Veganics! Stephane Groleau and Meghan Kelly founded the Veganic Agriculture Network in 2008 to promote farming and gardening that is free from chemicals and animal by-products. Their website www.goveganic.net features profiles of veganic farms in North America, and introduces people to the main concepts of farming and gardening in a way that is environmentally sustainable and compatible with a vegan ethic. In 2004, Stephane visited veganic farms in Europe for 9 months, and began the website www.vegeculture.net to promote veganic agriculture in the French language. He has a diploma in Organic Agriculture from the Cegep de Victoriaville and is a frequent writer for the magazines BioBulle and Growing Green International. Stephane and Meghan both garden veganically in the village of St-Casimir, Quebec.
Caryn Hartglass: Hi. I’m Caryn Hartglass, and this is It’s All About Food. We’re going to talk about how our food choices affect our health, the health of the planet, and all life on earth. It really is all about food. I’m really looking forward to today’s show. We’re going to talk about something you don’t hear about very often, and that is veganic farming or veganic agriculture. What is that? We’re going to get into detail about that in a moment with my guests, but basically, at least my understanding is, using fertilizers or farming and gardening that is free from animal byproducts. A lot of people think that we need to fertilize the soil with manure from animals. We’re going to talk to some people who are doing something quite different and why they’re doing it. My guests today are Stephane Groleau and Meghan Kelly, and they founded the Veganic Agriculture Network in 2008 to promote farming and gardening that is free from chemicals and animal byproducts. They have a website, goveganic.net, and it features profiles of veganic farms in North America and introduces people to the main concepts of farming and gardening in a way that is environmentally sustainable and compatible with a veganic ethic. In 2004, Stephane visited veganic farms in Europe for 9 months, and began the website vegeculture.net to promote veganic agriculture in the French language. He has a diploma in Organic Agriculture from the Cegep de Victoriaville and is a frequent writer for the magazines BioBulle and Growing Green International. Stephane and Meghan both garden veganically in the village of Saint-Casimir, Quebec. Are they with us?
Meghan Kelly: Yes.
Stephane Groleau: Yes.
Meghan: Hi, Caryn.
Caryn: There you are! Hello! Bonjour.
Caryn: So you’re both in Canada right now.
Meghan: Yep, we’re both in Quebec. Stephane grew up here in Quebec, and I grew up in Ontario and moved here a few years ago.
Caryn: Lovely. I’m really glad that this book—sorry, that this worked out for both of us schedule-wise, that you could be on the show today, and I can’t wait to hear about what you do and why you do it.
Caryn: I always like to do this with my guests and find out how they got on the vegetarian path. Maybe the two of you can share a little bit of your own stories.
Meghan: Sure. Stephane, I’ll let you go first.
Stephane: Yes. Me, it’s been maybe almost twelve years now that I’ve got aware of the benefit of being vegetarian. At first I was taking yoga classes and meditation class, and the teacher said at one point that, “Maybe if you give up meat and you go vegetarian a few years to meditate and to be more aware of what we put in our body.” I just said the word once and it kind of, “Oh, I never thought about that.” I started to read and experiment with cooking, and then after a few months and meeting some other people I became vegetarian, and then a few years later I became vegan.
Caryn: How old were you when this started?
Stephane: I was 21.
Caryn: Right. How popular is it in the Quebec community, vegetarianism?
Stephane: This is not quite popular, because I would say most of the information here about vegetarianism is in English. In Quebec provinces, there is not much people that understand English in the countryside. Maybe in Montreal or in big towns, there are a lot of people that understand English, and we see that there is much more vegetarians and vegans there. But in the countryside or where it’s more French-speaking people, vegetarianism is quite scarce. That’s why we are working on veganic, but personally I’m also quite involved in vegetarian issue and veganism and ask vegans to also be involved in trying to bring these ideas to the people and officially sometimes I’m trying to translate stuff so that people can understand what are the ideas.
Caryn: Right. This is great. I’m just particularly curious about the culture, because I spent four years living in the south of France. Culturally, I know it’s next to impossible for people to be vegetarian there. Well, isn’t impossible; I was a vegan there and I lived there for four years, but I never met another vegetarian. When I heard about the Veggie Pride Parade in Paris, I think it started at around 2002, I was so surprised because it was like they were coming out of the closet.
Stephane: Yeah, I know!
Caryn: I wonder if it’s any different in Quebec, if the culture is similar food-wise.
Stephane: The culture is similar, but I would say it’s a bit different, the two. In France there is a really strong tradition of food and meat, and it’s even stronger than here in Quebec. So In France I would say that there is more opposition to vegetarianism, so it’s good there are such things as Veggie Pride and all these indicators veganism and vegetarianism are actually strong and kind of bit more fighting strong tradition. Here in Quebec, I would say it’s more open-minded but it’s still really meat is also really present everywhere and we have our also different meals that are traditional and are meant to be with meat. But I think it’s less strong. I see that people, when they get aware of that is possible to be vegetarian and vegan, there is a bit more maybe open interest than in France.
Meghan: One thing that’s actually nice here in Quebec is there are quite a few vegetarian food companies here in Quebec; there’s one called Commensal. You can even go into a grocery store in a tiny city in the countryside and find vegetarian foods available in the supermarket. Even some of the traditional Quebecois foods like veggie pate and meat pie, they actually have made vegan versions of those foods, so I’ve been very happy to see that here.
Caryn: When did you get started on this path, Meghan?
Meghan: I think when I was about 11, I told my parents that I was going to stop eating mammals and I think at that time I had, more than anything, a connection with my dog. But it was really more when I was 19 or so that I seriously began looking at the factory farm conditions for all animals. When I was a teenager I sort of called myself a vegetarian, but I still ate chicken, I still ate fish, I would go through phases where I would stop for a while, but I didn’t have a very diversified diet at that point in my life.
Caryn: You were eating the feathered vegetable and the scaly vegetable.
Meghan: Exactly. I think it was after my first year of university, I was just at a point where I felt like I had enough foods in my diet. I had sort of learned about lentils and whole grains and I had started really incorporating those in my diet already. When I felt like I was, in a sense, ready to, that’s when I did all the research about factory farming. So in one summer I went from being one of these half-vegetarians to being quite a devout vegan.
Caryn: Okay, well it’s all good. I don’t know if I’m reading into it, but we don’t have to apologize for not being completely vegan, for being half-whatever. I am always encouraging people to reduce the amount of animal products and the world would be a much better place. I’m not expecting it to be completely vegetarian, but it would be great if people really were consuming a lot less animals and dairy.
Meghan: Yeah, for sure.
Caryn: Anyway. Tell me, what is veganic agriculture?
Meghan: Veganic agriculture, it’s essentially going one step further than organic. With conventional agriculture, it’s essentially based on chemical fertilizers and chemical pesticides. With organic, they take out those chemical elements and they replace them with fertilizers of organic sources, but unfortunately some of the most readily available fertilizers of organic origin are manure, blood meal, bone meal, fish emulsions, feather meal. With veganic, we go a step further where we still keep the organic standards, but we eliminate those animal products.
Caryn: Now, when it’s organic, not veganic, but organic, and they use manure from animals, can those animals come from non-organic sources?
Meghan: Yes they can, and they certainly most frequently do. That’s one of the concerns too, for people who are eating organic as a way of reducing their exposure to chemicals. The manure that’s being put on the fields may have antibiotics, it may have pesticides—
Caryn: In concentrated forms, too.
Meghan: Yep. One thing that’s quite interesting is, there was a study that was done by the University of Minnesota that showed that, if there are antibiotics in the feces, that the antibiotics can actually be uptaken by the plants.
Caryn: Mm-hm. That’s lovely.
Meghan: It’s the type of thing that we’re quite concerned about in terms of possible contaminants.
Caryn: Okay, so I’m not very happy right now. I do try and eat mostly organic, but eating veganic is, I think, where I would like to go and where all of us should go.
Stephane: Yes, especially from a vegan or vegetarian point-of-view where we try to avoid exploiting animals and buying products that might come from animals or from factory farms. If we use byproducts from these industries, we are kind of financing these industries when we don’t eat the product or the meat or the dairy product. That’s why we came up with this interest in veganic, because as vegans we were trying to see where are the problems or what we should work on. Ultimately, if we really want to have a vegan lifestyle, we kind of need to stop depending on that industry that is factory farming and agribusiness.
Caryn: Now do you know if, let’s just say, if I was a small farmer and I had animals on my property for whatever reason—milk, eggs, meat, or nothing—and I use their manure on my crops, would that be okay? Even if they didn’t consume any antibiotics or if they were living really naturally?
Stephane: It depends what we would want. I would say that it’s better to use manure on the field instead of wasting it in the river or losing it, but we could not call it veganic because the point with veganic is to really try to avoid exploiting or using animals, so we really try to promote alternative or plant-based way of growing food instead of relying on animal input.
Caryn: Okay, let be a devil’s advocate just for a minute. I’m on your side—I’m not against what you’re doing, I love what you’re doing—but I want to try to think of questions that people would naturally think of. I remember reading a story, and I can’t remember what country it was, but it was a small country, Third World, that had some serious hunger and food distribution problems and one of the things that they ended up doing was coming up with these containments for human waste. That human waste became compost that they were able to put on their crops. It composted to a form where it was totally clean. Now the area—I wish I could remember where it was—is thriving and they’re growing a lot more food and it’s a nice circular form of renewing and sustainability. Do you know anything about that and do you have any thoughts about using human waste? Would that be veganic?
Meghan: With veganic, there’s different definitions that different people would use for it, and some of them would include human waste and some of them wouldn’t. Some of the definitions would involve just fertilizing strictly with plant-based products and with rock powders, and then other definitions would be a bit larger to include human waste because it’s a waste that’s being produced by free-living animals. Even when we talk about veganic gardening, we’re not talking about an absence of animal waste or animal feces because it is there from free-living animals—from the microorganisms that are in the soil, from the worms that are in the soil. So that component still is present and adding human waste could be a part of that too. More than anything, it’s trying to get away from situations where animals are being exploited and using the waste of factory farms and slaughterhouses.
Stephane: For human waste, from a sustainable point-of-view, presently all the human waste are going into sewage and we kind of lose it. In a sense we are kind of depleting our soil and the nutrients that we let go away, so to complete the cycle and to really reuse all the waste, that would complete the cycle of nutrients if we would put them back in the soil. But the organic specifications or all the organic standards are presently opposed to using human waste, so that’s also why the farms that are certified stock-free or want to be certified stock-free or veganic, they cannot use human waste because there is concern and it’s not allowed by the specifications. But some gardeners would use them because there is more and more books and research about them that say if it is really well composted, it could be safe to use them on the land.
Meghan: People can go online if they’re interested in learning more about humanure. There’s a book online called The Humanure Handbook which can be downloaded for free.
Caryn: I love the Internet. Everything is there. That’s good to know. When I think of fertilizing a garden, I think of bone meal. What do you use in veganic agriculture? What would be the replacement for that.
Stephane: The first thing I would ask whenever I do talks is to change our view of fertilizing the soil. This comes from farmers I met in Europe where you were staying. The first thing should be to avoid losing the nutrients that are in the soil before trying to bring back some nutrients. Often it’s the way we grow food, that we deplete the soil. For example, if we have a bare soil all the winter long, there will be lots of erosion, there will be lots of little caves. The nutrients that are in the soil, we lose them, so then for sure we have to replace them by bringing in much more fertilizer. So the first practice we recommend would be to get something that covers the soil. It can be plants that are growing there so that we will collect the nutrients with their roots. Or we can also have mulch, where it’s an organic material that we put over the soil so we could protect from erosion, it will protect from water and it will keep the soil covered so it would prevent losing the nutrients.
Caryn: I love that approach. I think it’s similar to when we talk about healthcare, it’s better to prevent the disease rather than treat the disease. My father has an expression, I’m thinking of it now, where he says, “If you can’t solve the problem, eliminate the problem.” You’re preventing, to some degree, the soil losing its nutrients. Great.
Stephane: It’s true. That’s the question is always there, “Where do you get your nutrients?” In my business it’s like when people that ask, “Where do you get your protein?” After we protect the soil, then to get the nutrients, we can get a lot of the nutrients directly in the soil or in the surroundings. For example, if we keep our food scraps or if we keep the grass clipping or tree leaves, these are all organic material that contain nutrients, so then we can use them for mulch or to make compost. But also, we can create new nutrients just by planting legumes, maybe crops that are there or it can be green manure. These are plants that we grow in the garden or in the fields. The legumes, they are really taking the nitrogen that is in the air with their roots, and they will keep them. When we bury the plant, it will release the nitrogen that has been collected in the air. Most of the nutrients that we need in the garden can be produced or kept on-site, and then if we really need to bring back some other things like maybe magnesium or sulfur, then we can add or use some complementary product. It can be kelp meal, or it can be alfalfa meal, or soybean meal. It can be other things like that, but there’s much more things we can grow or get on-site before trying to purchase some fertilizer.
Caryn: Right. That’s fascinating. It all goes back to nature, actually, which has been fine-tuning what’s going on, on the earth for million of years and has got it all figured it out, and then in a mere few hundred years we’re trying to deconstruct everything. There’s a lot of magic going on where we can take nutrients from the air and put it in the soil, just through plants.
Stephane: Same thing for potash, for example, potassium, where there is maybe about sixty percent of clay in the soil. If the soil is really alive, so there is lots of microorganism and plants, then the activity in the soil can degrade the rocks and the clay particle and release potassium or potash in the soil so that we will have some more for the plants. So if we have a really alive soil, we also contribute to creating new soil by degrading rocks and all the material that is in the soil.
Caryn: Now you mentioned you went to Europe and you studied with veganic farms there. What got the veganic farm started over there.
Stephane: Sorry, what…?
Caryn: You studied in Europe about veganic agriculture and I wondered what got the veganic farm started in Europe. Was it mad cow disease or something like that?
Stephane: No, no, no, it’s there longer than that. In fact, there were two things that happened in Europe. There were vegans that were into increased movement and they were trying to have a more sustainable lifestyle and they realized that to be completely vegan and more sustainable, we need to grow food that is veganic, so they started a small network and they tried to bring these ideas around. They did so very well, there was already some farms that were growing veganically. Like farmers there that I stayed with. These farmers were not vegan or vegetarian, but they were trying to grow food with less chemicals, less dependency on petrol. They just came out with the idea of growing food with green manure and plant-based materials because this is what has less impact on the environment. Some farmers just came to veganic by thinking about how we grow and the impact on the environment.
Caryn: Can you tell me what countries some of these farms are in? You said Europe, but I’m just curious.
Stephane: Yes. In England, this is the main place where there are farms that have been certified veganic and there is this big network there. In England, in Germany, in Austria, there are farms. In France. These are the main places I’ve learned about farms, but there are other places, or gardens. Also many places like New Zealand, I know Australia, many places around the world and we are trying to get in contact with more farms also.
Caryn: That’s great. I can see where there would be some difficulty in getting this to happen because of factory farming and that there is an overabundance of manure available and we can’t spread it over the earth enough, there’s just too much of it around. So there would be some resistance to going veganic.
Stephane: In Austria, for example, a few years ago we evaluated about maybe a thousand farms that were not using manure because they did not have access to manure so they were growing food with other techniques, like green manure or plant-based compost. So depending on the area, maybe here in North America we have lots of manure, lots of farms, but in other countries they don’t necessarily have manure accessible. Even in Canada and Quebec here I know farmers that are trying to get away from manure because they have to transport it on long distance and it is quite expensive. There is an idea of maybe we should try to find another way. In England, for example, or I think lots over in Europe, they have the regulation where farmers need to grow at least fifty percent of the fertilizer, of their fertility, on-site so they cannot buy all the manure. If they need to grow or to get at least fifty percent on the site, they are in the dilemma of having animals to get manure or to find other techniques then using animals and make them to bring manure as a way of producing fertility directly on-site.
Caryn: I think everything you’re saying supports the trend—hopeful trend—of moving away from giant agribusiness and factory farming. Even the growing of plants in a factory form is devastating. It’s better if we have lots of small farms spread around so we have access to food and we don’t have the hit of high shipping costs and everything. So you’re growing veganically. Now my next question is, what’s the quality of food like? What’s the nutrient density of the food you’re growing
Meghan Kelly: Well I can say, at least from a taste test, that everyone agrees Stephane’s strawberries are the best-tasting strawberries around. We just harvested about twenty-five pounds of them yesterday. Have you done soil tests, Stephane, directly?
Stephane Groleau: No, not really. Not yet. In fact, what I would say is to get the best plants, we need the plants to get all the nutrients they need and at a certain rate because know that plants, in a good ecosystem, they would interact with the soil to get exactly what they need when they need it. About twenty-five percent of what the plants produce, the sugar that are produced in the leaves, are excreted by the roots to feed the microorganisms. The plants can change what they excrete to activate more of a kind of microorganism, so if they produce more of one kind, then they will get more of that. There is that interaction. If we have a really good soil, then the plants are more likely to get everything they need at the speed they need to produce the best plants possible. I would say that when we use plant-based techniques, we really focus on feeding the soil and the microorganisms and to let… I think this is the best practice to have the best, more healthy food because there is tons of different nutrients and compounds that the plants need to grow and be really healthy. But it’s hard to compare exactly these nutrients especially because veganic is so new that we cannot compare really with other food.
Meghan: The technique that we’re using in Saint-Casimir, Quebec, is called the Ruth Stout Technique, which was developed by a woman named Ruth Stout a few decades ago. It’s essentially a technique of mulching with hay. That’s really the primary thing that we use for fertility; I could even say, the only thing that we use for fertility, is we put large amounts of hay as a mulch, and the hay slowly decomposes and it’s eaten by the microorganisms, or rather broken down by the microorganisms into a form that’s accessible to the plants. Rather than taking the hay and passing it through a cow to make manure, we’re putting the hay as a whole food for the microorganisms directly. In that sense, we haven’t even lost anything that may have been lost as it passes through an animal. We’re giving basically a whole foods plant-based diet directly to the garden.
Caryn: I love when people use that picture of bypassing the animal in order to achieve the end result, be it creating food for our calories. We can eat those plants instead of inefficiently losing the calories through the animal.
Stephane: Yep. One of my main concerns is the soil. I think we don’t care enough for the soil, but it should be seen as a sanctuary where there is a whole web of life in the soil. If we don’t feed this, we kind of starve it and it might just go away or die. By really taking care of the soil, we’re using the soil work, bringing good source of plant-based organic material, then we kind of feed a whole organism that will produce all the food that we want to eat.
Meghan: That’s one of the advantages too, of the method we’re using where we’re covering it with hay, is that we don’t need to till the soil. Because when we do rototilling and tilling, it basically disturbs the soil food web by bringing some organisms who would naturally live a few inches under the soil will be brought to the top and exposed to the heat and to the wind. Also, the worms create tunnels and really improve the soil structure, so that’s another thing that can be lost when we till. It’s the way that we’re doing it in Saint-Casimir, with the layer of hay. It’s just a very slow process of the hay breaking down; we put hay on once or twice a year, in the spring and in the fall. With that technique the garden really takes care of itself. We only visit about once a week or even once every two weeks. There are some things like lettuce that we’re not able to grow, only visiting that often, because they’ll go to seed. But for most of the other plants, they’ll really just take care of themselves and be self-sufficient even at a distance.
Caryn: Do you think because it’s a slower, more meticulous process, do you think the whole world could live on veganic agriculture? Could we feed the world that way?
Stephane: Very sure that the technique we are experimenting or using in Saint-Casimir when we garden, would not necessarily work on big large-scale farms because large farm-scale people need, most of the time, to use tractors and machinery. You would rather go on working the soil or at least working it a bit and using green manure. You wouldn’t necessarily use mulch on a really large scale. I would say there is many, many different techniques that can be used to grow in a veganic way. Even ourselves are using different. We do some container gardening, we have an allotment in a community garden, so we try different techniques. I think the more natural, truer one would be using mulch and leaving the soil without disturbance, but I think we couldn’t feed the world if you hit on the large scale, with machinery it could be possible. Officially because we don’t need as much land if we are a vegan diet. I think it’s possible to feed the world, but there is different techniques that would have to be used.
Caryn: Right. I think—I can’t foresee the future, but what I see happening is, more people are going to have to have gardens in order to grow a significant portion of their food, especially here in the United States. We have lots of suburbia and a lot of green lawns that, I think, will need to change and turn into individual family gardens.
Meghan: One of the techniques that has really interested me recently is a concept called forest gardening that’s also very compatible with veganic. With forest gardening, it’s sort of an imitation of a forest because a forest is very self-sustaining in the sense that it creates its own mulch, its own ground cover. I find that with farms and with family gardens, we often really focus on annual plants, like tomatoes and lettuce. With forest gardening, it focuses on the idea of planting perennials—so raspberry bushes, apple trees—and to essentially try to create a small forest and to do a reforestation product that’s primarily with edible plants
Caryn: I love that.
Meghan: The nice thing about this, with the perennials, is the roots go so deeply that they’re able to draw up nutrients from deep down in the ground. Over the years, the system can become low-maintenance as the perennials become established. I say, especially for people who live in a house that they intend to live in for quite a number of years or that they intend to retire in, that to think about planting fruit trees and perennial bushes could be a really fantastic way to ensure our future food security and also to eventually have a low-maintenance garden system.
Caryn: You’re gardening in Quebec. Are you growing enough food for you? Are you selling it? How much food are you growing?
Meghan: We were trying to figure out what the square footage was a couple of days ago, though I don’t know if we actually came up with a number. We’re growing enough to keep us pretty well-fed during the summer, although I think we’re growing probably about thirty different varieties of plants, so certainly we still go to the farmer’s market. We also have a market here called the Marché Solidarité, which is the Solidarity Market where there’s about ten or fifteen local farmers who sell their goods through one central marketplace. We do supplement our diet with foods from other farms, for sure. We’re gardening more to try out some of the techniques to be able to talk to people about those techniques. Stephane’s been expanding the garden a little bit each year; this year was the first year that we’ve planted fruit trees. There could be some possibility to move into it in a commercial way in the future, although it’s about an hour outside of the city, so that’s something that may be considered, but not quite for the moment.
Caryn: Are there other farms—veganic farms—that are growing more food than just for an individual family?
Stephane: Yeah, yeah. If you go on our website, you will see lots of different farms that are commercial farms. We have some farms that are doing CSA (community-supported agriculture), so they have a box scheme where every week they will deliver a bag of a lot of vegetables.
Caryn: It’s a veganic CSA?
Meghan: Yes. There’s one in New Paltz, New York that actually feeds about 200 families. It’s really quite a large CSA. He tries to keep his prices lower than the prices in the competing grocery stores, so it’s really quite a large project.
Meghan: If you go to goveganic.net, and that farmer’s website is flyingbeet.com.
Caryn: What is it?
Meghan: flyingbeet, so F-L-Y-I-N-G-B-E-E-T dot com.
Caryn: Okay, that’s an interesting image.
Meghan: Yeah. We know probably about five other CSAs. We know of about fifteen or twenty farms, in total, in North America that are farming veganically. In the newsletter American Vegan, there was an article about a year-and-a-half ago about a farm in New Jersey. It was apparently the largest CSA in North America; I think it has 2,000 shares. They were in the process of converting to veganic farming.
Caryn: Oh wow.
Stephane: There is one also in New Mexico. There are different farms that are doing box schemes, but there are also farms that are growing cereals and grains and these are also growing veganic using green manure. It’s possible to grow vegetables, grains, so it’s possible to have a complete diet just relying on veganic.
Caryn: That’s really fascinating and very encouraging, and I’m sure as more people hear about it, more ways to make it easier to do will come about.
Stephane: Yes. We’ve come across new farms; we try to write a profile and put it on our website. Sometimes people contact us and say, “Oh, I know that farm.” Even just last week we got an email from a farm in New York that are doing it more seriously. If people know other farms, we’d like to get in touch with them because it’s nice to expand and see that there is people all around that are interested and to show that it’s possible to grow veganic.
Caryn: Right. Well, as soon as you find one that’s near New York City, please let me know.
Meghan: Hmm. I think the closest one I know to New York City is in the Catskills, which is a little bit far away.
Caryn: Yeah, right. Okay. Now, is there anything else you want to add about veganic farming that we haven’t covered before I move to another subject?
Meghan: I guess maybe just to talk briefly about the certification problems that are becoming available.
Meghan: In the UK, they have a certification called Stockfree Organic. Basically, over the course of several years they consulted with dozens of people and put together several drafts to come up with standards for what it would need to be a veganic farm. They use the term Stockfree Organic because with terms like “vegan organic” or “veganic,” it sounds like a type of farming that’s only made for vegans. So they went with the term Stockfree Organic. Stockfree is basically to differentiate from farms with livestock, so it’s a livestock-free farm. In 2004, I made a connection with a group called the Soil Association to start bringing this certification into practice. Iain Tolhurst’s farm in the UK was the first one to become stockfree organic. Just last year, we got our first stockfree organic farm here in North America, which is down in Florida. It’s a place called Geneva Farm. Sorry, it’s called Victoria Farm, sorry, and it’s in Geneva, Florida. It’s actually non-commercial at the moment. They’re actually just starting a small orchard, a small forest garden, but it’s exciting to see that these things are being brought to the US and to Canada. There’s also a separate program that’s being developed in the US called Certified Veganic. That’s basically—have you heard of Certified Naturally Grown (CNG) before?
Meghan: Certified Naturally Grown, in a sense, is a response to USDA Organic because it’s the conventional organic certification program. It’s very expensive for small farmers so it’s hard for small farmers to get the certification, but at the same time if they don’t get it, it feels as if they’re not legitimately growing organic food. Certified Naturally Grown was developed as an alternative where, essentially, farmers certify other farmers. A farmer will visit another farmer’s farm and do a survey. If they feel confident that this person is growing according to organic standards, they’ll do a public declaration. It has a lot of transparency. The farmer will essentially put on the Internet for everyone to see exactly what techniques they use, exactly what inputs they have on the farm, and then they’ll sign it and date it. And then the person doing the certification will also attest to this in a transparent way. So Certified Veganic is very similar to Certified Naturally Grown, that it’s a farmer certifying other farmers for a very low administrative cost.
Caryn: Transparency is good. I think ultimately if we’re going to survive as a species, cooperation is going to definitely be the secret, so I like the idea of, at a grassroots level, the farmers evaluating each other in a cooperative fashion.
Stephane: What I’d like to add is about people that don’t have access to a veganic farm. I think more people should grow food and try to grow veganic food at home, even if they are just a small backyard or even a front yard or balcony. It’s really accessible and it’s easy to grow food. The first thing I think people should do, even if they don’t want to garden, is to start composting because the food scraps that we send to the landfills are polluting and polluting the underground water. If we compost our food scraps, at least we are reducing our environmental impact and it produces really rich fertilizer that we can use for growing food and that’s, I think, really the first step that people should do to do their first step into veganic gardening.
Caryn: Right. I agree with everything you’re saying; I’ve got a small terrace on my apartment in New York City and I grow whatever I can. I’ve also done a bit of composting out there, but I think in the urban environments… I hate to say this, but it’s something that the government’s going to have to regulate; the individuals are not going to do it themselves. Fortunately there’s a movement in the right direction, where in San Francisco they just require that everyone separate their compost with their trash and so the city’s picking it up and taking care of it. We’re in a convenience culture. Most people aren’t going to do anything unless it’s convenient. But okay. I still think we can make it all happen.
Meghan: I think we can, too.
Stephane: Me too.
Caryn: Yeah, I really believe it. Okay. You’re in Quebec. Are there any good vegan or vegetarian restaurants in Quebec?
Meghan: In Montreal, there’s certainly quite a number; in Montreal there’s about, I think, fifteen or twenty of them. The Montreal Vegetarian Association has a really nice guide for that. In Quebec City, we don’t have a ton; we’ve got, I think, three different places? My favorite place is actually a health food store that has a little deli in the back that makes an amazing veggie burger.
Caryn: Hmm. I’ve been in Toronto and there are some really nice restaurants there that I remember, and I was in Montreal once but I don’t remember… Yeah, I went to like one or two. Are there some traditional foods in the Canadian or the French-Canadian culture that, or probably meet a dairy base that you might have discovered? I don’t know if you’re into preparing food other than growing it, but I always like to end on a tasty moment and so I like talking about interesting and delicious foods that are vegan.
Meghan: One thing that’s a food that’s very easy to veganize that I absolutely love, they have a dessert here called Grandpères, which translates as “grandpa.” Basically, it’s maple dumplings. The only thing that’s not vegan about it is it has butter in it, which is quite easy to replace. You can find recipes online for Grandpères. Basically it’s making a batter with flour, maybe a bit of baking soda, salt, mixing in some margarine like vegan margarine, some dairy alternative. At the same time you’re boiling maple syrup and water together. Then you take the batter by the spoonful and put it in this boiling syrup, then they cover the pot for fifteen minutes and when you come back it’s kind of like this gooey donut syrup with these dumplings in the middle. I think that’s fantastic. I think Stephane has maybe a different favorite.
Stephane: Yeah. I would say that my adaptation of a traditional dish is the poutine, which is just french fries with cheese and gravy all over it. I turn it into a vegan poutine where I use french fries but I will put them in the oven and instead of using cheese I just grate tofu, solid tofu, and I would boil it in salted water for maybe five minutes and it changes the texture of the tofu, making it a more soft, salty tofu. Then I make some gravy with some flour, water, tomato paste, and spices and pour it over the french fries. It’s a really good alternative for the typical Quebec dish which is poutine.
Caryn: Wow. That’s interesting. I’m not familiar with that dish. I don’t remember seeing a version of that in France.
Meghan: That one’s actually a genuinely Quebecois dish.
Caryn: Yeah, I think so. I’ve never heard of it. Okay, that’s pretty good. Now, do you know much about maple syrup and how it’s produced?
Meghan: Luckily we actually do have one vegan producer of maple syrup.
Caryn: That was my question, is there a vegan version, because I understand that in order to stop the flow, often pig fat or butter is used.
Meghan: Yeah, I think that that’s used in traditional, although I’m pretty sure it’s not used in organic. But if you buy organic maple syrup, then it’s done without the pig fat and without the formaldehyde. We’re lucky enough that there is one person here with a maple syrup farm who’s vegan and she actually puts out Quebec’s vegan magazine, which is a newsletter and is called Ahimsa. One of the big differences between an organic maple syrup farm and a veganic one is that there wouldn’t be any hunting allowed on the property. Typically, maple syrup farms would double also as hunting grounds, so with a vegan maple syrup farm that’s the one major difference.
Caryn: Right. That’s very good to know. Okay. Are you involved at all with trying to change some government regulations with farming? Do you get involved at all on that level?
Meghan: We haven’t got involved on that level yet, partly because we only started a year ago, so in many ways right now we’re working on website development and getting in contact with farmers. Our main goal in many ways is to facilitate communication between people. There’s a lot of isolated farmers around the continent who don’t know any other veganic farmers, or people who are trying to garden but every time they look for information on the Internet it’s talking about chemical additives and chemical pesticides. So we’re trying to get these people in contact so that they can really find solutions together and share information. In terms of being involved at a legislative level, I suppose perhaps that’s eventually something that could come, although it’s not necessarily one of our immediate goals.
Stephane: One of our interests is to find more people or more farms that are really good examples so that we can show that really there are these farms that are doing it on a large scale and that it’s working and we can go towards this. Now we are getting in contact also with people more in schools or people that are scientists that can bring these ideas and maybe we are going to interest to push these powers in more regulation area, but at this point we are trying to link people and get more information about what’s happening in North America compared to what’s happening in Europe, for example.
Meghan: One thing I guess we should mention that we haven’t mentioned yet is that our organization started a year ago, but the organization in Europe actually started, I think it was in 1996. So in Europe they’ve had a veganic presence for much longer. It would certainly be worth checking out their website, which is www.veganorganic.net. Since they’ve been established longer, they have information sheets that will give quite a bit of detail about the different techniques.
Stephane: They also have an organic magazine…
Caryn: Vegan Organic… Excuse me?
Stephane: Their magazine is published twice a year and it’s called Growing Green International. It’s a really good magazine to know about what’s happening in different projects around the world, different ideas that are coming up. That’s a good publication if people would like to know more.
Caryn: Okay. One thing I didn’t ask you before, but is there any difference in managing pests with veganic versus organic?
Meghan: One of the differences is the word “pests” isn’t actually used too much when it comes to veganic farming. They’d often be called “competing species” because we’re sort of competing in certain ways for the same head of lettuce. But I’ll let Stephane talk a little bit more about how it’s dealt with.
Caryn: First of all, I want to say I love “competing species.”
Meghan: It’s friendly competition too.
Stephane: The first thing, it’s a way we see that first, is to try to have biodiversity and to create an equal system that will auto-regulate as much as possible. We try to avoid killing all animals, so instead we will try to focus on repellant or protecting crops, for example, instead of putting an herbicide you can just put a cloth over the crop so that it will prevent insects from laying their eggs. Instead of killing animals that could come, you could move the fence. It really tries to avoid killing animals and to do prevention instead of counteract what’s happening.
Meghan: One of the things that makes larger farms, or conventional farms rather, more susceptible to pests is that they often use monocultures. It’s a situation where if a pest—sorry, a competing species—for that particular plant arrives, they can easily proliferate and take over the entire field, whereas with veganic it’s really a focus on, as Stephane was saying, on biodiversity, so even if one plant does get lost, it’s not necessarily a big deal if you’re growing fifty or sixty different things.
Stephane: There are different settings that farmers will do, like at the edges having little banks where it could be flowers and different species that would attract beneficial insects, as in ponds or water plants where you could attract frogs and maybe grass snakes, all these animals that would be free in the land that would help to maintain in equilibrium the different microorganisms or insects that are in the field.
Caryn: This has really been very, very interesting and I really am very grateful that you are doing what you’re doing and you’re doing the work so that the rest of us ultimately can benefit from it. Because it may not be that obvious right now, but I think in the very near future we’re going to realize that veganic agriculture is really important, especially when we start realizing the effect of all the toxic contaminants in our food system and when we make a big effort to avoid them, not just by not using pesticides and chemical-based fertilizers, but to avoid all the concentrated toxins that are in factory farmed animals, manure, or in organic farm manure. Do you know—just one really quick question. The manure that exists now, and there are mountains of them near factory farms, do you know what we can do with that? It’s just so toxic.
Meghan: It’s a good question. I think in many ways our hope is that people will move more toward a plant-based diet. I know some people say that in terms of eating meat, they’ll say, “Well there’s already all of this meat in the grocery store. If we don’t eat it, it’s going to go to waste.” I feel in a lot of ways it’s the same thing with the manure, that it’s not a matter of figuring out what to do with it, it’s a matter of figuring out how to reduce it and move in a better direction.
Caryn: Mm-hm. Okay. Well, thank you so much. This has really been a pleasure speaking with you, and I wish you all the best.
Stephane: Thank you for inviting us.
Caryn: Yeah. And I’m now going to start looking for some food that’s from a veganic farm.
Stephane: It’s occurring. In fact, in the farmer’s market there is a farmer that is selling veganic produce and is Certified Veganic now this year.
Meghan: Thank you.
Caryn: I’m Caryn Hartglass. This has been It’s All About Food. Thanks for joining me.
Transcribed by JC, 6/10/2014