So yesterday my family and I went to Polyface Farms in Swoope, VA. It was a 2.5 hour drive from Chesterfield where we live and we hoped the whole way there that the weather would improve. When we left, the thermometer on the car registered 47 degrees. As we went over Afton Mountain near Charlottesville, the temperature dropped to 35 degrees…that’s not the way we hoped the temperature trend would go. When we pulled into the drive of Polyface Farms, the temperature was 40 degrees. And it was raining. The rain continued for most of the day but it didn’t put a damper on our visit.
We saw Daniel, Joel’s son, when we arrived. He said that his dad would be conducting the 2 hour “Lunatic Tour”. Joel arrived back at the farm about 45 minutes before the tour started. He had been in Florida for a week and was leaving for Michigan the next day. But yet, he still conducted the tour for the roughly 100 folks that showed up on this day of poor weather. That’s dedication. That’s how you can tell that someone is living a life that they are passionate about.
I am still in awe of the Polyface Farms operation. It is so simple and unglamorous, if that’s a word. It is everything that a farm should be. There are animals that are happy to be working, and people that mirror that happiness. How can an animal be happy to work? It’s simple…it’s in their inner being; it’s who they are. A chicken loves to scratch and peck and stretch its legs. A pig loves to root and run and play with other pigs. Beef cattle love to eat grass and chase each other and poop. Lots of poop. The bunnies love to eat grass and feel the grass under their feet. They love for people to feed them grass and that’s what people did. Including my kids.
I love the simplicity of Polyface Farms. Look at the harepen that these bunnies are housed in. Chicken wire for the sides, sheet metal roofing, slatted floors so that they can eat the grass but not dig out. A bucket on the roof with a piece of rubber tubing provides them fresh water. A piece of wire covered in rubber tubing on the front of the harepen makes it easy to pull their accommodations to fresh grass. Again, so simple!
And what is the result of this setup? Poop. The bunnies keep the grass mowed and fertilize the area as a result. There are fruit trees growing in this area and they are provided with a readily usable source of nutrients. Have a look for yourself.
Now people that take issue with these bunnies ending up on someone’s dinner plate should consider Joel’s words (and I’m paraphrasing here): “My animal’s live a wonderful life and have one bad day”. That day, of course, is the day that they are slaughtered and end up as dinner. I think that the bunnies at Polyface Farms live a better life than those that are kept as backyard pets. Most of the backyard bunnies are kept in hutches off the ground and their little feet never touch the ground. There aren’t grass stains on their paws.
Back to the tour: we visited the broilers, the cows, the pigs and the layers in our 2 hour tour. We’ll dig deeper into these operations as the week continues. After the tour, Joel was kind enough to sign my copy of his book You Can Farm. I didn’t have a chance to read what he wrote until we arrived back home. Here it is:
Oh yes you can. If you are interested in homesteading, check out the Homestead Barn Hop where you can discover people pursuing their dreams of living a simpler life. Click here for Part 2 of the Polyface Tour. Leave me a comment below or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list (upper right hand corner of this page), become a fan on Facebook and follow me at Twitter. Happy gardening!