At FBF we’re big fans of starmers. It’s true, some have mocked the term starmer in the past, and maybe we can understand how the marriage of words as mismatched as “star” and “farmer” might deserve a bit of mockery. Yet this trepidation to accept the buzzword probably has far more to do with the public’s view of farming as a profession than the absurdity of the neologism itself.
For decades our nation has ridiculed farmers. In a recent New York Magazine interview, Michael Pollan explains to Adam Platt how this prevailing sentiment pervades our culture at the expense of our well-being. Pollan says that farming is “a profession that we have denigrated for a hundred years in this culture—farmers have been the butt of jokes, and there was a deliberate effort to shrink the population of farmers by taking the smart kids off of farms.”
According to Pollan, the shrewd and discerning were weeded out from the farm and encouraged to flourish at college in far-off cities, while the taciturn and dim dwindled, withering alongside untended crops in the country. Perhaps this view borders on the extreme, but stereotypes about farmers usually exclude words like progressive or ingenious.
While we sent the pioneering and resourceful away, our society demanded cut-price provisions on a massive scale. We ditched seasonal preferences and demanded avocados, watermelon and clementines year round. Forget starmers, we demanded agriculturists akin to superheros, and, unfortunately for us, they don’t exist.
Though it’s not the fault of our farmers, we all know what this model results in: feedlots, confinement, high fructose corn syrup, ingredient lists as long and unfamiliar as a foreign novel, Mono & Diglyceride and Soy Lecithin Emulsifiers, Tranacanth, Blue # 2 Lake— that’s just a sampling of what you bite into when you devour an Oreo.
The public is reading these ingredient lists and realized that commodity farming isn’t working. A backlash movement has emerged, on a fervent—if maybe a little frenzied—scale. In a sense, we are beginning to remember that farming never stopped being “cool.”
The starmers, like Joel Salatin, were always privy to this fact, poised for the rest of the world to catch on. Salatin, aka the ultimate starmer, is a third-generation “alternative farmer.” Recognized as a thinking man’s farmer, Salatin is one of the first starmers to return intellect back toward farming—or one of the first that the world decided to pay attention to.
Salatin’s agricultural methods and outlook challenge the once prevailing idea that farming should be left to the “simple.” The academic farmer majored in English in college and turned right back around, his brain-force and powers of innovation aimed in the direction of the farm.
To him, each animal comprises an invaluable part of the “land-healing” ministry. Employing a technique known as rotational grazing, he transfers his cows to a fresh field every day in order to respect the grass, and the soil. Salatin identifies the diverse pasture alternatives, as a “salad bar,” marketing his yields as “Salad Bar Beef.”
The cows encompass just the first step in the complex network of grassland therapists, just as rotational grazing is only one among the six “guiding principles” that dictates food production at Salatin’s Polyface Farm.
During whatever free time Salatin manages to muster up, he writes. The expert has authored eight books, and regularly contributes to magazines like Stockman Grass Farmer, Acres USA and Foodshed. This cultivator’s accomplishments surpass that of most academics, so how else could we possibly define him? Salatin is nothing other than a starmer.
Pollan seems to agree with the trend. In the aforementioned New York Magazine interview, he concedes to the starmer movement saying, “Now we have the opposite—the opposite of a brain drain. We have a brain flow going to farms and food work. Some of the smartest people I know are farmers, and chefs, and brewers, and cheesemakers. There’s an incredible amount of brain power going into these food areas.”
Reflecting this progression toward scholarly agriculture, foodieodical Modern Farmer, featured at this year’s Foodieodical event, cleverly considers farming practices like vertical water column shellfish farming and runs feature articles highlighting how seeds could become currency in the post-apocalyptic world.
Modern Farmer reports on the farmer, for the farmer. In their most recent issue, the magazine explored contemporary cattle slaughtering practices. Shedding light on the employees themselves, who operate within the practices in place. With a perspective geared in favor of the farmer, author Mac McClelland writes “while it’s one thing to understand slaughter practices on a theoretical level, its another to be in the same room when a cow dies.” The publication’s grower-skewed perspective serves as a testament to how our culture is slowly adopting a mindset that appreciates farmers as intellectual beings.
Probably our favorite, and the most hilarious evidence of the emerging starmer culture, hails from Switzerland. Calendar company Bauernkalendar offers up annual agendas that feature suggestively posed farmers, in their element. These evocative spreads—available for both men and women, in care you’re interested—are not a joke! In order to qualify, models must actually be farmers, or related to farmers. We certainly know how we’ll mark the passing months of 2014.
The most significant result, however, remains that companies with real influence are taking the hint. With the guidance of Salatin, Chipotle, has started a program where individual farms supply individual locations on a local scale. Although the plan still has room for growth—not all Chipotle locations are locally sourced just yet—it possesses great potential. In various realms of their marketing campaigns the Mexican chain showcases their farmers, in a sense bequeathing them with star power.
It’s about time to celebrate not just statmers, but farmers too. They’re far more interesting and deserving of fame than some other characters gracing the pages of our monthly calendars, after all.