Joel Salatin, farmer and undercover theologian


I first stumbled upon Joel Salatin a couple years ago while I was caught in a Netflix vortex of (trendy) food documentaries. He is featured in the infamous Food Inc., and whatever he said drove me to perform an extensive Google search on his name.

After discovering his farm, Polyface Farm, is located just outside my college town of Harrisonburg, VA and that he refers to himself as a “Christian-libertarian-environmentalist-capitalist-lunatic-Farmer,” I was hopelessly fascinated.

I followed up in my fascination by reading his book Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal, which only fed the fan girl inside me. I decided I must meet this man.

This past May, his name came up in a small group meeting when we were discussing theological stewardship. It was then that I discovered one of the girls had an extra ticket to a sold out Salatin speaking event nearby. Divine intervention.

I showed up at Ellwood Thompson’s Local Market on May 29th with 49 others to see Salatin give a lecture of forgiveness farming. I am proud to say that the slightly-nervous fan girl within mustered up the courage to approach him afterwards and ask him for an interview for the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics blog. And to my flattery, he generously accepted.

Here is part 1 of 3 of my interview with Joel Salatin:

Speaker, writer, and full-time farmer Joel Salatin is one of the most well-known leaders for the local and organic food movement. He has been featured on ABC World News, the award-winning documentary Food Inc., and the New York Times bestseller Omnivore’s Dilemma.

Known for combining humor with common sense, this Virginia farmer brings hands-on experience and expertise to topics covering best farming practices, ecology, environment, and agriculture regulation.

One interesting thing about Salatin that not many people know about is how strongly his convictions as a farmer stem from strong convictions in his Christian faith. He calls himself a “Christian-libertarian-environmentalist-capitalist-lunatic-Farmer,” and he brings a unique perspective to his work in the agriculture industry by viewing both his work and the industry through a theological lens.

Last month, I had the opportunity to meet Salatin at Ellwood Thompson’s Local Market in Richmond, where Salatin gave a lecture on “forgiveness farming.” He was gracious enough to participate in a three-part interview series for our blog.

I first asked Salatin the question about which I was most curious: What is the number one way your Christian faith informs the “libertarian-environmentalist-capitalist-lunatic farmer” in you? The answer comes easy to him: theology of creation. He said:

Creation is an object lesson of spiritual truth. In other words, the way God set things up, physical principles should show, viscerally, what we don’t see spiritually.

Salatin’s faith informs his understanding of creation. Not only has God designed creation to function in an ordered way, but creation is a physical reflection of spiritual truth. To Salatin, this means that creation is redeemable. Our role is to steward God’s creation and participate in Christ’s redemptive narrative of the earth.

Salatin is driven by several principles, which he says are not necessarily in any order:

  1. Healing the earth serves as a fundamental object lesson of God’s healing of our spiritual condition.
  2. Adhere to God’s nature patterns as an indicator of humility and obedience to his plan.
  3. Embrace physical stewardship as a visceral template for how far God’s redemptive capacity stretches.
  4. Appreciate the holistic capacity of life; that sacred and secular, spiritual and physical co-mingle.
  5. Express faithfulness to my King in ambassadorship, to receive the commendation: “Well done, thou Good and faithful servant.
  6. Empower others to become entrepreneurial agrarians with multi-generational family businesses.

His deep understanding of creation theology and holistic stewardship affects every aspect of his farming, from what he feeds his cows to how he distributes his eggs. His faith also influences how he views his overall God-given calling:

My mission statement [is] to develop emotionally, economically, and environmentally enhancing agricultural prototypes and facilitate their duplication throughout the world. Just like James Dobson sees the family in every Bible verse and Larry Burkett saw economics in every Bible verse, I see ecology in every verse.

God gave Salatin a unique gift to understand his pattern and order in creation. As a farmer of faith, he is dedicated to holistic stewardship in order to heal creation for a higher purpose:

Every day I pray, ‘Lord, let me operate this farm exactly like you would if you were here in person.’ It’s a ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ situation, realizing that the land is holy; indeed, all of creation can be sanctified by our interaction with it.

Salatin’s work serves as a living example of man interacting with creation in the way that God intended so that humanity might flourish.

Next week, in part 2 of 3 of this interview series, Salatin will elaborate on what it means to redeem creation on a farm, with a method which he calls “forgiveness farming.”

*This article was originally published at the Creativity. Purpose. Freedom. blog.

Parts 2 and 3 are on the way!



  1. Chuck Ring

    There you are Ms. Elise. An excellent article spread around concepts galore. Our church has a church garden this year with an eye toward making it a community garden.
    We have our own spiritual gardener in Al Humble. A very appropriate name for his person, spirit and attitude. Thank you and Mr. Salatin for being generous and gracious.
    I’m looking forward to more
    Oh, we have suffered through a severe drought here in the High Desert of Central New Mexico. Starting about an hour ago it started to rain, is still raining and although I could describe it in many ways, suffice it to say it has turned into a frog choker.

  2. Elise Amyx

    Thanks Chuck! I think you’ll like the 2nd and 3rd parts of my interview too. He’ll cover more economics and the way how economics and the environment work together (i.e. if we understand creation and ecology, the more productive, efficient, and profitable we will be with the earth’s resources). Not a conversation they’re having on Capitol Hill, that’s for sure. Hope yall get some rain headed your way soon!

  3. Pingback: Forgiveness Farming | Elise Amyx
  4. Pingback: Joel Salatin on Economics, the Environment, and God | Elise Amyx

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