In the spirit of and commitment to ongoing coverage of vegan farms globally, Pacific Roots Magazine is excited to bring readers the following interview with Peter Albrecht about his farm, Villands Vånga Veganträdgård, in Sweden.
Peter founded Villands Vånga Veganträdgård in 2018 after finishing his degree as a head gardener. His intention was to establish a small firm focusing on vegan farming, vegan permaculture design and agroecology. Villands Vånga Veganträdgård is not only vegan but also organic and promotes small scale vegan-organic farming and homesteading by doing consulting, having different courses on subjects like growing vegetables with vegan methods, forest gardening without domesticated animals and vegan permaculture design. They also do lectures on the theories behind vegan agroecology and the vast advantages of vegan farming for the human animal, all other animals, ecosystems and the environment.
On vegan farming, Peter notes that “…it’s the solution to a lot of our threats like mass extinction of nonhuman animals and the warming climate.” Peter and his partner Selma have run a successful vegan homestead for about 10 years and are now focused on putting their experience’s into refinement and good practice here on their farm.
Can you share more about your background and what brought you to farming?
Peter: I have been living as a vegan since 2001. I started out as an ethical vegan spending most of my time as an activist in the Swedish animal rights movement. I grew up in Sweden, Germany and Kenya. Before I moved to the countryside I lived in Malmö 10 years. I completed a Masters in Human Ecology from Lund’s University, doing my final paper on the representation of ”nature” by looking at the oat milk company Oatly’s conflict with the “forced milk” company Arla about using the word milk. I travelled through many parts of Africa as a vegan, have raised vegan kids, moved to the countryside were I knew nobody who was a vegan and now have started a vegan farming company which provokes the old farming community without ever directly confronting them. Every day I learn more details about ecology, food systems, health, animal welfare, children and humans generally that strengthens my conviction in veganism.
Has your farm been vegan from the beginning?
Peter: The farm has always been vegan. I moved out to the countryside to farm vegetables and legumes because of two reasons. The first was to reconnect to the land. The older I got the more bored I became in the city. The second reason was to prove some arguments were wrong, like vegans can’t live in the countryside, that growing food for vegans only in Sweden would be impossible (people always said that growing enough legumes for protein would not work), that you always need to domesticate animals and take parts of their body like bone meal, or blood meal to grow organic. That using animal manure is the only way to grow vegan food in Sweden. The claim was that surviving in Sweden as an organic farmer is inevitable with forcing animals to suffer in some way. This was profound I thought! For the first 5 years I farmed happily without animal manure or using other parts of the animals bodies without thinking about if there would be more people out there doing the same thing.
Were there any specific challenges in establishing a veganic farm?
Peter: System wise, economically, infrastructure wise and labour wise there are no specific challenges, rather the opposite I would say. Of course there is no specific vegan organic manure to buy so you have to grow or gather it by yourself and then find ways to apply it. But being a vegan organic farmer you usually don’t want to buy your nutrients anyway because it’s a proof that you are not successfully closing the nutrients cycles in your farmland. We want to close all the organic cycles in our grounds without bringing in nutrients from afar otherwise it’s not a vegan organic operation. The challenge is to stand up to conventional farmers and other organic farmers that will tell you it won’t work, that’s it even bad for the environment and that you want to make cows go extinct and that then makes you a bad person. They will then tell you about the importance cows have in keeping the landscape ”open” and that other species of insects and such will go extinct if we all farm vegan organic and eat vegan. So you have to be prepared to answer those questions. Some of the most critical people of vegan farming you will find among small-scale organic animal flesh, milk and egg people. Because they are usually ideologically convinced meat eaters who have thoughtfully chosen that lifestyle. Larger farmers sometimes even “get it” quicker because they understand the rationale behind the eco efficiency of vegan farming. That doesn’t mean we team up with them though (as values can still be radically different).
Did you have experience with non-veganic or veganic farming prior to establishing Villands Vånga Veganträdgård?
Peter: I had some training in conventional organic farming and also through doing my permaculture certificate where we only spoken about normal organic farming and then applying permaculture methods on top of that. I became inspired to learn about permaculture after spending a month in the mountains of Malawi where I stayed at a permaculture farm. It was really an eye opener for me about how farming could look like without the monoculture of conventional farming.
Can you share more about your story and team? Who you are, where you all come from? What brought you to farming and specifically veganic farming?
Peter: On the farm I live with my partner Selma and three kids ages 3, 4 and 13. We have both been vegan over 19 years and met in Malmö 10 years ago through friends and also by both doing grassroots activist work. I bought this place alone and moved out of Malmö. Selma still resided in Malmö because she was co-parenting her first child. But she basically spent all of her free time here the last 10 years doing the same work. For almost 4 years now we have lived as a family on the small-scale farm. Selma also works with domestic violence against women. We are on our way to transform this place to a vegan-organic farm that is also an educational and meeting center that will provide places to stay for visitors, pupils, learners or just eco-friendly tourism. Both Selma and I have one Swedish parent and one from another country. My father is from Austria and Selma’s from Portugal. She has grown up in Lisbon but also in Piteå and Uppsala.
On the vegan path you first start out by feeling fooled by the whole system of speciesism and you can hardly grasp the pain animals must suffer. Then you get angry and want to do something about it. Later you see how anti speciesism connects to other oppressions like feminism, homophobia, class, capitalism, globalism and racism that are all problems that spring from the rationalisation of nature which we constantly fight against.
Being vegan is not just a game of never letting animal products pass through your mouth and that’s it. Then we never change anything. The product can be vegan but behind the making or growing of the product there can be a massive environmental and animal rights issues. We want our food clean and that means through the whole chain of production. That basically means a lot of us vegans, especially town-vegans, must transition to farmers or at least grow more of their own food. Small scale farming and growing your own food is the only way we can give back the land to the animals we say we care about and that means a lot of us must in some way be part of a small-scale growing food system to claim you care for the animals.
Are you actively involved in veganic farming networks locally, nationally or globally?
Peter: We are active in a local permaculture network where we live. There are about five households doing permaculture inspired growing and about the double doing other transition work that we collaborate with like shared work days, tool sharing, seed saving and social relations that keep us happy. On a national scale, we as vegan farmers don’t belong to any network because there still is not one in place. We had some dialogue with members of the German Vegan biodynamischer Anbau but otherwise not so much. We mostly follow what’s going on internationally, trying to apply the parts we think are relevant to our small-scale farm.
What is your perception of the current state of veganic farming in Sweden? How about Europe as well as globally?
Peter: In Sweden there are a couple of vegan farmers or gardeners but there is no organising yet. We are all on different levels of the growing food spectrum. I could mention Simone Irvine who is head gardener for Läckö slott where I also have practiced a period. He grows totally vegan in an ornamental 1700th French potages inspired garden and and the vegetables are served in a white guide restaurant close by. I found a lot of inspiration there. Larger farms that label themselves vegan don’t really exist that I am aware of.
In Europe I would say the Germans are doing really great work both in the universities funding vegan-farming research but also many small-scale farms are developing. There is also a label for vegan organic grown products in the shops which is great. Also France has come a long way and the UK as well. UK has their own labelling for vegan farms trough the vegan organic network VON and the soil association who have set up standards for what is expected of a vegan farm. Sweden has a lot to learn from all these pioneers. I see that it is also moving forward in the USA of course with vegan market gardens popping up! And if people don’t know about it yet I have to mention Will Bonsall who is from the USA and a real inspiration for us vegan small-scale farmers!
What are your thoughts on the future of veganic farming?
Peter: Basically it’s a must. That is, if we want to have organic food, stop deforestation, act on global warming and also stop the mass extinction of non-domesticated animals. Today’s industrial farming is one of the biggest players behind deforestation, water pollution, fossil fuel consumption and land grabbing. We all agree on a huge reduction in animal derived food and products. This means that there will be very little animal manure and body’s to use as nutrients and organic matter to build our soils. Therefore a vegan organic farming method is the future. Of course many people have interest in keeping everything business as usual and that is what we have to fight if we want a to have a future for our worlds population.
I think it’s very important as well as incredibly interesting for people to just see produce that has been grown veganically- to learn that it is not only possible but happening. I really like how you do just this on your social media- video clips showing you with tomatoes grown recently and many other posts simply showing vegan produce grown right at your farm. Can you share more about your use of social media to share what is going on at the farm?
Peter: Right now we use Facebook and Instagram to show what we are doing. Just having an account saying you are vegan and growing food with vegan methods can be interesting enough. Even many vegans have not made the distinction between eating vegan food and eating vegan food grown without the meat, milk and egg industry providing the nutrients for their veggies to grow! I use social media both to influence non vegans to go vegan and vegans to start acting on the fact that basically all organic food today exists because there is an animal body’s and manure to buy for organic farmers as their main preference for nutrients and organic matter.
We also want to show that we are just normal people with a normal family life. We just don’t want to act on speciesism and that also seems to be the solution for many of our world problems. Showing the food we grow and sharing about how we went about producing a years usage of, let’s say tomatoes, without using any domesticated animals in any way is a way to act on our political beliefs and be active participants for a future for the kids and all the living. We hope for more interactions in the future on social media so we can spread vegan farming and homesteading to more people.
Can you share what you are growing in different seasons ?
Peter: In the early Spring in the greenhouse we grow leafy vegetables like Pac Choi and Tatsoi. We also grow different salads and radishes. There is also permanent perennial kale growing that we can harvest from April. Later we use the greenhouse to start off all the different sort of kale like Broccoli, green kale and point kale. We also have fig tree, apricot, grapes, artichoke and potato bean (Apios americana) in the greenhouse. During summer it’s where we usually grow tomatoes and chillies but also runner beans and cucumber.
Outside in early spring we forage in the edible forest garden that we are establishing here. It can be leafy greens like patience dock (Rumex patient), Perennial Goosefoot (Chenopodium bonus henricus) and ramsons. Also a lot of leeks like Welsh onion, Chinese chives and Siberian chives. We can also harvest tubers like Jerusalem artichoke and a bit later asparagus. That’s only a handful of the plants we use in early Spring from the forest garden. During that season, the forest garden is the go to place for different berries. We grow about 20 different bushes we can harvest for berries. In the forest garden there are also more than 20 different fruiting trees. On the ground layer we grow more than 30 herbs and medicinal plants that we use.
In the annual vegetable beds we grow a lot of different beans for direct consumption or to store for the winter. It’s harry couverts, edamame beans, soy beans, runner beans, peas and sugar pea. My favourite beans to grow are the old Swedish Heritage varieties like Hermelin, Tranbär and Duvlila. Also for winter we grow a lot of grey peas (Pisum sativum var.arvense) and blue peas that are like the Swedish equivalent to the Chickpea. Then during early summer there are a lot of carrots, beets, mangold, different kales, swedes, potatoes, Winter squash, Summer squash and pumpkins going into the ground.
Can you share any resources (digital, books etc) for those interested in learning more about veganic farming and/or gardening?
Peter: If you want to find out more about growing food with vegan methods you should read Will Bonsall’s book Essential Guide to Radical Self Reliant Gardening and Ian Tollhurst’s book called Growing Green. You should also check out forest gardening like Martin Crawford’s agroforestry research trust that has produced brilliant books and stuff to watch on YouTube.
If you want to get your hands dirty and learn more follow me on Facebook and Instagram @vegantradgard for information on growing vegan style. I also do courses here on the farm and lectures by demand. Also a long interview with me is available at Odlarna podcast.
Feature & Interview by Annika Lundkvist at Pacific Roots Magazine Editorial Desk