August 25-29, 2014

Pasture Management

indexJoel Salatin raises chickens and cows at Polyface Farm near Swoope, Virginia, but if you ask what he does, he’ll tell you he’s a grass farmer. Walking the long, sloping fields of Joel’s farm, you pass a cluster of mildly curious cows. Before long, you come to two metal sheds, and you see that the sheds have wheels, like on a school bus. Then come the chickens. Thousands of them. The chickens are pasture-raised here, and lay their eggs in egg mobiles which Joel moves everyday.

Sustainable agriculture has no single figurehead—nor does this defiant, disparate movement have a center—but if it wants an able spokesperson, Joel Salatin would be a safe bet. He’s a professional contrarian, a knowledgeable agricultural apostate who not only practices what he preaches but has the rare capacity to explain it to others. While his summers are devoted to farming, his winters are spent literally barnstorming the country—from grange hall to farm to classroom—as he expounds on the joys of grass farming. The science of it is simple enough. Grass is a solar collector. It uses photosynthesis to transform the sun’s rays into chlorophyll. When cows eat grass, they convert this energy into protein and fat.

But what about the chickens? Unlike cage-free or free-range chickens, Joel’s chickens participate in the ecosystem, fertilizing the soil in which the grass grows, and keeping the cows free of bothersome bugs.

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Pasture managers view their field as a viable renewable resource. They use cattle and poultry to harvest the solar energy stored in the grasses, converting it into nutrient dense food, and maintaining the pasture’s biodiversity.


Grass farmers know their cows as natural born herbivores. They understand that grass plays an important role not only in providing cattle with a healthy diet, but also in capturing energy from the sun and cleaning the air.


The term cage-free can be deceiving. It could be used to mean poultry that, while it is not raised in cages, lives its life confined to a barn, with little to no access to the outdoors.


In the United States, USDA regulations apply only to poultry and indicate solely that the animal has been allowed access to the outside. These regulations do not specify the quantity or size of the outside range nor the duration of time the animal must be allowed access to this space.


Animals—chickens, cows, pigs and other livestock—which have been raised on pasture with access to shelter. This term is being used by farmers who wish to distinguish themselves from the industrialized “free-range” term.


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Information Artwork Text

Local Book CoverTitle: Pasture Management
Featuring: David Evans and his dog Bueno of Marin Sun Farms
Location: Inverness, CA
Found on Page 172 in Local: The New Face of Food and Farming in America

One of the biggest misconceptions people have about David is that he’s a poultry farmer. He’s not. David’s a pasture farmer whose family has worked these headlands for four generations. While his parents primarily raise cattle, David has integrated the use of poultry, which he houses in “hoop houses.” Skids running beneath them allow the houses to be moved each morning providing the chickens fresh pasture.

The pasture is a viable renewable resource, but it needs maintenance. David uses cattle and poultry as tools to harvest the solar energy stored in these grasses and convert it into nutrient dense food. This process also maintains pasture biodiversity.

Screen Shot 2014-08-18 at 17.01.48Meet Will Harris of White Oak Pastures in Bluffton, Georgia, a cattle rancher with deep roots in the Deep South. He has rejected the corn-fed, feedlot cattle model in favor of raising grass-fed cattle. Will is no arriviste. The Harris family has raised cattle on the same Early County, Georgia farm for 5 generations.

The Southern Foodways Alliance documents, studies, and celebrates the diverse food cultures of the changing American South. They set a common table where black and white, rich and poor — all who gather — may consider our history and our future in a spirit of reconciliation.

A member-supported non-profit, based at the University of Mississippi’s Center for the Study of Southern Culture, Southern Foodways Alliance stage symposia, produce documentary films, collect oral histories, sponsor scholarship, mentor students, and publish great writing. Donations from generous individuals, foundations, and companies fund our good work.




Host a painting party with these in your classroom, or at your home and invite the neighbors over! The Lexicon of Sustainability is excited to present a new way to participate in the movement. Inspired by street artists, the Lexicon has converted our popular information artwork into posters for anyone and everyone to paint and share with their community.

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Deciphering Your Egg Carton with Alexis Koefoed

From an interview with Alexis Koefoed of Soul Food FarmLexicon-About-Egg-Alexis-Koefoed-2

alexis_souldfoodfarm1Alexis Koefoed of Soul Food Farm in Vacaville, California, recalls the first time she heard the term cage-free: “I got kind of excited. I thought maybe there were free chickens running around. It took a little research, and I found out it didn’t mean much. Actually, the chickens were still in big huge houses on industrial factory farms. I didn’t think it was anything more than just good marketing, so we think things are nicer and sweeter and kinder than they really are.”

Consumers caught on. They recognized that cage-free eggs only offered a marginal improvement in a chicken’s quality of life. Then the term free-range appeared. “Free-range was a term I really loved,” Koefoed recalls. “I really thought it meant something for quite a long time. Finally, I learned that that term had been hijacked as well.”
After weighing her options, Koefoed decided that while free-range was confusing, it was still meaningful to put on her egg cartons. Her customers revolted. “People were just so disturbed by the term that we took it off,” Koefoed remembers. “We realized we couldn’t fight against the marketing giants who were using free-range as a term to sell more eggs even though they were the same old industrial chicken companies with confined animals.”
Then she discovered the term pasture-raised. “I just love that term,” Koefoed says, “because when you say ‘pastured’ you immediately think of a field so it really explains, very clearly, in one word, that the animals are outside, meaning ‘grass,’ meaning ‘bugs,’ meaning ‘sunshine.’ So I think it’s a really good term to define what someone is doing, whether it’s chickens or any other animal.”
Movements promoting “good food” succeed when the messengers become their messages, when their foremost practitioners embody the language of sustainability, and when a farmer doesn’t just farm. “We’re small farmers in a new world,” Koefoed concludes. “We don’t just farm. We’re educators and we’re learning to be marketers so we can hold on to the authenticity of words and take them back from the big corporations.” That’s something to think about the next time you buy a dozen eggs.

Alexis Koefed and her family bought the land which would become Soul Food Farm in the late ‘90s. No house, no running water, no electricity. Just 55 acres of prime pasture and farmland in Vacaville, CA, which had been untended for 30 years. Over time, a vision began to emerge. At first, it was simply about feeding people, supporting their family and being able to afford this farm. Over time, subjects that had been on the fringe of their belief system before began to take everyday importance. The family immersed themselves in issues of community land use, the true cost of feeding people, workers’ rights, and the humane treatment of animals. Today, Soul Food Farm has layers of diversity that allows Alexis and her family to harvested sustainable products all year long.

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Breeding a Better Chicken

While many conscientious eaters go out of their way to purchase pasture-raised eggs laid by happy chickens, it’s a little-known fact that almost all eggs have a hidden cost: millions of baby male chicks are killed each year at the hatcheries which raise egg-laying hens. Even humane, organic egg producers are reliant on these large hatcheries.

“It’s a dirty little secret, isn’t it?” says farmer Nigel Walker of Eatwell Farm in Dixon, California, who has ordered thousands of Production Red chicks each year for his diversified organic farm. “Many customers have asked me about this practice, and I’ve been very truthful with them,” he says. “I’ve always been uncomfortable with it, but I wasn’t able to find a good solution until now.”

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Nigel was born in Leicester, England, and studied at Writtle Agricultural College in Essex. Though the school taught production farming with chemicals, Nigel received permission to fulfill his practicum at an organic farm in Kent, England. He studied drip irrigation in 1985 in Israel, a country where “if you waste water it’s treason.” He returned to England and farmed there until moving to California in 1992.

Learn about Nigel’s solution and how you can help support his endeavor!

Exploring the Challenges of Global Livestock Production

A multi-national study conducted by researchers in Kenya, Australia, and Austria was recently published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. This study has vast implications for understanding how to create sustainable livestock systems.

Read the report’s summary and find a link to the full report included.

Information Artwork Text

Local Book CoverTitle: Pastured Poultry
Featuring: Megan and Craig
Location: Stone Barns Center for Food Agriculture, Pocantico Hills, NY
Found on Page 185 in Local: The New Face of Food and Farming in America

The raising of pastured poultry embraces “humane, people-friendly, environmentally enhancing “ practices, says Craig Haney of Stone Barns Center for Food Agriculture.

After feathering out (and as the season permits), the poultry are given constant access to fresh-growing palatable vegetation, with movable or stationary houses utilized for shelter.
The egg mobile provides shelter from the elements, protection from predators, a clean, private space to lay eggs, and a place to roost at night.

Why should people be willing to pay more for pastured poultry? Craig says, “Doing things right takes more time. We devote hundreds of hours from May through November just moving  the egg mobiles across our fields.  This evenly distributes the manure on the pastures while providing the birds with fresh air and continually clean fields where they can express their natural behaviors like scratching and foraging, roosting and dust bathing.  And sunshine is a wonderful natural disinfectant.  The eggs and meat are then healthier for us to enjoy”.

Perennial Plate

Grass, Water, Cows

In Argentina, beef is a way of life. But over the last few decades, the traditional methods of raising cows on grass has faded away, only to be replaced by the feedlot model. At Las dos Hermanas Ranch, they maintain the old ways of managing the grass, the water and the cows.

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The Perennial Plate is an online weekly documentary series dedicated to socially responsible and adventurous eating. Chef and Activist, Daniel Klein and Filmmaker Mirra Fine are traveling the world exploring the wonders, complexities and stories behind the ever more connected global food system.


Find innovative ideas and facts from our interviews with Lexicon thought leaders.

Joe Morris of Morris Grassfed Beef

Joe  Morris has owned and operated Morris Grassfed Beef since 1991 when he took over the management of his grandparent’s 200 acre ranch near San Juan Bautista, just south of San Jose, California. Today, he leases an additionall 7,000 acres and runs 250 cows to serve their grassfed beef direct marketing business, as well as approximately 1,800 stockers.

Joe comes from a lineage of ranchers stretching back five generations, the msot recent of which was his grandfather who ranched in the 1980s. He is deeply influenced by the vaquero tradition that grew out of two complimentary influences—the indigenous skills of Native North Americans in using animals to take care of the land and the horsemanship of the Spanish settlers in California. The tradition emphasizes caring equally for the well being of the land, the animals and the people, recognizing their interdependence and its potential to produce beauty.

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Sustainable Livestock Husbandry

Truly sustainable livestock farming requires the use of a pasture-based system. Pasture-raised animals roam freely in their natural environment where they’re able to eat nutritious grasses and other plants that their bodies are adapted to digest. In addition to dramatically improving the welfare of farm animals, pasturing also helps reduce environmental damage, and yields meat, eggs, and dairy products that are tastier and more nutritious than foods produced on factory farms.

Learn more about the benefits of sustainably farmed livestock.

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Local Book CoverTitle: Grass Farmer
Featuring: Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm
Location: Swoope, VA

Found on Page 176 in Local: The New Face of Food and Farming in America

Everything in Joel Salatin’s hands grows plentifully in this field. In fact, he picked this entire bouquet from by his feet. Grasses include fall panicum, pigweed, chickory, timothy, fescue, redtop, orchard grass, narrow leaf plantain, wide leaf plantain, and red clover.

Cows are herbivores, and they just love to graze on Joel’s bouquet.  Just like every other grazing herd in the world, these cows are followed through their grazing fields by birds.  They scratch through dung and peck parasites off herbivores.

The birds in Joel’s field are chickens.  These omnivores are a biological pasture sanitizer.  As the electric fence moves down the field, placing the cows on fresh grazing land, the chickens follow behind, preparing the paddock for the next grazing cycle.


Find innovative ideas and facts from our interviews with Lexicon thought leaders.

Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm, Inc.

Joel Salatin and his family own Polyface Farm in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. They produce salad bar beef, pastured poultry (eggs, turkeys, broilers), pigaerator pigs, forage-based rabbits, and forestry products, serving about 5,000 families, 50 restaurants, and 10 retail stores. Author of eight books on how-to and broad cultural themes, Salatin offers lecture performances around the world. Polyface Farm may be the only farm in the world committed to 365/24/7 unannounced visitors from anywhere to see anything at any time.

Download Interview


Information Artwork Text

Local Book CoverTitle: Egg Mobile
Featuring: Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm
Location: Swoope, VA
Found on Page 176 in Local: The New Face of Food and Farming in America

Egg mobiles, or portable hen houses, are moved every one to two days, preferably behind herbivores, like cows. This allows chickens to have access to unimpeded pasturage.

Chickens are biological pasture sanitizers. They scratch through cow patties and spread them out, reducing the overload of nutrients in one spot and destroying the incubation environment conducive to parasite development. By eating fly larvae out of cow patties, chickens reduce irritation to the herd, increasing their comfort, health and performance. Chickens eat newly exposed grasshoppers, crickets and other herbivorous critters which compete with the cows for available forage. The chickens scratching pulls up duff and moldy leaves, aerating the soil surface and freshening the plant structure.

Pastures don’t just happen. They are like all biological systems, always in a state of flux between degeneration or regeneration. Chickens are extremely hard on forage and dump hot manure with a carbon/nitrogen ratio of 7 to 1. As a result, stationary henhouses soon develop bare spots where the forage is tilled out and killed. The soil is overloaded with nitrogen toxicity which leaches into the groundwater and over stimulates grass clumps with bitter forage repugnant to the chickens. If you want a regenerating pasture, you have to manage it for that successional improvement or it will deteriorate.

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Chef Ann Cooper is the Renegade Lunch Lady. She is an internationally recognized author, chef, educator, public speaker, and advocate of healthy food for all children. She is also the founder of Food Family Farming Foundation, a nonprofit organization created to empower schools to serve nutritious whole food to all students. F3 supports positive change through educational training programs, direct services, a web portal and collateral resources. Chef Cooper envisions a time soon when being a chef working to feed children fresh, delicious, and nourishing food will no longer be considered “renegade.”

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