By Maggie Rogers
Joel Salatin defines himself as a “Christian libertarian environmentalist capitalist lunatic” (142), and Folks This Ain’t Normal justifies each of these descriptors. Throughout his book he gives a fair amount of life advice, numerated at the end of each chapter. I appreciated this because although some of his writing reads like an angry old tea partier ranting about the government, he does make a few good points about entitlement and a lack of resiliency in our society.
I think the extent to which Salatin aligns himself with the founding fathers is very interesting. For example, he asks “What happened to Jefferson’s intellectual agrarian dream” (241). He makes it very clear that he considers himself to be an intellectual, describing elitist visitors to the farm praising him for being so articulate. He recounts high school guidance counselor as having the gall to discourage his desire to farm because it would be a waste of a college degree. He also name drops University speaking engagements throughout the book.
Salatin also compares himself to Jefferson in more tangible ways, such as their shared love of water cisterns. He claims that Jefferson had as many water cisterns as possible constructed at Monticello, as Salatin does at Polyface Farm. Salatin uses this as a point of departure to discuss water policy preventing homeowners to hold rain water on their own property. These policies are most common in the western United States, especially along the Colorado River where water is scarce and water politics are a high tension topic. Salatin does not approach the issue from a larger standpoint, but as his values dictate, only from the point of view of a single person being unjustly prevented from doing what he wants on his own land.
Jefferson is not the only founding father that Salatin venerates. He quotes large passages from Benjamin Franklin as well. He relates the passages to the idea of the American dream, claiming that the founding fathers did not value wealth but rather saw farming the embodiment of American virtue. Salatin claims that because by farming an individual works to build up their wealth it is different than European society where wealth is passed down. What I fail to understand is how Salatin sees the next generation. A post-colonial farmer who has amassed a fair amount of property and formed a productive farm will surely pass it along to his son, who then has considerable unearned wealth compared to a recent immigrant pursuing their own American dream.
I find Salatin joining himself with the founding fathers problematic in two ways. First, it is narcissistic compare your radical way of living with actual revolutionaries. There is a wide gap between moving chickens around in a pasture and starting a war for independence against the most powerful government on the Earth. Second, and in a way in contradiction to the first issue, the founding fathers had a lot of issues Salatin does not acknowledge such as sexism and racism so engrained in early American institutions that we are still battling its effects. Joel Salatin may be a lot of things, but his discussion of the founding fathers shows that slightly ignorant narcissist can be added to the list.