Veganic Farming and Gardening
Animals and animal products are not necessary for the cultivation of plant foods. None of the nutrients required for soil fertility originate in animals; they come from plants. In nature, plants keep the soil fertile. Plants cycle carbon and nitrogen from the air, and some specialized plants bring nutrients to the surface via long taproots. When the leaves, branches and roots of these plants decompose in the soil, the nutrients are then available to other plants as a form of nourishment. The nutrients in animal manures also come from plants, or plant-based feeds, that the animals have ingested. (1)
Although the notion of growing crops without the use of animals or animal products is unfamiliar to many people, there is nothing novel about it. For centuries, farmers did not rely solely on animal manures to grow crops, because there were not enough domestic animals available to produce that much manure. In fact there is a long history of the use of plant-based, “green manures” in Chinese, Greek and Roman agricultures. (2) Though this technique did not begin to gain attention in North America until around the mid-1800s, green manuring is an important part of many farming operations concerned with sustainability, and is fundamental to veganic agriculture.
Veganic agriculture is an approach to growing food that is designed to produce plant foods for humans without causing intentional harm to animals. Unlike conventional farming methods, it is beneficial for the environment and for ecosystems. Also known as “stockfree,” “vegan organic,” and “plant-based” farming, veganic agriculture avoids all artificial chemical products (synthetic fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides, growth regulators), genetically modified organisms (GMOs), animal manures and slaughterhouse by-products. Both conventional and organic farming methods rely heavily on animal products. Conventional farmers use manure from factory farms and confinement operations, and organic growers, who avoid chemical fertilizers, use farm and slaughterhouse animal by-products as fertilizers, including manure, blood meal, bone meal, feather meal, and fish emulsion. Even on organic farms, these by-products often come from feedlots and large-scale confinement operations where the animals suffer horribly, emotionally as well as physically from illnesses caused by filth, neglect, abuse and crowded conditions.
The manure from many of these animals carries intestinal and parasitic diseases, and often contains antibiotic residues. Cows frequently harbor E.coli 0157:H7 in their intestines, and this can be transmitted to vegetables via application of manure, as has been seen in e.coli outbreaks in humans from consumption of tainted produce. (3) Veganic agriculture eliminates dependence on animals for fertilizer, grazing or any other input, by using plant-based techniques to promote soil fertility. These methods include:
and any other techniques that are sustainable and don’t depend upon exploitation of animals.
Veganic agriculture is far more sustainable than conventional growing methods, for several reasons. By producing their own sources of fertilizer directly on the farm, veganic growers reduce dependence on fossil fuels and toxic chemicals. They also use land more efficiently. Farmers who rely on cows (whether their own or others) for fertilizer require much more land than those who use veganic techniques for soil fertility. And as the human population increases, dependence on animals for food will require more forests being cleared and wildlife habitats destroyed in order to create yet more room for grazing and for growing livestock feed. It takes far less land to grow crops directly for human consumption. And unlike conventional farming techniques which deplete the soil (as does grazing), veganic techniques replenish and improve the nutrient content of soil, promoting not only short-term but long-term fertility.
Finally, whereas millions of animals are killed every year to protect conventional agriculture via traps, poisons, pesticides, and other licensed forms of extermination, veganic farming practices actually encourage wildlife, and restore biodiversity of plants and animals, by creating habitats. Promoting diverse plant, animal and insect species means it is less likely that any single species will take hold and cause crop damage. Techniques such as companion planting, beetle banks and hedge cultivation can be used to maintain the balance of potentially competing animals. Veganic growers are committed to the care of the wild ecology that surrounds and makes up their farmland.
If you’d like to get a better idea of what veganic farming looks like, the following half-hour video is a wonderful demonstration of all of these principles and practices at work.
It’s important to raise awareness that we can grow all the food we need without exploiting or harming animals, and to let people know that veganic agriculture is not only feasible and more sustainable, but that it has been practiced successfully on a commercial scale for over 20 years in the UK, and for more than a decade in the US. Check out Tolhurst Organic Produce in Oxfordshire, England, and Huguenot Street Farm in New Paltz, NY. You can also find a directory of North American veganic farms at the Veganic Agriculture Network website. Additionally, the Veganic Agriculture Network provides extensive information on veganic growing principles, techniques, and resources for anyone interested in veganic gardening or farming.
Stockfree Organic Services welcomes questions from farmers and growers who are already stockfree/veganic, or who are considering converting to this method.
More web resources on veganic farming and gardening:
Vegan Agriculture Network
Stockfree Organic Services
Beginner’s Guide to Veganic Gardening
Vegan and vegan-friendly farm communities list on Economads
An informative interview with vegan permaculturalist, Graham Burnett
Plants For a Future—a resource center for plants used in vegan-organic permaculture
Learn about Veganic Farming on Wikipedia
Going Green International
Some quick info about veganic methods
Veganic Permaculture and Forest Gardening
For a list of good books on veganic growing practices, click here.
(1) Veganic Agriculture Network, Veganic Fertility: Growing Plants from Plants
(2) Pieters, Adrian J. Green Manuring Principles and Practice
(3) Aibrams-McHenry, Mailbeth, Is It Time for a Plant-Based Agriculture?