Veganic Farming & Agroecology
Our food systems are no strangers to change as technological adoption of agricultural machines, artificial fertilizers and pesticides, hybrid seeds, and genetically modified seeds continue to drive productivity increases in how we grow our food. However, certain externalities can remain unforeseen and challenge whether we are indeed progressing. Genetically engineered seeds, for instance, have resulted in a loss of seed sovereignty, placing many farmers into debt, while continuously escalating high-input monoculture farming leads to biodiversity loss.
This chapter from the 2021 book Rethinking Food and Agriculture, is entitled “Social movements in the transformation of food and agriculture systems.” It discusses how lately, the voices of those who see our current food systems as highly unsustainable have become more vocal. Advocates point to the food system’s major roles in exacerbating environmental problems such as insect collapse or wildfires, not to mention the manifold human issues and animal exploitation involved in conventional practices.
The proposed way forward — agroecology, can be summarized as:
- A scientific research-based approach;
- A set of principles and practices that enhance resilience and sustainability while preserving social integrity;
- A sociopolitical movement.
When various forms of agriculture are compared, the voices of small farmers are typically ignored, whereas small-scale veganic farmers – organic farmers who avoid animal inputs, are even further marginalized. This is akin to vegans who often learn to censor themselves in certain ways. The author includes the following example to put the issue into perspective: while the expressed dismay and condemnation towards violence against dogs by omnivores is hailed, a similar expression by a vegan towards protecting the wellbeing of cows will get them labeled as judgmental or extreme. This results in many vegans feeling the need to augment their arguments with a broader spectrum of considerations, often including human health and the environment. In a similar way, veganic farmers represent an “extreme” version of agriculture, one where no animal is exploited.
Typically, in the promotion of ecological farming, a vision of agroecology and sustainability that legitimizes animal exploitation is perpetuated. The use of animals is a common denominator in the validation of small-scale forms of agriculture. It doesn’t even have to be explicit — animal husbandry is usually just accepted as the default mode of operation even when it is not the central focus of a given agricultural system. This chapter claims that the false dichotomy between manure and synthetic fertilizers illustrates the struggle between ecological and industrial farming well. Here, veganism is often placed in the latter camp. “Like a diet without milk, agriculture without cows is missing something,” the author describes. Veganic farmers have not been allowed visibility in the broader ecological farming and environmental contexts, even where they are present and active.
Nowadays animal agriculture is increasingly portrayed as necessary and beneficial for a system to be sustainable. In this case, the message of one social movement (sustainability) has served to discount that of another (animal welfare). In the plight against corporate agriculture, veganism came out as incompatible with sustainable agriculture, strengthening the position of regenerative grazing proponents. Although wild animals are typically rendered invisible in such ecosystems, grazing advocates have succeeded in spreading their message alongside agroecology. In contrast to hunting or displacing wildlife that may compete with typical agricultural operations, veganic farming allows previously farmed areas to be rewilded to form wildlife corridors, regenerate fragile ecosystems and halt deforestation. This is all thanks to the fact that in such a system, one can grow the same amount of food on less land. Such a vision, sought by biointensive growers, frees up as much land as possible to give nature enough space. Also, the author highlights that veganic farming does not exclude having animals in our ecosystems, in fact, biodiversity on such lands is increased.
Current veganic, also known as ‘vegan organic’ and ‘stock-free’, farms represent a movement still in its infancy. The farms themselves vary in size, but at the moment most in North America fall in between small and medium scale, while their commercial output is mostly limited to local markets. Some veganic farms swap out animal-based fertilizers such as manure and bloodmeal for plant-based inputs such as mustard meal. Others use self-produced compost and focus on building soil fertility, aiming for entirely self-sufficient systems that do not rely on external inputs. Although veganic labelling is not yet widespread, it does exist in certain places, with schemes started in the U.K. and Cyprus as the two noteworthy examples. However, as consumers start requesting veganic products, labelling will surely pick up speed and reflect a growing demand.
The focus of this type of book chapter is to bring about a new ethic to the food movement, one that will become normative as our society widens its circle of compassion. The author argues that we must reclaim our food systems should we seriously attempt to end our own oppression and prevent ecosystem collapse.
Animal advocates will be pleased to learn that more people are encouraged to discover and study vegan organic farming. Removing animal exploitation from our food production systems will gain ever more credibility when evidence-backed alternatives are put forth. Furthermore, the importance of empowering peasant, women, and indigenous farmers all around the world should not be understated when looking for ways to feed growing populations and heal our ecosystems without animal exploitation.