A few words about regenerative farming and gardening strategies, meat and plant diet:
I decided to write this as an answer to a conversation with a vegan gardener that objected the use of animals in a community garden. This is an opinion article, feel free to comment on it to add your views to the debate.
Having a Permaculture training, being practical and with the understanding of food webs and natural processes, I find it hard to imagine farming or growing food in general without the use of animals.
The biosphere has developed its stability and resilience with interactions between animals and plants that we can’t replace.
You can be vegetarian, and use eggs and milk. But if you have ever bred them you will know a bit over 50% of babies are males… and they can’t be kept in that proportion. In nature, males die a lot more than females.
Try keeping 20 roosters on a farm… or 10 Billy goats! Some have to get eaten, or go walkabout!
It is a tricky thing to accept for those who do not want to kill animals to eat, but: nature needs animals to grow plants, plants need animals to eat them to maintain the conditions the plants require to grow and propagate and plant eating animals need carnivores to keep their population in check and take care of the sick and weak individuals.
Pastures are not regenerated if not grazed regularly (grazed, not overgrazed…). Hazel nuts need to be buried by squirrels to survive winter and grow again. Goats will eat the world to a desert if their population is not controlled by big cats or other predators.
Species do NOT self regulate. Look at us humans…
Being only predators in our backyards and farms, and pretty much the last one in most environments on earth, it seems like we need to be the predators.
This in no way means I support industrial animal farming. Quite the opposite. But I recognise the fact for my plant based food to be grown, animals need to live, and die. Of course using a lot of fossil energy and a lot of chemicals, you can grow plants for a long time without animals. But eventually, your soil washes away and fertility is lost. And all the resources used in the production of food came from somewhere and have their share of embodied loss of habitat. Consumed resource=reduced habitat.
When you buy timber, beans or a steel nail, don’t forget animals were displaced (killed) in the process. I am not trying to be negative or work off guilt. But it helps to thread lightly on our Earth to remember the price other beings pay for our use of resources.
Regenerative farming and gardening must be diverse in its yields, and it is my opinion plants should be the main crop. The farming and gardening should be made easier and more sound ecologically by the work of animals, which are a secondary yield of the farm or garden system.
Lots of regenerative farming systems I come across are focussed on animal products, with a side of plant based food. Any step in the right direction is great, and I pay my humble respects to those who have the courage, care and vision to take the path to a permanent human civilisation.
Perhaps I can offer an alternative to the very polarised diets people often show great attachment to:
Could a diet based on locally available perennial plants, high yielding low input climatically appropriate grains, with a large amount of fresh and non chemically infused annuals from a local provenance, and occasional meat from a truly regenerative farming practices (www.taranakifarm.com.au/ is a great example in our region) be a good balance?
If one doesn’t like meat, fair enough. But if one wants to protect the animals and yet eats soy or palm oil grown on deforested rainforest… there is a gap in logic that can’t be allowed in this day and age. I am of the opinion though that if one is to buy its food exclusively at big supermarket chains and only buy food produced industrially, they must seriously consider being vegetarian. Industrial farming of animals has a devastating foot print on the Earth. So does industrial plant agriculture, but the figures are quite clear and indicate without a doubt that industrial meat requires a lot more resources and habitat to be produced than food plants. Specially in countries where animals are fed plants that humans can digest such as corn and soy instead of annual and perennial grasses. The environmental footprint itself should be enough to discourage people from industrial meat. If anyone needs more convincing though, the way the animals live their life and the way they are killed in the industrial farming world as well as the food and medicine the animals are fed should do the remaining of the convincing.
Animals, like plants I would add, must be treated with respect. This means understanding their qualities and their biology. Trees must be pruned, not hacked. Before you take a pruning saw out, you need to understand how they grow, live and die. You also need to be able to identify the branch collar so as to not “hurt” the tree. Similarly, animals in their death must be killed, not hurt or tortured. In their life, Permaculture and regenerative farming practices teach us to copy nature, that is to observe and understand what role the animals occupy in the dynamic biosphere. Only by understanding their role in nature can the farmer and gardener give the animals the conditions they need to live a good, healthy and fun life. It is also through understanding of the animals that one can make best use of their aptitudes so as to increase their regenerative impact on the Earth, as well as increase the yield we use for our subsistance.
Any thoughts on the topic?
Are there any examples of truly vegetarian “sustainable” farming that could be used to feed 6.5 billion human mouths?