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Fighting Exploitation Through Veganic Gardening

May 25, 2011

When I bought my condo, one of the selling points for me was the patio. “I can garden,” I thought with glee.

It’s been 4 years, and the garden has been both a success and a failure – this is the nature of learning, and I am happy to try things just to see if they’ll work. My space, like all growing spaces, has its challenges. My motivation isn’t always up to speed. Despite the challenges, the failures, and the effort, I grow more and more convinced of the vast importance of gardening (when feasible). From social justice to environmentalism to animal rights to frugality, gardening directly addresses many issues.

Social Justice

If you follow the Food Empowerment Project (facebook, twitter, or their blog), you know that there are a lot of issues with farm workers. Even if you are unfamiliar with FEP, it is hard to miss the news in recent years about tomato growers in Florida or strawberry pickers in California. Exploitation of farm workers is rampant, and there is no guarantee that the produce you are buying at the grocery store avoided farm worker exploitation. Not even if it is organic. At farmers’ markets or if you purchase a share in a CSA it’s better, since you can ask those questions of the farmers directly, and hopefully trust the answers.

Community gardens and farmers markets can address some of the issues of food deserts. Community gardens in places lacking options for fresh produce, and which are only available for the people living in that neighborhood, directly address issues of food availability.

Community gardens have a fascinating history, rising up within the social movements of the 60’s and 70’s in places like Berkeley, NYC and Vancouver, they are an equal mixture of revolution and practicality. “Guerrilla Gardening: A Manifesto” is a fascinating book to read on this topic, and it’s a book that will get you thinking differently about the space around you, and the possibilities within it.

A severely neglected carrot led to carrot babies all over the patio!


I, like most people, accepted those endless grass lawns as how-things-are for most of my life. My mindset changed to a degree when I lived in Phoenix, the land of space enough and time, but very little water. I began seeing grass lawns as evil, things that made no sense, but this view was driven by the desert ecology. It didn’t occur to me until I read “Food Not Lawns” that there was something fundamentally wrong with those endless grass lawns even in places with abundant water.

French aristocrats popularized the idea of the green, grassy lawns in the eighteenth century when they planted the agricultural fields around their estates to grass to send the message that they had more land than they needed and could therefore afford to waste some. Meanwhile French peasants starved or lack of available farmland, and the resulting frustration might well have had something to do with the French Revolution in 1789. (p. 12)

Those endless grass lawns are a social statement of a very negative kind, and they’re not only ubiquitous, they’re often required according to various homeowner association rules, or city/county ordinances. One more example of normalized cruelty.

The negative environmental impact of these lawns is staggering. Not only are they a monoculture, the water and pesticide usage is mind-boggling; there is simply nothing good about it, unless you are running a sanctuary and have cows and goats and sheep who make good use of the grass as a food crop.

According to Food Not Lawns, just in the U.S., lawns cover 23 million acres, consume 270 billion gallons of water a week all summer long, use ten times as many chemicals per acre as industrial farmland, and pollute via a gas-powered lawnmower run for one hour the same amount as a car driven 350 miles! And that is just the residential lawns, which does not take into account the 700,000 athletic lawns and 14,500 golf courses.

Animal Rights
Whether we purchase organic produce or conventional at our local grocery stores, we rarely know what those farms are using to grow their food, or how they treat their workers. We have a better chance of gaining that knowledge if we shop at farmers markets or purchase a CSA share, but it is a rare farm that is completely free of animal exploitation, whether in the fertilizers they use or perhaps in raising animals for food in addition to growing crops.

When we garden – either in a community garden, on a balcony, or in our backyard – we know exactly what went into it. We have control over the soil, the compost, the seeds or seedlings, and we also avoid the labor issues. We create an oasis of biodiversity, and potentially eliminate small segments of those dreaded lawns.

There is a term for organic gardening that avoids animal exploitation – veganic gardening.

I know there are a lot of gardeners out there and I’m hoping that the experienced gardeners will chime in with their veganic gardening techniques, resources, advice, and stories!

9 Comments leave one →
  1. Olivia permalink
    May 25, 2011 9:16 pm

    What a great intro to veganic gardening, Deb. I only recently started thinking about why we all have grass lawns, and I’m shocked at how environmentally-unfriendly and animal-unfriendly and human-unfriendly they are.

    A few months ago I latched onto these two related U.K. websites and found them fascinating (there are a few videos to watch): and

    I hadn’t found the North America-based website you mentioned, so I’m glad to learn of it and look forward to checking it out.

    • May 25, 2011 9:25 pm

      Thanks Olivia, those look like great resources!

  2. May 26, 2011 8:56 am

    This is my first year gardening on my own, and so far I’m thrilled with the experience. I’m a little ashamed to admit it hasn’t been as vegan as it could have been since we ended up buying some seedling plants.

    Our yard has no grass (thanks dogs!)… as much as I enjoy the feeling of lush grass underfoot, I grew up in the desert where it seemed absurd that we put so much time, effort, and water into maintaining something as ridiculous as what basically amounts to an invasive species.

    • Olivia permalink
      May 26, 2011 9:38 am

      Question, Jennie: what do you mean: “it hasn’t been as vegan as it could have been since we ended up buying some seedling plants.” I take it you are saying that the plants were first grown in non-veganic soil. Well, I understand your point, but at least you’re much further along than I am and than most people are!

      Good for the dogs: they helped you avoid wasting water and lawn-mower fuel — and enjoyed themselves in the bargain!

    • May 26, 2011 5:36 pm

      I’m glad you got started with the gardening, Jennie! It’s such an awesome feeling to see those first plants come up, get flowers, produce fruit…sometimes I just sit and look at the plants in awe. Best feeling is being able to walk out your back door and pick food to use for your meal!

      But don’t feel guilty about using the seedlings. I know that myself, I can get stuck in the planning/thinking stage, worrying about all kinds of details in a quest for perfection to the point that I take no action at all, when really the seedling is not a bad compromise. Better to buy seedlings that will produce plenty of fruit than to plant nothing at all. That’s my philosophy anyway! I’m about 3/4 from-seed and 1/4 seedlings so far this year. I will do a fall crop (hopefully – I’ve meant to and failed to do so every year so far!) and that will all be from seed.

      One thing I want to learn more about is seed saving.

  3. May 27, 2011 7:09 am

    Hi Deb

    Superb to see and read this post. As you mentioned, it is vitally important for so many reasons that whoever can practice (Live, Love, Eat) veganic gardening do so. And the rewards come back to the individuals who do it in bountiful amounts (even when the harvest is not bountiful!). There’s something magical about helping transform a tiny seed into something that lands up on your dinner plate. Something deeply soulful about fueling your body with nutrition grown with your own hands. Through your own effort. With your own love. Better nutrition is just the beginning …

    We’ve been veganic gardening at Avondale for just under 10 years … and we have at least another 100 years of learning remaining. One year we’ll grow enough snowpeas to feast on and then freeze the remainder until the next season. And then that following season we manage just a few meals with the harvest of them, but the rasperries supply jam for 2 years. It’s all good though.

    Enjoy all you veganic gardeners.

  4. May 27, 2011 1:38 pm

    Make that raspberries …

  5. Rita permalink
    May 28, 2011 10:22 am

    I’ve been gardening – especially growing veg and fruit – for 25 years here, near BCN, and, although I no longer take much stock in the superior qualities of “organic” produce, as it happens, I’ve never used artificial fertilisers /weedkillers/whatever. Every year I get a good crop of lettuce, tomato, garlic, onion, rucula, broad beans/French beans, potatoes, parsaley, coriander, herbs, apples, plums, grapes, asparagus, plus the odd caprice crop of strawberries, goseberries, raspberries etc. I have unlimited access to horse manure, but hardly ever bother to use it – I’ve been composting all this time and it gives me sufficient to go round. the keys are 1) putting in the time and work, 2) the right plant in the right place 3) plenty of compost 4) realising that what suits a family of 2 people is not the same as market gardening – there’s enough to share with bugs etc, if you’re not trying to make a living at it.
    Gardening has got to be one of the most satisfying activities on the planet, but you’ve got to get your hands dirty, learn from those who’ve been at it longer AND books, plus accepting that there’ll be disappointments as well as joys along the way.

  6. October 4, 2012 6:02 am

    Reblogged this on Vegan Activist and commented:
    A beautiful little manifesto about gardening. Soil and vegetables can change the world. They always have.

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