Posts Tagged ‘Colleen Patrick-Goudreau’

Growing Food and Breaking Hearts

As a new activist, I am still experimenting with how to most effectively speak up for animals.  I recently learned, secondhand, that my remarks about [the journey of] going vegan were perceived as chastising.  This was not my intent, and clearly, I need to work on refining my message.  If only I’d begun all of this sooner.

A dozen years ago, I hosted a dinner party for a circle of friends and one apologetic vegetarian.  Annoyed that the latter had messed up the evening’s menu, I remember muttering to my then-partner, “I could never date a vegetarian”.  How does one go from staunch omnivore to vegan activist?  It didn’t happen with the snap of fingers.  But it could have.

As I learned more about nutrition, I made small adjustments to my diet over the decade that followed.  No red meat.  Less dairy.  Cage-free eggs.  Organic.  Local.  When I heard reports about the environmental destruction caused by animal agriculture, I may have even patted myself on the back; after all, I wasn’t eating cheeseburgers anymore.

It wasn’t until I attended a passionate speech by activist Colleen Patrick-Goudreau in 2009 that I took a hard look at the torture I was putting on my fork.  She spoke of the rape and slavery of dairy cows, the cruelty of egg production, the purging of our oceans and other horrific truths about eating animals.  With great skill, she told the hard-line truth.  It broke my heart enough to also break down all of my defenses.  In a snap, I went vegan.

The truth about animal agriculture hurts, and most people don’t want to accept it.  We get defensive about our past and present actions. It is less painful to buy into the message from

Douglas and Linus, two male “discards” from the dairy industry, were bottle-fed in the barn and pasture beside the micro-farm.

popular authors like Michael Pollan; it’s OK to kill animals and the planet, as long as you don’t do it too often.  Even better if it’s local. Attached as we are to the prevalent culture and comforts of certain foods, we resist making changes that may seem overwhelming.  We don’t know how to prepare vegan food.  Many people worry about protein.  We imagine the awkwardness that our new veganism may inspire in social situations.

There are so many excuses for not doing the right thing.  For this reason, I believe that it usually takes more than opening someone’s mind.  In my own personal experience, an open mind put me on the path of baby steps for a decade.  In order to make urgent, meaningful and necessary change, a heart must break.  I wish that I had crossed paths with a hard-line, truth-telling activist earlier.

The talented and eloquent Colleen reaches audiences nation-wide through public speaking, podcasts, articles, and most famously through her beautiful cookbooks, such as The Vegan Table and The 30-Day Vegan Challenge.  At Animal Place, my internship in the veganic micro-farm gives me the opportunity to be truthful with volunteers, visitors and people in the community who are curious about what I am doing.  This is my venue to – as best as I can – speak up for animals.

Our model farm is not isolated from the rest of the sanctuary.  One can see and hear the animals while tending to the tomatoes, and it is important to relate the stark differences in our cruelty-free farming practices in contrast to how food is produced in animal-based systems.  Most not-yet-vegan inquiries are polite.  When others respond defensively or not at all, uneasiness hangs heavy in the air.  Now what?  Well, at least they will leave with that dis-ease in their minds, and perhaps that feeling will sink down into their heart someday.  Perhaps this is better, even, than polite.

I’ve yet to break any hearts, but I’ll keep on trying.

Do the best you can…

“Do the best you can in the place that you are, and be kind.”  – Scott Nearing

Helen and Scott Nearing’s “Living the Good Life: How to Live Sanely and Simply in a Troubled Word”, inspired me to change my life.  Fleeing a Depression-ridden New York City in 1932, the intellectual Nearings created the ultimate DIY project in rural Vermont; they created a small maple sugar business on their hand-built homestead, grew their own food using mindful farming techniques, and promoted peace in their community and all over the world with their books and public speaking engagements.  They inspired thousands in a back-to-the-land movement that began in the 60s and has resurged today with the small organic farms that are popping up seemingly everywhere, including our backyard micro-farm at Animal Place.

Living the Good Life

The book that inspired me to take up veganic farming and live more simply.

Scott was labeled a radical not only for his activism for peace, but for his outspoken opposition to the child labor that was rampant in his time.  In the spirit of my hero, a fellow vegetarian, I propose something equally incredulous in our time:  let’s put an end to the rampant slavery of animals, who, like children, cannot defend themselves from whatever cruelty we impose.

But I’m already vegan.  What about the farmers?  Are they doing their best?

Eat local.  Eat vegetables.  From popular books like the Omnivore’s Dilemma, and blockbusters like Food, Inc., consumers know what they are supposed to do, though I think both of these resources underestimate what our “best” could be.  If you haven’t gone vegan yet, there are plenty of educational materials to help you on your journey, and I hope that you begin today.  Check out the totally accessible 30-day Vegan Challenge from Oakland’s darling Colleen Patrick-Goudreau.  Do your best…for you, for the planet, and for all beings on this planet.

Even if you are already vegan, more than likely there are feathers, bones, blood and other animal atrocities in your kale, turnips and tomatoes.  Whether you buy your organic produce from Whole Foods, the local co-op or farmer’s markets, there are dead animals in the compost, fertilizer and potting mixes used to grow those seemingly kind foods.

Attending a soil class at a local, organic supply store – the popular Peaceful Valley Garden Supply, to name names – the educator told our group of young organic farmers that bat guano was not sustainable and no good farmer should ever use it.  In the next breath, she turned our attention to the store catalog for her all-time favorite fertilizer: fish emulsion.  In her opinion, it’s sustainable to use (and make a profit from) the byproducts of the diabolical fishing industry, even if it ravages our oceans in the process.  This is how the next generation of farmers that will grow your fruits and vegetables are being educated.

In simple terms, three of the most important nutrients that plants need to grow are nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, or N-P-K.  While most organic farmers feed their soils with animal products, there are kinder, more sustainable products and methods that provide these ingredients which do not enslave animals or destroy aquatic life.  The North American Vegetarian Society’s article about plant-based agriculture gives a great introductory to veganic farming.  For the nitty gritty details, I’ve just started reading Iain Tollhurst’s Growing Green about stock-free farming in the UK using green manures and crop rotation.

Our mission at the Animal Place micro-farm is to create a successful and sustainable farm using only plant-based inputs.  This will serve as a model for other farmers, most importantly our neighbors who are using and promoting the use of animal products.

But I’m not a farmer.  What more can I do?

It downright sucks that there are so few options for us when it comes to buying stock-free produce.  Like Scott says, just do the best you can in the place that you are:

  • Ask the growers at your farmer’s market to offer stock-free products.  You may have to educate them about what this means to you and our planet.
  • Tell the hobby gardeners in your social circle to use plant-based amendments and techniques; Google “veganic farming”.
  • Help us establish our veganic farm at Animal Place through volunteering or donation.  Or, though few in number, support a veganic farm near you.
  • and be kind.
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