The Farm of Many Faces: Bruscos Trip to Polyface Farms

At the end of June, Tony, Abby, and the Brusco kids headed down to Swoope, VA to visit Polyface Farm and learn about the sustainable farming practices that have been revolutionizing the organic and local food industries in recent years. The Bruscos have recently purchased a 30-acre farm outside of Frederick, MD, and they hope to implement the highest standards in sustainable farming as a model for and in line with our many fellow Harvesters.

Many of you will probably recognize Joel Salatin, owner of Polyface Farm, as the farmer from the film Food, Inc. (and in fact, that film probably inspired many of you to seek out our delivery service to begin with).

Joel Salatin

Joel Salatin gives the Bruscos a tour of the sustainable rotation practices at Polyface (in the rain).

Though it was a rainy day on the farm, the Bruscos were able to see how Polyface cares for its pigs, steers, and chickens, as well as use integrated animal/crop management. Salatin says that he was able to “heal the land” on his farm without ever planting a single grass seed or applying any chemical fertilizers, instead managing the harmony of animals and plants.

Tony was especially impressed by the management of the pigs and chickens. Because his new farm in Frederick has several wooded acres, he was pleased to see that he would be able to follow Salatin’s model of setting up large paddocks in the woods for pigs to root around and discover as they do naturally. One thing that was missing from the Polyface pig setup? The smell.

They were just a few feet away, and yet there was no smell (or very little).  This is compared to a ‘traditional’ farm, where whenever I had to get in the pig pen to do something, my wife could smell me from a mile away and I always had to shower as soon as I was finished with the pigs.

The chickens were no different. Out in the fields were “mobile chicken houses” designed to give the birds a place to lay eggs and shelter at night from roaming foxes and other predators, but complete freedom during the day. The wheels of the houses make it easy for them to be moved to new locations every few days, allowing the chickens to clear out the bugs and fertilize a new stretch of field.

Chicken house on wheels

Mobile chicken houses give birds freedom with protection from predators.

Another method used at Polyface for chickens are the “tractors” that are moved along each day to fertilize and clear bugs in more targeted areas. Using a pattern of carefully positioned tractors, the broiler chickens are given safety and plenty of space as they help to gradually prepare a field for the next round of grazing steer. This is known as “mob grazing”.

Chicken tractors

The chicken “tractors” are lined up to slowly fertilize the grass and clear bugs–eliminating the need for pesticides and fertilizers.

In just a few short days, the chickens will have moved on from the field and the grasses will be ready for the next group of steers to come and feast on, bug-free, fertilizer-free, and pesticide-free.

Grazing grass

Lush, diverse grass to feed the steers, full of the nutrients they need to avoid medicines and processed feed, resulting in a high-quality meat and a good quality of life.

It’s a good life for the animals at Polyface Farm, and it’s what Tony & Abby hope to bring to Frederick alongside many of our established Harvester partners who already farm this way. It’s not just good for the animals; it’s good for the people who get to enjoy higher quality products. It’s also good for the land and surrounding land, streams, and other wildlife.

But is it good for the farmer? Tony points out that by eliminating the need for costly chemical pesticides, fertilizers, and feeds, the farmer can save a significant amount of money. Using mobile chicken houses and tractors cuts down on the overhead of buildings and expensive large farm equipment that put farmers into debt.

It’s also a much safer environment for families. The Bruscos are raising two kids (as are many of our Harvesters), and the added comfort in knowing there are less dangers on the farm from big equipment or toxic chemicals is worth a lot. Tony hopes to be able to bring our Hometown families out to tour his farm in the near future, so the safety benefit of a fully sustainable farm is very appealing, too.

“Closer to nature” is not only a good principle when selecting foods to feed your family. Tony says it best, that “sometimes managing something well is knowing when to stay out of the way.”

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