Fields of Farmers – Let’s Start the Conversation with Joel and Daniel Salatin

As 2012, “The Year of the Farmer”, came to a close, the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ latest insights into the country’s ageing farming population tells an urgent and cautionary tale that was largely overlooked.

Critical Human Succession

Today the average Australian farmer is 53 years old (with 25% over 65) and the issue of ‘structural aging’ (Barr, 2012) confirms that the next five to ten years will be critical in terms of the succession planning that determines who will manage and control the production of Australia’s domestic food supply as well as the $32.5 billion farm export market that has contributed so significantly to the economy.

With farm businesses becoming increasingly more complex, moving away from traditional farming practices toward business management, and with the worldwide need for farm outputs to grow by an estimated 70% by 2050, these farming businesses face significant challenges in ensuring that the current generation will want to succeed them.

The big questions

With over 93,000 farming families in Australia, long working hours and predominantly a self-employed labour force, the importance of succession planning for family businesses is key. Whilst large corporations spend much time grooming successors to ensure continuity of business and profitability, the decisions that face the majority of Australia’s farm businesses are often much more complex.

The big questions are:

  • Do you want to have our agricultural landscapes bereft of multi-generations of families?
  • Do you want to see agriculture become a mostly corporate, non-family pursuit?
  • Do you believe in a truly regenerative and invigorating future for agriculture in Australia and across the world?

A difficult topic

Research performed by Bendigo-based HeenanDoherty shows that one of the most difficult topics to discuss in a family is succession. Darren Doherty said “We continue to hear the ‘war stories’ and bitter break-ups resulting in yet another bright productive land steward leaving not only the district but also their family, usually for town or a mine.”

Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms says “I’ve watched guys my age inherit farms in their 20s and lose them in 10 years. I’ve watched innumerable guys my age who really would like to have stayed on the farm but didn’t. And I’ve watched lots and lots of parents of my parent’s generation who had children and none of them are on the farm.”

Clearly the topic of succession is more difficult for the majority of today’s farmers than studying the terrain, putting in a new dam, where to put a laneway or shelterbelt and so on. Darren Doherty says “We believe that starting the conversation is the hardest part and that’s where our Virginian friends come in as they are pretty adept at the art, not afraid to delve in deeply but politely, and are uniquely experienced to provide the example of how to come out the other side.”

Cultural impact

“As a culture, we have this idea that we send kids off to school to get as smart as they can be to go 1,000 miles away from home to earn enough money to put us in nursing care when we get old. My vision is I just want to age and have the grandchildren fighting over who is going to get granddad for a day. Wouldn’t that be neat?” says Joel Salatin.

Doherty continues “It’s not just about dealing with things after you are gone. It’s about dealing with things now — about engaging in root causes of why we have all of these problems”. Joel Salatin is not just talking Intergenerational Succession strategies but also Farm Enterprise Planning, Complementary Marketing, ‘AgriPreneurialism’, Land Access and Scaling.

Agriculture needs to be talked up, not down, and no more so than at the kitchen tables and in the paddocks. The psychological brunt that afflicts young people by the broad bashing of agriculture as a career and lifestyle is telling even when we have record numbers of people globally today wanting to leave cities and take up an agrarian pursuit, so much so that these ‘tree changers’ now contribute in many areas more economically to rural economies than do professional agriculturalists (HeenanDoherty).

Addressing the gap

Joel Salatin the ‘World’s Most Innovative Farmer’ (Time Magazine), along with his son Daniel Salatin, will be addressing this topic in a special one day workshop being presented in Canberra titled, ‘Fields of Farmers: The Next (re) Generation’. HeenanDoherty is presenting this event, with both Lisa Heenan and Darren Doherty having been deeply affected by poor farm succession decision-making which makes this issue very close to their hearts and minds.

There has never been a better time to start this conversation. There are many people already on this road and the Fields of Farmers forum will provide a great opportunity to discuss your concerns with others.

Take action today!

Mark your spot in Canberra on 24 February 2013 for this life-changing event. Led by one of the world’s most successful father and son agricultural partnerships these workshops promise to change people’s lives and the landscapes they manage for the better. Bring your family or bring your mates. Don’t come alone as this is too important to go it alone: it doesn’t work that way and if it has up to now then that’s needs to change….

About Joel Salatin (USA)

Joel Salatin, 54, is a full-time farmer in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. A third generation alternative farmer, he returned to the farm full-time in 1982 and continued refining and adding to his parents’ ideas.

He holds a BA degree in English and writes extensively in magazines such as Stockman Grass Farmer, Acres USA, and American Agriculturist.

The family’s farm, Polyface Inc., “The Farm of Many Faces”, has been featured in Smithsonian Magazine, National Geographic, Gourmet, and countless other radio, television and print media. Profiled on the Lives of the 21st Century series with Peter Jennings on ABC World News, his after-broadcast chat room fielded more hits than any other segment to date. It achieved iconic status as the grass farm featured in the New York Times bestseller Omnivore’s Dilemma by food writer guru Michael Pollan.

A sought-after conference speaker, he addresses a wide range of issues, from “creating the farm your children will want” to “making a white collar salary from a pleasant life in the country.” A wordsmith, he describes his occupation as “mob-stocking herbivorous solar conversion lignified carbon sequestration fertilization.” His humorous and conviction-based speeches are akin to theatrical performances, often receiving standing ovations.

He has authored nine books, four of them how-to types:

  • Pastured Poultry Profits: Net $25,000 in 6 months on 20 Acres
  • Salad Bar Beef
  • You Can Farm: The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Start and Succeed in a Farming Enterprise
  • Family Friendly Farming: A Multi-Generational Home-Based Business Testament
  • Holy Cows and Hog Heaven: The Food Buyer’s Guide to Farm Friendly Food (an attempt to bring producers and patrons together in mutual understanding and appreciation
  • Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal: War stories from the local food front
  • You Can Farm: The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Start and Succeed in a Farming Business
  • The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer
  • and – his latest – Folks, This Ain’t Normal: A Farmer’s Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World.

His speaking and writing reflect dirt-under-the-fingernails experience punctuated with mischievous humor. He passionately defends small farms, local food systems, and the right to opt out of the conventional food paradigm.

His mother Lucille, wife Teresa, daughter Rachel, son Daniel, daughter-in-law Sheri, grandsons Travis and Andrew, and granddaughter Lauryn, work full-time together on the family farm.

About Daniel Salatin (USA)

Daniel Salatin is the son of Joel and Teresa Salatin, and is the Manager of Polyface Farms Inc. As the third generation on Polyface farm in Swoope, Virginia, he has grown up in the family business.

Polyface services more than 5,000 families, 10 retail outlets, and 50 restaurants through on-farm sales and metropolitan buying clubs with salad bar beef, pastured poultry, eggmobile eggs, pigaerator pork, forage-based rabbits, pastured turkey and forestry products through relationship marketing.

A self-confessed ‘home school drop-out’, Daniel was always going to be a great regenerative farmer, having gone from carrying freshly processed chickens while in nappies, to running and over-seeing the day-to-day workings of Polyface. As a seven-year old he started a pastured rabbit enterprise, which has had its ups and downs but continues today. Starting the rabbit business gave him first hand experience with marketing, processing, research and development, and the costs of a new business. Today Daniel is fully employed by the farm and spends his days orchestrating animal movement, scheduling daily tasks and apprentice training. At thirty-one, Daniel is married to wife Sheri Salatin and has two sons Travis and Andrew and one daughter Lauryn.

About Darren Doherty (Australia)

Darren J. Doherty, 44, is a 5th generation Bendigo farmer, developer, author and trainer. With extensive international experience in project design, development, management and training, his career focus is on the profitable and regenerative retrofit of broadacre landscapes. As a result, Darren has been acclaimed as a pioneer in the important, and often overlooked, Regenerative Agriculture field.

Darren has been involved in the design and development of well over 1500, mostly broadacre projects in 44 countries across five continents, ranging from 1 million hectare cattle stations in Australia’s Kimberly region to 110,000 acre Estancias in Patagonia and EcoVillage developments in Tasmania, to Public/Private R&D Agroforestry and Education Projects in Vietnam, Novel AG Machinery development plus family farms across the globe for a range of private, corporate, government and non-profit clients.

A true ‘integrationist’, Darren conceived the Keyline® Design, Carbon Farming, Carbon Economy and Regenerative Agriculture (along with RegenAG®) course series across Europe, North and South America and Oceania. This broad experience underpins an international reputation plus an enviable and expansive network including Darren’s alumni of over 5000 people at the cutting edge of the movement towards regenerative agriculture and living systems.

Darren is the originator of the Regen10 process, which outlines a strategic and logical process to the development of regenerative agricultural systems, central to which is ‘IntegriPasture’, an integrated framework for managing multiple species as well as localised pastoral processing, logistics and marketing.

Darren is married to Lisa Heenan and together they have three children, Isaebella (19), Pearl (12) and Zane (10). Darren and Isaebella are both Directors of HeenanDoherty Pty. Ltd, a family business delivering consulting, events, development, AG products and multi-award winning media from the family farm, ‘Dehesa Felix’, in the Bendigo region of central Victoria, Australia.

About Fields of Farmers One Day Canberra Event

  • 24.2.2013 — 1 day workshop with Joel and Daniel Salatin – $140pp.

Bookings at:


Your HeenanDoherty ticket includes a locally sourced morning tea and lunch. This workshop starts at 9am sharp and ends at 4:30pm. Breaks are generous to allow you plenty of time to catch up with old and new friends. You’ll be contacted by email once you’ve made your booking and also close to the event giving any final instructions and information. Joel will be on hand during the breaks to sign books and his latest bestseller, ‘Folks, This Ain’t Normal’ will be available at a special discounted rate.


Manning Clark Centre, Australian National University (ANU), Canberra, ACT


Permaculture eXchange is proud to be partnering with HeenanDoherty to support Joel and Daniel Salatin’s one day event in Canberra. Clients and members of Permaculture eXchange are eligible to receive a 20% discount on tickets for this event.



3 thoughts on “Fields of Farmers – Let’s Start the Conversation with Joel and Daniel Salatin

  1. I know I’ve seen Joel and Darren speak of their reluctance to have Polyface farming associated with any specific group or philosophy, but it seems a no brainer to me that there is mutual benefit to be found somewhere. I think we should be reaching out anyway we can and this article is a great step in that direction. They may have arrived at their conclusions in their own way, but there is no doubt our goals overlap significantly. You can understand anyone’s reluctance to have their message high jacked or owned by another group these days, so maybe we should just start by getting behind them as best we can. The more people who can be challenged to rethink their relationship with their food and the land the more will inevitably find their way to Permaculture anyway. Bravo!

  2. G’day,

    Interesting take on this Ian…I find the ‘finding their way to Permaculture’ statement a little hard to reconcile as its sounds much too religious; too ‘come to the water’ for my liking.

    From 1993 to 2011 our business names have included the word Permaculture and for that time I certainly identified myself as a Permaculturalist. Since then however we (HeenanDoherty) changed our opinion somewhat as it was clear that our world view was fashioned and influenced by multiple methodologies, not just one.

    Furthermore I came up with the concept of ‘uncertified rational’ in which we (HeenanDoherty) became very clear on our decision to not align ourselves with any particular methodology or brand solely, but rather to concentrate on our own brand, that of our ancestors, and continue to explore the world’s best practices and the methodologies & insights that have informed them.

    Permaculture as a design science and as a movement is evolving as are other integrated design sciences and movements and you can call them Permaculture if that is what suits you or you can honour the originators of these insights and accept that a methodological diversity exists, and not be required to be ‘pigeonholed’.

    Having worked closely with Joel since 2008 we’ve grown to become not only associated in business but also as good friends. Having talked about it we know that Joel’s insights are born out of his parents’ wisdom, much of which was born out of either plain practical genius or having stood on the shoulders of others, including Andre Voison, Sir Albert Howard, P.A. Yeomans, Allan Savory and others. The Polyface landscape development for example is largely modelled on Yeomans’ Keyline system in an ‘post Yeomans’ era of plastic pipe.

    I can remember like yesterday standing in Bill Mollison’s library in Tasmania in 2001 asking Bill about what he thought of this book I was holding, “Holistic Resource Management” by Allan Savory, and Bill telling me ‘..that’s complete crap and is destroying Africa…’, hardly the stuff of inclusion and interesting to say the least…

    Permaculture writings for mine, have had significant gaps in terms of dealing with holistic decision making of the sort that Savory (after J.S. Smuts et al) and his Holistic Management colleagues and students have developed since the mid-1970’s. Accordingly people like myself and increasing numbers of others have applied a number of HM principles to their own set, which may or may not have included Permaculture. Interestingly whilst I’ve identified Permaculture as being ‘weak’ in terms of decision making (& financial planning) HM is rather poor when it comes to landscape planning and in applying integrated or ‘holistic’ design principles per se. Permaculture fills some of that role, as do some of the ecological design principles of others such as John & Nancy Jack Todd, Sym Van Der Ryn, George Chan and others.

    I had the honour of teaching a private Keyline Farm Planning course to Australia’s leading Holistic Management Certified Educators a few years back, the decision to invite me was a very clear outcome of a self-reflected, and I would say, very mature application of humility not often found by leaders of any movement, Permaculture included. Their collaborative reflection revealed, in HM parlance, ‘weak links’ and that landscape planning was one of them that they needed to address and in so doing collaboratively acted. This spoke volumes.

    So I agree Ian that its important for us to work together, however for us to so with humility and magnanimity in our hearts and actions as we all strive to do what we can for all of the species and systems of this planet and to do so under whatever terms our free will self-determines.

    Thanks and all the best,

    Darren Doherty

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