Salt of the Earth: Don Bustos, Ron Khosla farm stock-free, vegan organic or “veganic”
July 13, 2008
It’s Sunday, a day of rest, a day when I traditionally try to stay away from posting anything too depressing. It hasn’t been easy lately. When it comes to our government and our food supply there is a far greater stream of not-so-good news. It often makes me wonder just what God (or Mother Nature) must be thinking. But today I give thanks for people like Don Bustos.
Don lives and farms in northern New Mexico’s Espanola Valley. His land has been passed down from his Spanish ancestors who tilled the same soil centuries before. He went organic 15 years ago when he realized the traditional farming techniques he was using could harm his children’s health. But now, Bustos has found an even safer method — vegan organic farming without any animal fertilizers or byproducts.
This farming method, also called veganic or stock-free farming, is an emerging concept here in the United States. Much like certified organic farmers, veganic farmers use no synthetic chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides or genetically modified ingredients. Veganic farmers take it to another level by not using any manures or slaughterhouse byproducts. They don’t even use organically approved pesticides.
Salmonella and e-coli are bacteria that live in the intestines of livestock and are present in their waste. Livestock waste, or manure, can be used to fertilize fields, potentially contaminating crops with the disease-causing bacteria (a possible cause of our current tomato/pepper/cilantro contamination problem.)
Crops can also be contaminated by contact with infected animals or their byproducts, including bone meal and blood meal, which are used as fertilizer as well.
Veganic farmers use crop rotations and composted plant matter — or “green manure” — to fertilize their crops.
Bustos, 51, was inspired to pursue veganic farming four years ago after listening to then-U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns speak.
“He was talking about ways to protect the safety of our food system, but to me you still have things like e-coli and salmonella from manure (fertilizer),” Bustos said. “Now, I use no manures, no bone meals, blood meal, no pesticides, nothing.”
Stephane Groleau, co-founder of the Veganic Agriculture Network based in Quebec, Canada, said he’s aware of only a dozen veganic farms or gardeners in the U.S. He said the farming method is more popular in England and Europe because of lack of available land for raising livestock and concerns over livestock diseases transferring to humans.
Veganic farmers in the U.S. are motivated by the need to protect the environment and human health, said Ron Khosla, who operates the 77-acre vegan organic Huguenot Street Farm in New Paltz, N.Y., with his wife.
Khosla said the primary source of nutrients on many organic farms in the country comes from manure from confined animal operations, or what he calls “factory farms.”
“You think you are getting these clean happy vegetables, but more often than not they’re grown in waste from factory farms,” he said. “The animals … were fed non-organic feed laced with hormones and antibiotics. Those products bio-accumulate in the animals and it’s present in their waste as well.”
Both Kholsa and Bustos said they have a strong customer base that seeks out their produce because of the vegan growing philosophy as well as a growing awareness about food production.
“Customers are becoming more aware about how their food is grown and the practices by the farmer who’s growing it,” Bustos said. “It’s the customers that are encouraging us to find ways to become more environmentally conscious and efficient.”
Veganic growers say their methods reduce environmental impact by using less land, conserving water and producing fewer greenhouse gas emissions.
The practice, they say, is also cheaper than traditional farming and organic farming.
Farmers can be certified as veganic by meeting standards set by the Soil Association Certification Ltd. in England. However, Khosla is working on veganic standards for American farmers through his organization, Certified Naturally Grown, based in Stone Ridge, N.Y.
Veganic-Healthier, cheaper, safer, greener, cruealty-free, environmentally friendly. The only thing better is the people who actually put it into practice. Thank you.
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