Vegan-organic, or stock-free organic, means growing food in a manner that not only avoids all chemical inputs, but also those of domesticated animals, whether from the stockyard or from the slaughterhouse. It means adhering to organic standards and also refusing to use manure, blood or bone meal, while improving habitat for bees, birds, bats and other animals.
The concept of vegan-organic developed from the philosophy of veganism, which is about respecting animals and refusing to use any of the products that humans make from their bodies. Just as vegans recognize that nutrients come from plants, and are only ‘recycled’ by animals when we eat their products, so the vegan-organic grower acknowledges that manure is only a second-hand product of vegetable origin which can be substituted directly with plant material.
What does this look like in practice? Vegan growers rely on compost, rich soil produced from rotted vegetable matter, along with mulch, plant foliage which is laid on top of the soil. These inputs are not new to organic growers. The emphasis is on soil health, since healthy soil means healthy, productive plants. The soil is a complex ecosystem which we know very little about. What we do know is that it benefits most from the addition of organic matter, and from no-till methods. Mulch and compost laid directly on top of the soil breaks down slowly, adds nutrients, and helps preserve moisture and prevent soil erosion all at the same time.
I’ve been learning about vegan-organic growing for many years, and only recently have I had a chance to start practicing it on a homestead. And a few weeks ago, a little lightbulb went on: I’m already familiar with vegan-organic techniques! My mother has been practicing what is essentially vegan-organic growing, for decades!
Though I grew up in a suburb, you could say that I almost had a farm-hand childhood. Though I had time to study, I was always called upon in the evenings and weekends for chores in the garden. I learned how to snip runners on strawberries. I harvested beans and strawberries, plums, peaches, cherries and apples (houses were built on top of what used to be a large orchard, and some trees survived to nourish us). I pulled thousands of weeds. I hauled tons of hedge trimmings.
But what I only recently remembered is how my mother would nourish the garden: only with mulch made of fresh-mowed grass clippings! No manure, no stinky, shitty feeds made of fish or shrimp carcasses, no blood or bone meal, none of that. No chemicals, either. There were no rototillers and no imported soils. The garden was essentially a closed system. Oh and there was a compost bin which took our food wastes along with leaves and grass clippings, but my mother never felt that the compost got hot enough to kill the weeds we pulled, so those were stuffed in to garbage bags and hauled to the municipal compost.
So, once again, time to belatedly give acknowledgement to the genius of my mother, and to her mother who also begrudgingly converted to non-chemical methods under her daughter’s hippie guidance. (Oh yes, my parents are true-blue former hippies, straight from Berkeley in ‘the day’. They won’t tell me much of what they did back then. I think they worry I might try to emulate them. Too late).
Even my mama grows vegan-organic! Why don’t you?