Is Vegan Farming the Next Plant-Based Phenomenon? | Civil Eats

Is Vegan Farming the Next Plant-Based Phenomenon?

In what may become a growing trend, two young farmers in California's Salinas Valley have completely eliminated animal products from their farming practices.

vegan farmer Brittany Loisel

It’s a crowded CSA market in the Bay Area, with mainstays like Full Belly Farm and Eatwell Farm feeding hundreds of members weekly with their boxes of local, seasonal and organic produce.

But there’s a new contender looking for members, offering something unique, something more than just its cheeky name: Lazy Millennial Farms. The founders of the Salinas-based farm believe it is the only farm in the Bay Area that’s growing crops veganically. That means no animal fertilizers, fish emulsions, blood or bone meal (dried animal bones and blood that is processed from the remains at slaughterhouses) that are relied upon so heavily in organic farming.

Matthew and Brittany Loisel started their farm because they felt that the little steps many eco-conscious people take, like recycling, just wasn’t going to have enough impact.

While Matthew had grown up gardening, starting their own farm seemed like the next logical step, especially since the couple—who met in college—were both dissatisfied with their corporate jobs.

As for the farm’s tongue-in-cheek name, the inspiration struck when Matthew was listening to a Ted Talk about branding and millennials.

Speaking for them both, he said “we had these corporate jobs that we hated, and what’s more millennial than tossing that out and starting a veganic farm of all things? Here we are knocked for being lazy, so I thought ‘You watch me start this farm.’”

Matthew Loisel hoists some harvested produce.

Matthew Loisel hoists some produce harvested at Lazy Millennial Farms.

At the same time, they had been tearing through a number of documentaries critical of the food system like “Fed Up” (about the sugar industry) and “Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret” about the environmental impact of raising cattle for beef.

Already vegetarians, they began to wonder what more they could do.

“I was the kind of vegetarian that hated vegans,” said Matthew. “I said many times ‘I will never be vegan,’ among other pejorative statements about vegans. But halfway through ‘Cowspiracy,’ I was sure I was going to have to go vegan for environmental reasons.”

But once they started learning about agriculture, they were struck by the paradox that to successfully grow vegetables, so many animal byproducts are used.

Using the fertilizer from the horses in nearby Watsonville at first was a foregone conclusion, but as they went vegan, they began to wonder if it there were other alternatives.

“I had to figure out would veganic agriculture even work?” said Matthew. “I didn’t know it was a thing.”

Crops growing at Lazy Millennial Farms.

Crops growing at Lazy Millennial Farms.

The couple started their farm through a program called the Agricultural Land-Based Training Association, or ALBA. It’s a farming incubator that trains people with little to no farming experience in a 10-month program the basics of how to farm.

After that, some of the students are selected to farm on its property, where they are subsidized.

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The goal is that after several years, participants will be able to go out and start their own farms. The Loisels began on half an acre there, and now are farming two and a half acres.

Once they began to consider not using animal byproducts, “I was in a panic as I hadn’t heard of veganics, and my initial concern was that soil microbes would suffer without organic matter to feed them,” said Matthew.

So he did what he’s done often in his life, he said; he asked someone more knowledgeable than himself on the subject.

Matthew reached out to an expert who had spoken to their class.

“His answer was that soil microbes are much more resilient than you give them credit for,” he said.

While the veganic movement is so small most haven’t heard of it, it is growing, said Mona Seymour, Associate Professor of Urban Studies and Director of Environmental Studies at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

Seymour said she believes there are about 50 farms in the United States doing so, but because there’s no official body, it’s very hard to track.

Seymour said there are probably even more, but that not every grower identifies with the term because they don’t think it’s commercially marketable, or they don’t want to be affiliated with something that their customers may see as alienating and extreme.

According to Seymour’s research, veganic gardening is much more popular than veganic farming, with “a lot of regional and national Facebook groups in existence around the world,” she said. “Some have hundreds of members, some in the thousands, so I think people doing this at community gardens or in their backyards or on their balconies is much stronger than the commercial aspect of it.”

In the United Kingdom, there is the Vegan Organic Network, which has created the standards that the Loisels follow, otherwise known as “stockfree.” The organization’s web site says “Most vegetables are grown with slaughterhouse by-products.”

The Lazy Millennials CSA is different than most—and in fact, doesn’t really subscribe to the CSA model at all—in that one doesn’t pay in advance for weeks or months at a time.

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“We didn’t want it to be cost-prohibitive because lots of people can’t afford to buy food every week,” said Matthew. “We set it up so you can buy week to week.”

The most deliveries they’ve done in one week so far is 40, but many more households buy from them, he said.

They deliver throughout the Bay Area.

Tomatoes grown at Lazy Millennial Farms.

Tomatoes grown at Lazy Millennial Farms.

Matthew believes that most of their customers are also vegan and that most vegans don’t know that this is an option. He admitted that had he not become a farmer, he never would have thought about it, either.

But as a result, Matthew has fielded many requests from various organizations that want to learn more.

“People have so many questions because nobody’s heard about it,” he said.

Top photo: Brittany Loisel is shown at Lazy Millennial Farms in Salinas. All photos courtesy Lazy Millennial Farms.

This article originally appeared on Bay Area Bites, and is reprinted with permission.

Alix Wall appeared in her hometown paper in Riverside, California as “Chef of the Week” when she was 15 years old, and in high school, she founded “The Bon Appetit Club.” After working as a journalist for many years, Alix became a certified natural foods chef from Bauman College in Berkeley in 2007. While she continues to cook healthy, organic meals for busy families, she is also a contributing editor of j. weekly, the Bay Area’s Jewish newspaper, in which she has a monthly food column and writes other features. Her food writing can also be found on Bay Area Bites, Berkeleyside’s NOSH, SFoodie, and The Forward. In addition to food, she loves writing about how couples met and fell in love, which she does for The San Francisco Chronicle’s Style section and j. weekly. Read more >

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  1. Raj Ramaiya
    So happy to learn about your vegan farm. 40+ years ago, our small farm was organic and veganic.. it was very difficult but possible.. Great that you are taking it more steps further by also training future vegan farmers..
  2. Well done! I am really happy to see this.
  3. Ella
    Way to turn the "Lazy Millenial" meme on it's head - I love it! A beautiful veganic farm is the perfect image of just where our generation's heart is at. <3 Keep up the amazing work, my friends!!
  4. Brian Bender
    Interesting. As a urban (i.e., super-small scale) gardener myself, I love to see new ideas like this in action on a larger scale. Best of luck to Lazy Millennial Farms!
  5. Dilip Gandhi
    I am hsppy to read through the post. Please inform if you are growing all the farms by sowing local original seeds ; or you are using hybrid and genetically modified varieties.
    I feel it would be much more interesting to try original seeds without hybridization and genetic modifications.
    In India in many interior rural and mountainous regions people are still using local scientifically unmodified seeds and yes Veganic or Natural farming with domestic compost without animal flesh or blood remains in it.
    Regards
  6. Kurt Ericksen
    Organic matter is the foundation of the soil food web. It also presents the greatest opportunity for carbon sequestration on the planet.
    Reductions in organic matter bring decreased populations of beneficial soil microbes and increased volumes of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
  7. Debrah McCabe
    Lovely to hear that your 'experiment' is working well, and thanks for finally embracing veganism. It's the natural next step after vegetarianism.
  8. Monica Martella
    Hi, and thank you for your great work! Could you talk about how you till? I'm starting some vegan outreach, and one of the objections I'm hearing is that many animals are killed to farm plants as well, so it doesn't matter which way we go, we're still killing many animals. I thought that low-till farming may be a way to reduce the animal mortality. Either way you're doing it, I appreciate your work and hope to emulate it on some scale. Your perspective would be helpful. Thanks
  9. Laurie Powell
    This is the best food I have ever tasted and it is a happy feeling to know I am not supporting the exploitation of my fellow earthlings. I will be forever grateful to these not-lazy-at-all millenials for feeding my family in an ethical manner.
  10. Steve Schwartz
    Thank you Alix for this well-presented story about a little known phenomena in the sust. ag. world.
  11. Carol
    How do you prevent birds from pooping on the fields?
  12. Lauren
    How do you deal with pests such as gophers?
  13. This is a somewhat popular form of gardening and farming here in Japan. Many people eschew fertilizer in all forms, artificial as well as manure or fish emulsion, because they feel it is better for their soil. Some of the natural farmers I know do it as well, and their fields and produce don't seem to worse for wear.
  14. interested in learning more..
  15. Xena
    Wow ! I want to know more about this ! Do you know if it works long term as well?
    • Yes it works long term. We have grown organic veg for over 40 years and have been on present farm for over 30 and it has been Stockfreeorganic (vegan) all that time. Our farm is productive and well visited by farmers interested in what we do from all parts of the World. Take a lookout our website or search Tolhurst Organics. We were then first farm ever to be certified as Stockfreeorganic.
      Great to hear of this new veganic farming in California, wish them well.
  16. Robe
    This is fantastic and important work being done by these guys. I am well aware of Vegan Organic Network (VON) in the UK. They have been supporting vegan organic growers for over 20 years. The organization was at up by the wonderful David and Jane Graham.
    The importance of producing food without the use of animal by-products is essential for personal and environmental health. It is wonderful to hear about other growers who are adopting these methods for food production. Long may it continue.
  17. Rob
    This is wonderful -- but I see the link for this veganic farm's website doesn't appear to go to the right place. I hope it can be updated.

    I wish this farm all the best. I have a feeling this is the future.

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