Thank you to Stacey at ‘Our Compass’ for sending this info and the links over – appreciated.
A bunch of crazy vegans got together and decided to do something amazing: convince the public to chip in and buy a plot of land once used for grazing dairy cows to turn it towards something plant-based. Is their crowdfunding victory a fluke, or is it a sign that the world is finally changing? Jackie Norman looks at other projects at the vanguard of alternative land use.
A landmark purchase is ‘just the beginning’ for an organisation whose mission is to acquire land currently used for animal agriculture, and give it back to nature and the sentient life that depends on it. The Vegan Land Movement made history in September when they successfully won an auction for 3.3 acres of dairy grazing land in the UK, purchased with donations to their funding platform, Global Vegan Crowd Funder.
From the outset, support for buying out the land was high, with donations flooding in on social media from those eager to be a part of something which collectively could make a big difference. The land, at Earlake Moor in Somerset went under the hammer for £16,000 and promises to become a fertile haven in an area surrounded by dairy farming. This huge milestone is a powerful indication of the public desire for change, resulting in another inspiring example of how many areas of farmland are being transformed around the world.
Growing oats with ease
With sales of plant-based alternatives increasing by 25% last year alone, more and more dairy farmers in Switzerland are recognising the extent of animal suffering and working on transforming their land into kinder, more sustainable enterprises where a variety of crops can be grown to benefit both animals and people. One such example is Urs Marti, whose family milked cows for generations. Today, Urs and wife Leandra Brusa are responsible for producing some of the country’s first organic oat milk and also grow polenta corn and lentils:
“We no longer wanted to be part of this eternal cycle in which the cow is inseminated, the calf is taken away, the cow is milked, the calf is fattened and slaughtered – and then everything starts all over again. The animals no longer have to do anything here, except grow old, fat and happy.”
In return, the cows aid the growing process by simply being themselves, helping to cultivate and fertilise the land.
A cow’s milk can only flow when calves are born. Therefore, dairy cows have to be inseminated and give birth all the time. The new-born calves are shredded into dog food or sold abroad. The screams of mothers for their children are bloodcurdling.
Hazelnuts and hiking
Fellow countrywoman Danique Kottelenberg has been instrumental in encouraging her parents, Gerard and Joke, to convert their dairy farm from animals to plants. A sixth-generation farmer, Danique has her eyes firmly set not on milking cows like the generations before her, but using the land to grow hazelnuts and almonds:
“Why are we buying hazelnuts from other countries when they can be grown well here?”
The family’s new sustainable farming plan also includes an edible native forest of almost four hectares, which will produce berries, fruit and nuts. They even plan to create hiking trails in the forest for overnight hikers and would-be foragers, demonstrating there is no shortage of options for those who want to truly make the most of their fertile and beautiful land.
From slaughterhouse to sanctuary
In Beat and Claudia Troxler’s eyes, there is no difference between farm animals and pets. ‘They are all equally valuable and individual’. Until recently, the Troxler farm was like any other ‘normal’ farm. Pigs were fattened and taken to the slaughterhouse every few months. Cows gave birth and their babies were taken and sold. No more, however. Today the farm is a ‘farm of life’, where the only milk in its future is oat milk and if space allows, the couple also hope to take in other animals rescued from the slaughterhouse. ‘Our cows are no longer inseminated and the calves are allowed to stay with their mothers and drink their milk. We have pigs, horses, alpacas. Everyone is happy and will be allowed to live here forever’.
Choosing kindness over cruelty
Shutting the gates permanently on his dairy farm may have been a gamble but for Pierre Zocher and his 110 cows it was worth it:
“A cow’s milk can only flow when calves are born. Therefore, dairy cows have to be inseminated and give birth all the time. The new-born calves are shredded into dog food or sold abroad. The screams of mothers for their children are bloodcurdling.”
Pierre wanted his animals to be treated with the respect and love they deserved, rather than as ‘goods’. There was one major obstacle however – how would he manage to maintain the costs of feed, water, electricity and other essentials for them and the land? Just like the Vegan Land Movement, Pierre discovered there is no shortage of people wanting to help make a difference and he was able to find sponsors for his entire herd, who support his project with EUR 50 per month. The ex-dairy farmer now operates organic agriculture and his cows have a safe home all together for life.
Keeping one step ahead of the plant protein demand
Sixth-generation cattle rancher Richard Traylor is living proof it’s never too late to change. He and his wife Cindy became vegan in 2018 after one of their cows, Honey, became injured and Cindy tried to find a sanctuary where she could live out her days, rather than being sent to slaughter. After reaching out to several sanctuaries with no luck, Cindy connected with fellow Texan Renee King-Sonnen, founder of Rowdy Girl Sanctuary. Not only did Renee find a home for Honey, she was also able to establish positive conversations with the couple about veganism. Today, instead of farming animals, Richard and Cindy are looking into growing all manner of different crops, including fava beans and peas, to keep one step ahead of the increasing demand for plant-based protein.
A lifeline for animals, and farmers
Fellow American Mike Weaver left behind 15 years of poultry farming after becoming disillusioned with welfare and practices and instead repurposed his chicken houses for growing hemp and extracting CBD oil. Both he and the Traylors have embraced the support and inspiration offered by animal welfare groups such as Mercy for Animals, Miyoko’s Creamery and the Rancher Advocacy Program, who are all committed to helping farmers transition away from livestock farming.
Swiss-based agricultural consultant Sarah Heiligtag has noticed a huge increase in farmers wanting to make the change, almost all of them dairy farmers:
“As many as five get in touch every week. The decisive factor is usually animal suffering.”
There is also the climate aspect: cattle farming is responsible for a large part of the emissions in agriculture. To help combat some of these effects in the Netherlands, the government launched an initiative last month in which livestock farms with high nitrogen emissions can apply for financial support to give up animal husbandry. Participation is voluntary and is part of the government’s goal to achieve a ‘healthy nitrogen level’ in at least half of its protected Natura 2000 areas by 2030. It plans to provide a total of 1.9 billion euros over the next 10 years to buy out companies who are willing to stop keeping livestock and instead use the land for nature conservation or other sustainable farming methods.
Dutch farmers already successfully implementing their own initiatives include brothers Bart and Tom Grobben, who began converting their dairy farm to soy and soy milk production in 2017:
“Our ancestors back then went with the times by producing cow’s milk. We as the youngest generation are also now responding to the developments of this time. With our own Dutch soy, we can continue to build on the foundation that the generations have laid before us. Together with consumers and other Dutch farmers, we are building an entirely new galaxy.”
So, what’s next for Earlake Moor?
With the land now safely tucked under their belt, the Vegan Land Movement say they are in no immediate hurry to redevelop:
“We are currently exploring a range of options; most likely the land will be rewilded and perhaps, in conjunction with local groups/volunteers we could consider establishing a community orchard or allotment. We want to see what already grows and flourishes naturally, which will steer us to enable the land to achieve its full potential with our assistance. This first land buyout is the start of what will hopefully be a powerful and transformative change to the way we live, eat and view the world. We are also working on creating a trust structure to protect Earlake Moor and any further buyouts in perpetuity. Other countries have developed structures to do just this and we are taking guidance from these pioneering examples.”
“Our vision is to unite people around this simple idea, which has begun with this small 3.3 acre plot of land. Then we may begin to see more and bigger land buyouts, more rewilding of our Earth, more veganic produce for us all to benefit from and less species’ declines. Imagine for example, the possibility of converting an intensive animal factory farm into veganic mushroom production? This is where the power of the Vegan Land Movement lies, in building a community to effect real change.”
For more information on the Vegan Land Movement and to donate, please visit Globalvegancrowdfunder.org/vegan-land-movement
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