Some time ago, I earned the disdain of many animal activists by asking what a vegan world would actually look like. Given the fact that most organic/sustainable farming relies heavily on animal inputs like manure, I argued, most vegans are still eating animal products when they dig into a carrot.
I was, in retrospect, unnecessarily snarky. And I was also only dimly aware of the movement for vegan, organic agriculture. I've since learned of several farmers who are eschewing all forms of animal inputs, focusing instead on maintaining soil fertility within the farm itself—rather than importing manures and other soil treatments from outside.
Iain and Lyn Tolhurst have been experimenting with vegan, or "stockfree," organic growing for over 25 years on their small farmstead in Oxfordshire, England. Growing a broad diversity of crops, and maintaining soil fertility through long rotations and a complex mix of cover crops, the Tolhursts insist that this is a path to more truly sustainable growing—ensuring that you are not reliant on removing fertility from one location to enrich another.
The video below—part of the Living With the Land series that has shown us a fantastic no-dig garden, a biodiverse, holistic planned grazing operation, and a stunning forest garden—emphasizes that this is just one vision for what sustainable living off the land really means.
Can you feed the world on vegan, organic agriculture? I have no idea. The video touches only briefly on the topic—with Iain making the case that the number of mouths fed is more important than the pounds of produce grown (presumably a reference to the relative "efficiency" of a vegan diet). What I do know is that we're doing a pretty poor job of feeding the world using conventional methods right now. And I am mighty impressed with vegans who are willing to take the logical next step in pursuing their ethic—because a truly vegan world would require a truly vegan agriculture.