Once it clicks and you’re vegan, one thing is clear: animal agriculture is bad, veggies are good. But how are these veggies grown and do plants have feelings too?
One question is easily answered with a “no”, the other needs further research. If a farmer doesn’t raise animals to sell as products, that doesn’t automatically mean he or she doesn’t own and use animals for profit. And if there are no animals on the farm, that doesn’t mean that no animals are used in the production process.
Since humans started farming – allowing them to drop their nomadic lifestyle (a lifestyle which was less popular back then) – they profited from the benefits that domesticated animals gave them. This included not only eating the animals or their secretions, but also using them to work the fields, to fertilise the soil, and for pest control. Much has changed in agriculture since those first farming days. The usage of animals in agriculture remains, although in a highly industrialised version. Manure, for example, is a widely used fertiliser.
Disregarding the animals themselves and the scale of modern farms, using animals in farming might make sense: In an ecosystem, there are plants, the climate and animals. A whole ecosystem is more resilient, productive, and feeds on itself. This is why in many sustainable farming concepts, like permaculture or biodynamic farming, animals are included in the farm plan.
Sadly, since the early farming days, it has all gone downhill and it is clear that what humans have done to animals is neither kind nor sustainable. The good news is, there is a slow but consistent rise in the number of vegans. We no longer want animals to exist merely to serve us. We wish for no animals to be bred into an existence of exploitation and premature death. And as demand rises, new ways emerge.
There is a movement of farmers that have decided to work without animals. What sounds quite simple to most, is a controversial topic in the agricultural circle – even among the most “woke” alternative farmers. Vegan farming means no manure, no animals working, no killing of “pests” … The real challenges of vegan farming are creativity and daring to do farming differently. That it works has been proven as the vegan farmer community is growing and thriving.
Conventional farming practices are a heavy burden to our planet’s health and to our health. Most vegan farmers are a conscious bunch that not only try to lessen the pain for animals but also the negative impact that “modern” farming has on our ecosystems. Agriculture needs to change in order for us to survive, and the more it moves towards vegan farming, the better.
From a permaculturist’s perspective, I have to say though: Small and slow(-ish) steps are great! Farmers are under great financial pressure and often have to aim for where the subsidies are. If a farmer changes from cattle to plant farming, but still uses manure – super! If a biodynamic farmer stops selling milk and meat but still uses some cows for fertilising – go for it! If an urban gardener fertilises his soil with the help of a worm compost – great!
Change needs time, and everyone who is ready to take steps in the right direction is helping.
What can we do as consumers?
– Research: Are there vegan farmers in your area? Are there farmers who are taking small steps in the right direction? Find those farmers and support them by buying from them!
– Speak up: Ask your local farmers if they have considered shifting towards a more animal-free way of farming. Show your interest in vegan farming and spend your money where animals are not exploited. Ask your local eco store/supermarket/food store which farmers they work with and if they would be ready to buy from vegan/vegan-ish farmers.
– Get political: If you have the chance to vote for any farming laws, don’t miss out on it. Take part in petitions or start your own. Demand changes in law/legislation!
– Educate yourself: Learn about food production, supply chains, the subsidies system, etc.
As a permaculturist and soon-to-be farmer, my personal favourite solution, for now, is the combination of vegan agriculture and animal sanctuary. I see the positives of creating an abundant ecosystem, animals included. And I see an opportunity to help animals that are already here, to give them a second chance. My vision is to create a space where plant food grows abundantly and a couple of rescued animals live out their lives, roaming happily among the plants.
The clickbait title mirrors my thoughts: there is no black and white in vegan agriculture, it comes in different shades. What ties it all together is the common goal to stop using animals. And in this interconnected, globalised world, we all play our parts: As farmers, as consumers, as politicians, and as human animals.