He says,

“Just because we can ship organic lettuce from the Salinas Valley, or organic cut flowers from Peru, doesn’t mean we should do it, not if we’re really serious about energy and seasonality and bioregionalism. I’m afraid if you want to try one of our chickens, you’re going to have to drive down here to Swoope to pick it up.” [Omnivore’s 132-133].

Hey, more for us Central Virginians. Localism, Sustainability, The Rotational Method, and Joel Salatin are just a few of the many reasons C’Villans flock to Polyface to pick up their meats and produce – the quality and taste also can’t be beat. I remember when I picked up my first Polyface turkey – I asked for a 15-20 pound bird. When the assistant handed me a seventeen-pounder, I thought he was joking. The bird was so much smaller than turkeys I’ve seen at the grocery store.

But there’s a reason for that, and I think I’ve mentioned it before. Companies like Purdue and Tyson inject saline and other liquids into their meats to “bulk them up” and increase the weight so they can sell them for more. The problems? (1) Less actual meat per pound and (2) those liquids are filled with animal fecal matter, bacteria and other harmful industrial farming byproducts. Polyface turkeys may appear smaller, but it’s because the meat is dense, rich, clean, healthy, and completely free of fluff. I really can’t stress how delicious this meat is, and how it’s worth every penny. It’s on the B.L. to make it out to the farm for a tour one day.

For those of you outside of Virginia, there are tons of places to source local meat from in your areas, I am sure. Most large cities have CSA programs through which you can order turkeys – ask at your local Farmer’s Markets. It’s Salatin’s dream [and mine] that one day we can all enjoy pure, local, sustainable, literally farm-to-table products with our families.

* Via the Washington Post.


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Categories: Food


Courtney grew up in Reading, PA, and has lived in New York City (where she earned a bachelor's degree at NYU), Prague, Philadelphia, and Charlottesville (where she received a J.D. from UVa Law). Courtney and her new husband will settle in Philadelphia following a six-week Euro-trip extravaganza in September of 2012. Courtney's interests include music, writing, criticism, fitness, travel, cooking, and sports. Please enjoy the blog. LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/courtney-marello/1a/375/b30 Tumblr: http://abarrelofoddsandends.tumblr.com/


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4 Comments on “What’s a Polyface?”

  1. jbockert
    November 19, 2011 at 10:20 am #

    We had our first Polyface turkey last year (thanks, Shaun) and it was the best turkey I’ve had in my 50+ years. Looking forward it another one this year. Next year, I guess we will have to drive to the Charlottesville area to pick one up – not sure a Butterball will do it.


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    […] – a book to tackle after you’ve done some gateway vegetarian philosophy reading like Omnivore’s Dilemma. He sets forth an argument based on “speciesism,” which roughly claims that because […]

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