Episode 32: Vegan Permaculture & Grow Biointensive Gardening

This is the World Organic News Podcast for the week ending 12th of September 2016.

Jon Moore reporting!

This week we begin with two quotes:

Vegan Permaculture: Is It The Future? – Little Green Seedling

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Since the farm is vegan, no animals are kept. Manure is not used, and neither is bone or any other animal product. This is known as stock-free farming, and gives an insight into how farming could look in a future when animals are no longer exploited. Everything is grown organically, without the use of pesticides or chemical fertilisers. Despite this, the plants in the polytunnel were almost untouched by pests – aside from the kale, which was very popular with the slugs!

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Beginner’s Guide to Veganic Gardening | gentleworld.org

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Vegan-organic gardening avoids not only the use of toxic sprays and chemicals, but also manures and animal remains. Just as vegans avoid animal products in the rest of our lives, we also avoid using animal products in the garden, as fertilizers such as blood and bone meal, slaughterhouse sludge, fish emulsion, and manures are sourced from industries that exploit and enslave sentient beings. As these products may carry dangerous diseases that breed in intensive animal production operations, vegan-organic gardening is also a safer, healthier way to grow our food.

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Vegan Permaculture. Is this a contradiction in terms? Whilst reading the early permaculture works one particular idea struck me. Plants and animals have evolved in union. Now I understand the philosophical underpinnings of the vegan movement. As a sentient species were have a responsibility to care for and not to exploit the lives of other sentient beings on this planet. The place where this philosophy and mine intersect is in an abhorrence of factory farming. The caging of any animal is degrading to the both the animals and the humans.

I hear the arguments against even free range animals from the Vegan movement. This is where we separate. The biointensive method of gardening developed by John Jeavons does not use animal manures but instead, composts or green manures 75 to 80% of the plants they grow to feed the soil. This seems… counter intuitive to me. Feeding this 75% to stock in a rotation across the landscape, feeds the soil, the animals and the plants. It is possible to eat, at least, a vegetarian diet and keep animals. Less ideologically, lacto-vegetarian and/or ovo-vegetarian options are available. That is, vegetarian diets with dairy and/or eggs. In these systems the animals live till they don’t. 

I can hear the cries of disdain from my vegan friends. Keeping animals is slavery. And on this we are just going to have to agree to disagree.

I keep returning to the thought which struck me during my early permaculture readings: Plants and animals evolved together. I attempt, not always successfully, to mimic the cycles and flows of Nature. 

Which leads me to a dichotomy I spotted years ago in a different field of human activity: Personal Growth.

In this field there are basically two broad schools of endeavor. Those reaching up to the esoteric and those reaching down into the soil. Both broad schools end up achieving the same end but draw different individuals to their methods.

I see the Vegan/Omnivore dichotomy in the same vein. The Vegan/Vegetarian approach places humans into a special category somewhat above and apart from Nature. It calls upon humans to act differently because we are humans. The alternative position sees humans as a part of Nature. True enough, there is the huge bulk of the population which has no view on this but instead simply eats what is put before them without thought, without reflection. It is this vast uninformed, disinterested mass of people which makes possible the confined animal feeding operations, that is feedlots, battery hens, caged sows and GMO corn. I liken GMO corn and super hybridised corn as nothing but the equivalent of battery hens. Identical plants, sprayed with chemicals and harvested at exactly the same level of ripeness. This is no different in essence from the millions of chicks, laced with antibiotics and all harvested at the same time to feed the processed chicken industry.

So while I see the arguments against factory farming and monocultural plant production, I do not see humans as above or separate from Nature. Therefore I have no qualms against meat consumption. 

I also accept, without judgement, that some people hold a view contrary to mine. The two posts quoted above provide a way forward for those who make that choice. Check out the posts and see what you think.

Now as I have a double major in archaeology, the post from Ancientfoods, Two groups spread early agriculture, was of particular interest to me. Seeing where we came from is a good starting point to understanding where we are now. It is only in the understanding of where we are now that we can move to where we need to be.

It would appear, from the evidence, that two groups of farmers arose in the fertile crescent. They farmed in two valleys, side by side. The western valley people migrated into Europe. The eastern valley people migrated to the Indian sub-continent. 

The story of domestication of cereals and animals is a complicated one which has always fascinated me. It’s not a weekend project, to quote the post. Indeed it takes some time for us to get our heads around. Firstly we have to realise these people had no idea of farming. It simply did not exist. Everyone was living some variation of the Fisher-Gatherer-Hunter continuum. There did not exist departments of Agriculture within the non-existent universities of the time. I would argue as have others, we were trapped into agriculture and I will publish a supplemental episode on how I think we were domesticated by wheat soon. 

I find it fascinating that we can trace early Indo European agriculture back to two separate peoples living in valleys next to each other. I would encourage you to read the post. A link is in the show notes.

And that brings us to the end of this week’s podcast.

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Thank you for listening and I’ll be back in a week.

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