For many decades, biointensive farmer John Jeavons has researched how humans can meet all of their food needs using the least amount of land possible, while minimizing water use, fossil fuel use, and off-farm inputs, and while building the quality of the soil. While studying this on a practical research farm and crunching the numbers, the answer ultimately pointed in the direction of vegan diets and plant-based farming practices. Animal-based agricultural systems quite simply use significantly more land and water in order to feed the domesticated animals, driving the continued loss of natural ecosystems.
Animal agriculture is also one of the most fossil fuel intensive industries. A report by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation concluded that the world’s livestock industry generates 18% of greenhouse gas emissions, which is even more than the transportation sector.
Building a more sustainable food system not only involves a shift away from meat and dairy to plant foods, it also involves shifting our fertilization practices so they are no longer reliant on animal agriculture.
Farmers who acquire manure from other places should be aware that their overall “land footprint” can be significantly greater than the size of their own farm. For example, if a 5-acre farm is fertilized using factory farm chicken manure, then the total footprint of the farm is much greater than 5 acres, when accounting for the land associated with the creation of that manure. This concept is also called “ghost acres”, as oftentimes we are using land that we don’t actually see. Beyond land use, acquiring manure also increases a farm’s overall environmental footprint, as the whole cycle that leads to manure production can have wide-ranging environmental implications, from pesticide use to water contamination.
Veganic farmers and gardeners can lower their environmental footprints, use fewer resources, and contribute to the development of sustainable food systems by using entirely plant-based techniques.