Enter Michael Kilpatrick.
Kilpatrick, of the eponymous Kilpatrick Family Farm, is already an accomplished farmer in his own right. Kilpatrick Farm is one of the largest vendors at the Saratoga Springs Farmers’ Market, as well as the Glens Falls Farmers’ market. The young farmer’s thriving business offers consumers over 50 vegetables – everything from artichoke to watermelon – throughout the year. Their focus is entirely organic, as the farm openly pledges on their website not to use chemical insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, fertilizers, or genetically modified seeds to meet or exceed National Organic Standards.
Yet at only 25 years old, Michael jumped at the rare opportunity to work side-by-side with renowned organic farmer Joel Salatin during a four-month-long apprenticeship at Salatin’s Polyface Farms in Riverheads, Virginia.
Salatin is the author of books such as “You Can Farm” and “Salad Bar Beef.” Polyface farms have been featured in the documentary film “Food, Inc.” He is considered at the forefront of the organic movement, and his holistic approach to animal farming he considers “beyond organic.” His farm offers apprenticeships to a select few individuals each year.
“It was an awesome experience,” Kilpatrick recalls. “Joel works just as hard as we do while on the farm. He was out as early in the morning as we were. He worked as late as we would, sometimes later. He’s an incredibly hard worker and an incredibly positive person. He never really let anything negative affect him, and I think that it’s important as a leader to stay positive.”
According to Kilpatrick, the farmers were looking for individuals more suited to working together in a farm environment than someone with lots of farming experience. It just so happened to be Kilpatrick’s good fortune to possess both.
“Most people thought ‘Oh, they’re looking for farmers to come here,’ which wasn’t true,” recalls Kilpatrick. “They were looking for attitude. They were looking for people who could adapt quickly, for instance if the weather changed suddenly and a storm arrived and you have to bring the hay in. So being able to adapt, but also being able to listen well was important. They wanted positive attitudes and people who were open to different ideals.”
Considering that Joel Salatin openly refers to himself as a “Christian Libertarian environmental capitalist lunatic farmer,” one could begin to see why an even demeanor would be such a prerequisite.
“Life at Polyface is not easy,” said Kilpatrick. “There are 16 hour days and 100 degree heat. You’re going to be with a bunch of other people and are going to have to get along with them, and you kind of need those even-keeled, easy-going types.”
Kilpatrick shared his story during a November 29 lecture presentation at Fifty South Restaurant in Ballston Spa, which was accompanied by a meal of farm-fresh organic ingredients by the restaurant’s executive chef and owner, Kim Klopstock. The standing room only lecture covered much of what Kilpatrick learned in his time at Salatin’s farm, while touching on how he could use that back home.
“We believe local food changes communities and heals the land,” said Kilpatrick. “Our goal as a farm is to change the way the community eats, to change the way our region eats.”
Kilpatrick estimates that about seven people will be selected for the next stay at Polyface out of over 200 eager, qualified applicants. He himself was one of nine selected out of about 100.
“Percentage wise, it’s harder to get accepted to Polyface than it is to Harvard,” joked Kilpatrick. “I went to an elite school.”
While Polyface farms focuses more on sustainable animal farming, Kilpatrick Farms is more of a vegetable farm throughout the year. So, how can they help each other? Kilpatrick explained that vegetable farming is very hard on the soil, and depletes the nutrients over time. Sustainable animal farming can be used as a way to heal the land over time.
“Did you know an acre of grass will grow more insect protein than beef? That’s rather remarkable. So they have chickens eating the fly larvae [from cow pies] and the cows eating the grass.”
Most cows are fed grain by non-organic farmers in attempts to fatten them up quicker for slaughter. With the chicken eating fly larvae, it prevents the use of insecticides, which allows the cows to eat what their bodies can naturally digest, grass. This method also heals soil, as cows produce their nutrient rich manure for fertilizer.
Polyface has grown from 110 cows in the 1960s to over 1,000 this past year alone. They also process anywhere from 1,500 to 2,000 chickens every three weeks. Using this method has garnered the farm lots of praise for the quality of both poultry and beef.
While known for his farming, Joel Salatin is also an accomplished author, which Kilpatrick credits certain insight into the way food is produced and why changes are so necessary.
“Joel has an 80-page consumer guide called ‘Holy Cows and Hog Heaven,’ which is a quick-read and goes over what the food system is now and what to look for if you’re trying to change the way you eat. His latest book just came out last month in paperback called ‘Folks, This Ain’t Normal,’ and that goes into even greater detail. It’s funny, it makes you think and it pulls a ton of information together and really points out what is wrong with America’s food supply right now.”
Kilpatrick Farms is available at the Saratoga Farmers’ Market, as well as the Glens Falls Farmers’ Market. They also offer what’s called a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. In a CSA, you pay a farmer ahead of time to buy seeds, equipment and hire workers. The farmers get to work and every week, farm fresh produce is delivered to you directly from the farmer.
Kilpatrick credits his family above all in helping him succeed as a farmer at such an early stage of his life. He said his family’s encouragement that he could do anything inspired his attempt to change the way people eat. He adds that the local farming community has also been helpful.
“The different mentors in this area have been so helpful. I mentioned Paul Arnold in my lecture but he was one of our farming mentors from day one. He shared every secret he knew, and he’s direct competition for us at the market. There have been so many people who have helped me along the way.”