To build a just food system that advances the rights, health, and wellbeing of humans, other animals, and the planet requires attention to each element of production and distribution. These elements include growing practices, land access, labor practices, food access, and more.
Highlighted here are organizations and individuals engaged in developing, teaching, and promoting growing practices that replenish the soil while respecting the rights and sovereignty of each other, nonhumans, and ecosystems.
The efforts of the organizations and growers featured here are laudable. They provide proof of concept that food that is healthy for humans can be grown in harmony with the earth and with free-living animals, without using inputs from domesticated animals.
In fact, the experiences of the two growers highlighted below show that sustainable veganic farming is easier, more efficient, and healthier from start to finish for humans, animals, and the planet than is agriculture that requires the management of animals.
Ideally, there would be global adoption of these standards and practices as the norm by governments, consumers, and growers themselves.
For example, wherever there are regulations of farming practices or oversight of food safety, government agencies could mandate the implementation of policies centered around vegan organic production methods with protections in place for soil health, the local ecosystem, and animal and plant inhabitants.
Additionally, these food-producing, ecosystem-nourishing policies and practices can be integrated into distribution systems to ensure adequate access to food for all humans and fair labor standards for everyone working to produce it.
Ideally, the rights of all to health and wellbeing would take priority over the accumulation of resources by individuals, corporations, and nations, and all human use of land would be in service to these interests.
One immediately actionable step would be for governments to provide free, healthy, plant-based food as a right to all who can’t afford it under the current system. The US’s National School Lunch Program, though it isn’t yet plant-based, shows that such a system of distribution is possible.
The actions of governments around the world in response to the 2008 banking crisis and the pandemic crisis of 2020 have shown that, where there is the will, there are the resources to back it.
It is possible to create a world in which institutional forces support even the most vulnerable among us rather than increasing risk and competition among humans, other animals, and the planet.
The policies and practices highlighted below do not solve the larger structural issues*, but they provide a glimpse of what is possible.
These policies and practices are offered as examples of what voters should demand of their policymakers, of practices farmers can voluntarily adopt, of what consumers can look for when buying directly from growers at farmers markets and in community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs, and of how gardeners might produce their own food and food to share in restorative cooperation with the planet and their local ecosystem.
Policy: Stock-Free Organic Standards and Certification Program
The Stock-Free Organic Standards established in 2007 by the UK-based educational charity Vegan Organic Network (VON) provide guidelines for a certification that ensures a farm’s practices
- include responsible management of soil structure, biology, and fertility;
- encourage wildlife and biodiversity on the land; and
- exclude practices that exploit animals, such as raising animals as food or for commercial gain, growing animal feed or litter, using
- animal-derived fertilizers, and keeping, killing, or maiming animals as a means of minimizing competition on the land.
The standards incorporate the organic growing principles of the UK-based Soil Association, expanding them to respect the rights of nonhuman beings to health and wellbeing. In addition to soil health maintenance and repair guidelines, the standards include attention to other environmentally-relevant issues, such as packaging materials.
Policy: Biocyclic-Vegan Standards
The Biocyclic-Vegan Standards, formalized in 2017 and maintained by the German-based Adolf Hoops Society, provide guidelines for the group’s Biocyclic Vegan Quality Seal, which can be applied to farming operations and to consumer products (such as dried beans and wine).
The intention of the standards is to create a food system free from coerced animal inputs that works with and within natural systems to produce healthy food for humans.
The standards, which cite the precautionary principle as a guide for decision-making, incorporate the organic agricultural principles promoted by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements, and expand them to include respect for the rights of nonhuman beings to health and wellbeing.
The Adolf Hoops Society website details how such respect relates to and moves society toward the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The Biocyclic-Vegan Standards are broader in scope than are the Stock-Free Organic Standards in that they include explicit human rights protections, including Indigenous land rights, fair labor practices (including the right to unionize), safe working conditions, and a ban on child labor. They also include wild-harvesting and public land management guidelines.
Practice: Vegan Stock-Free Organic Market Agriculture: Iain Tolhurst
Iain Tolhurst, owner of Tolhurst Organic, a commercial farm that is also registered as a community interest company (CIC), helped develop the Stock-Free Organic Standards discussed above.
This essay from Tolhurst describes the whys and hows of his transition to veganic farming.
There are also numerous videos available online in which Tolhurst explains and/or demonstrates how the Stock-Free Organic Standards work in practice on his farm. See, for example, this tour and interview produced by the Vegan Organic Network in May 2012, and this November 2020 presentation and discussion produced by Seed the Commons and including food justice advocate Liz Ross.
Practice: Vegan Stock-Free Organic Gardening and Farming for Self-Sufficiency: Will Bonsall
Will Bonsall has been developing, experimenting with, and employing sustainable, veganic systems on his homestead in Maine for several decades. He founded the Scatterseed Project to preserve and share rare and endangered crop seeds and co-founded a local nonprofit aimed at moving his community toward greater self-sufficiency in food and energy production.
His book Will Bonsall’s Essential Guide to Radical, Self-Reliant Gardening details his farming practices. Bonsall discusses his techniques and philosophy in these August 2017 and May 2020 interviews on the Plant Yourself podcast.
For a workshop and Q&A about veganic growing, see this April 2017 video.
*Will Bonsall’s speculative fiction novel, Through the Eyes of a Stranger, approaches some of these structural issues through the story of a nation that has implemented just and sustainable agricultural, industrial, and trade systems, told from the perspective of a refugee from a country with systems more like our own.
For those who don’t mind some anarchist sentiment and the occasional expletive in their podcasts, this April 2019 Solecast interview includes a discussion of Bonsall’s fiction, as well as a lot of practical information about the farming aspects of vegan homesteading.