Friday, 15 January, 2016
“Grow Green Protein: farm plants, not animals” was the message we took to the Oxford Real Farming Conference in the UK this week. Your Senior Policy Officer Amanda Baker reports.
Over one thousand farmers, researchers, policy-makers and activists gathered in Oxford, UK, for the annual British farming debate. For the first time Amanda Baker was there representingand your vegan views. We promoted ‘Grow Green’, our campaign that is lobbying governments to support farmers who wish to move away from farming animals. ‘Grow Green’ focuses on subsidies that governments pay to farmers, and on green protein crops: plants grown for their seeds, such as peas and beans. Hundreds of members have already emailed their MPs about the Grow Green campaign but if you have not yet done so, please join the action here.
Our argument is that farming green protein is good for our health, our farmers and our countryside, as well as a key part of ending human (ab)use of non-humans. There is a huge market for plant milks, creams and cheeses based on pulses, nuts, grains and seeds (such as peas, hazelnuts, oats and hemp) which all grow in the UK. We need farmers to grow these crops, so we can make these delicious vegan-friendly foods.
Building links with the ORFC and promoting vegan farming
The Oxford Real Farming Conference (ORFC) launched in 2010, to move beyond what they call the ‘Establishment’ agriculture of the long-running Oxford Farming Conference (OFC). Real farming, they say, is not vast fields of wheat but so called ‘poly-cultures’ of different crops which need fewer costly inputs, and rely more on the skills of the farmers and growers. The UK has some of the largest farms in Europe, where Real Farming envisages a patchwork of small and medium size local farms. Real Farmers also seek ways to sell their produce to local people, who are empowered to appreciate the quality of the harvests.
Vegan farming without domesticated animals is a kind of ‘agro-ecology’; roughly, farming which supports the natural world. This is the focus of the ORFC which complements our own position on vegan farming, a key part of our work. The farming of animals is a major way in which we humans (ab)use our non-human friends. Farming free of domesticated animals – ‘livestock’ – is also known as ‘stock-free’ farming.
At the ORFC, different kinds of farmers such as organic, permaculture, arable, ‘livestock’, stock-free, market garden, tenants and owners, converge. Most of the ORFC delegates agree with us that the feeding of farmed animals on plant-based food which could easily be fed to humans is bad practice. Because of my work in Public Relations for , as well as my personal interest in vegan allotment growing, I was already on good terms with a number the speakers and delegates that ORFC. We share a vision of skilled farmers growing a rainbow mixture of crops with environmentally friendly methods such as building soil fertility with special plants called ‘green manures’.
Farming and flooding
Farming is a tough and risky business. Some homes in Cumbria, UK, have been flooded three times in the past 10 years, due to extreme flood water levels which were only seen once in the previous one hundred years. Scientists at the UK Met Office say that our greenhouse gas emissions have made extreme wet weather seven times more likely, when winter storms come back-to-back to the UK. To reduce floodwater levels in towns and villages, we need to help the rainwater soak into the ground up in the hills. Studies in Wales have looked at moving away from farming sheep in the hills, and planting native broadleaf trees for agroforestry instead. This transition from grazing to trees helps 67 times more rainwater soak into the soil. However, the European Common Agricultural Policy still pays farmers to keep hills treeless, and often, to farm sheep uneconomically.
We are campaigning hard for farmers to be supported in the difficult transition to farming without exploiting animals, which will help communities threatened by climate change as well as non-humans themselves.
We want our money to go to the farmers who are helping, not harming. Everyone needs nutritious food at affordable prices. This means more of our money needs to go to crop farmers directly. At the moment, farmers in the UK only receive £1 in every £5 that we spend on food.
Building closer links between farmers and nearby communities is really important. Such Community Supported Agriculture scheme are becoming more common – you may already have a local vegetable box delivery or a local farmers market., for example Farmers who are linked to communities can then grow suitable crops wanted and needed by local people, as well as helping to provide crops for fuel, fibre, medicine, building and all other needs.
Supporting farmers who wish to move away from ‘livestock’ farming is also part of the solution to many climate change challenges. We are building links with other groups – such as the Vegan Organic Network – that are calling for farming that is good for humans, non-humans and our shared planet.
Put simply, better farming is vital to end the exploitation of non-humans. One key way you can help is by emailing your MP about our Grow Green campaign using our handy online form and our discussion points. If you do not have a UK MP, contact your local representative, citing our discussion points. Let us know how you get on by emailing info[at]vegansociety[dot]com.
Don’t forget to check out the full Grow Green report there too. Please share widely with your friends, colleagues and family in the UK. If you need more information, our Twitter posts (@TheVeganSociety and #ORFC16) can help, as well as tweeting @TheVeganSociety.
By Amanda Baker, Senior Advocacy and Policy Officer
Please share ourcampaign widely and write to your MP/elected representative today.