Polyface visit and tour with Joel and Daniel Salatin

I recently took part in a Sustainable Food Conference at Polyface Farm in Swoope, VA. Joel Salatin, who is a world famous speaker on sustainable agricultural issues, and his son Daniel gave us a tour of their family farm. They explained their intense rotational grazing techniques for cattle, chickens, turkeys and pigs, and the science and philosophy that supports the techniques. I really appreciated that they shared their expertise so freely. “Open source” is one of their philosophies.

Most of the specifics of their techniques have been explained in the many books that Joel has authored. But he spent some time discussing their employee and subcontractor relationship structures, and I found that discussion inspirational. Polyface Farm is focussed on building brand. They’ve recognized that their brand is their biggest asset. And they don’t mind sharing control of the production aspects of the farm, as long as their stringent standards are met.

They also believe that entrepreneurship is the path to financial viability and personal satisfaction for every person. So, although they train several interns and apprentices each year, they have created many opportunities for potential employees to create their own business relationships with Polyface Farm.

For instance, Polyface has calculated the average time that it takes to move their herds of cattle from one field paddock to another (move the waterers, shade shelters, portable electric fencing and the cattle), and they contract that task annually to a subcontractor for a set fee per task. The subcontractor makes more money as they become more efficient at moving the cattle. They have a farm mechanic who rents a shop on their farm, and works on their equipment, but is also free to work on equipment from neighboring farms. Polyface gets billed for his services. Their egg pickers get paid by the dozen. Then they can go to another job. Their hours are flexible.

In my experience, I have seen many benefits of self-employment. It drives efficiency and innovation and responsiblilty. Many typical expenses become deductible. And it allows flexibility for a better quality of life. For the entrepreneur, it also provides an income structure with an unlimited upside growth potential.

When we look at your farm or business, which aspects could benefit from improvements in efficiency and reliability? Might those be tasks to subcontract to entrepreneurs? Self-determination is a great kitchen for ingenuity and motivation. As the owner, letting go could be the best way to move forward.

For more information, please visit the Polyface Farms website at: http://www.polyfacefarms.com/principles/