Chickens of the Shenandoah: A Visit to PolyFace Farms

On a recent trip to Charlottesville, the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Shenandoah Valley, NYC Foodscape stumbled upon this menu item at a lovely farm-to-table restaurant named Zynodoa in the historic town of Staunton, Virginia

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Menu from Zynodoa Restaurant, Staunton, Virginia

The name “Polyface Farm” jumped right out at me and I was thrilled that I finally got the opportunity to try one of Joel Salatin’s famous chickens! If you haven’t heard of him, Joel Salatin is the owner/farm of Polyface Farm (“The Farm of Many Faces”) in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. The farm 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 using relationship marketing. Polyface has been featured in numerous radio, television and magazines, including the Smithsonian, National Geographic, Gourmet, and on Peter Jennings’ “Lives of the 21st Century” on ABC World News. Joel Salatin achieved somewhat iconic status when he and his farm was featured in Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma, and in the film, Food, Inc.

Michael Pollan’s account of Salatin’s unconventional farming methods and refusal to send his food anywhere farther than a four-hour drive of his farm held up a standard for organic and local food production that locavores have been trying to live up to ever since Omnivore’s Dilemma was published in 2006. From Wikipedia: “Salatin’s philosophy of farming emphasizes healthy grass on which animals can thrive in a symbiotic cycle of feeding. Cows are moved from one pasture to another rather than being centrally corn fed. Then chickens in portable coops are moved in behind them, where they dig through the cow dung to eat protein-rich fly larvae while further fertilizing the field with their droppings.”

The chicken was seriously delicious–clearly fresh, pastured-raised as described and full of rich meaty chicken flavor.

The next day, I was even more thrilled to learn from the proprietors of the Frederick House, our bed and breakfast, that Polyface Farms was less than 15 miles outside of Staunton and that drop-ins were welcomed. So my husband and I couldn’t resist a stopover at the farm, with the hope of meeting the famous farmer that helped set a movement in motion.

We spent about an hour and a half at the farm–sadly, we missed Joel, but met his son, Ben and got to catch the last of the day’s 250 chickens being dressed from the morning slaughter. We bought a chicken, eggs and some pork to take to our next destination, where a barbecue was planned. A bucket list item in food system definitely checked off!

Photo Tour of PolyFace Farm
Here’s a photo tour of our visit to one of the local food movement’s most famous farms.

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Polyface Farms’ high tunnel with tomatoes
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Freshly killed piglet for home consumption
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Laying straw to dry floor
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Dressing the 250 fresh-killed chickens (one to go!)
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Not Joel, but a Salatin–Ben
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Freshly dressed chickens–one of them is ours
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Another high tunnel
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Very fresh eggs
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Garlic
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Grapevines
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Vines close up
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More high tunnels
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Bee hives
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A farm staffer (or is that Joel?)
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More tunnels
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My rooster with the roosters
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Sows
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Baby pigs!
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Little piggies!
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Hay barn
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Chicken coop
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Miscellaneous farm equipment
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Fans of the farm
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Press about the farmer
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Goodbye Polyface, mit chicken

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