About a year and a half before I separated from the military, I stumbled upon a character by the name of Joel Salatin. The self-proclaimed “lunatic farmer” is likely the best-known spokesperson for the sustainable agriculture movement in the United States, and even appeared on the largest podcast in the world (The Joe Rogan Experience #1478). For the last 40 years, he’s been farming land in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley using methods that can be safely described as unconventional. Forget stocking rate, stocking density, fertilizer per acre… basically, anything you’ve ever heard that sounds familiar. Joel’s metrics are earthworms per handful of soil, percentage of cow patties spread by chickens, and gallons of water sequestered per acre.
I was fascinated. So your telling me, the goal is to mimic the buffalo herds that used to cross the Great Plains? Because that’s the environment that many native, perennial grasses evolved in for millions of years? And that will improve the health of both plant and animal? What kind of farming is this?
And what makes it more interesting is that his approach is business first. His techniques aren’t some luxury for the rich. It’s for folks that were willing to exchange the tractor ($$) for a bit of predictable, daily labor; permanent fencing ($$) for mobile electric; small margin monoagriculture at scale for intensively managed approaches on smaller acreage with stacked revenue streams ($$). It naturally lowers overhead costs while increasing revenue potential so long as you are willing to work.
I must say, he’s a good salesman, and I bought everything hook-line-and-sinker. My family and I separated from the service, purchased 10 acres to start farming in Virginia, and it’s been smooth sailing ever since.
Just kidding. It’s been a sh*tshow.
While that hasn’t stopped me, it has provided for some serious entertainment. Don’t get me wrong; I didn’t think I would charge into this whole thing and be wildly successful from day one-- but I’ve been shocked at the depths of my own ignorance. Hence the name of this post: What the h*ll are you doing?
If I only had a nickel for every person who’d given me that quiet look… eyebrows pinched, head slightly cocked, wondering if they should say something.
I just shrug my shoulders, smile, and nod back… acknowledging what we both know… which is that I, in fact, do not know what I’m doing. But feedback is welcome!
Despite that, I’m learning a lot, having a blast, and become even more committed to the business and life I’m trying to build. It’s been bumpy, but rewarding, and screwing up is usually the best way to learn something new, anyway. And it makes for the best stories.
So here we are.
This blog will be a biweekly-ish collection of (mostly funny) tales from Red-Tail. Hope you like puns.