“We must end animal agriculture and we must end the use of animal by-products on land. It is the only future. Small-scale diversified vegan agriculture is the only viable option going forward for the future of all us animals. It will just require more farmers, but can be done on less land, less inputs and less waste.” -Jimmy Videle, La Ferme de l’Aube
In October 2014, Jimmy Videle, a native Northern Californian, and his wife Mélanie Bernier, a native of Montréal, Québec, bought a fixer-upper house and 6 acres of land in the province of Québec, beginning planning and building for the establishment of vegan farm La Ferme de l’Aube in 2015.
Pacific Roots Magazine has as one of its primary commitments the ongoing coverage of vegan farms around the world as well as interviews with veganic agriculture researchers and activists. We were excited to have the chance to learn more about La Ferme de l’Aube’s history, operations as well as Jimmy and Mélanie’s backgrounds and perceptions of vegan farming as sustainable practice and for the future of food.
Interview with Mélanie Bernier & Jimmy Videle of vegan farm La Ferme de l’Aube
Can you share more about your story and team? Who you are and where you come from as well as what brought you to farming and specifically veganic farming?
Jimmy: In 1997 after spending 2.5 years in New Orleans I embarked on a 3 month road trip across the lower United States. Upon that journey I happened upon a dirt road outside of Brownsville, Texas just off the Gulf of Mexico that was lined with concentrated cattle feeding operations. The road was muddy not with dirt but with manure slurry, the smell was dizzying and the poor cows were up to their thighs in their own feces. The slurry followed the road and emptied into the Gulf of Mexico. I became vegetarian that day. In 1998 I bought my first “farm” in the Northern Arizona high mesas east of Flagstaff, a small 900 square foot home with 37 acres of overgrazed land. I began growing my own food as the availability of fresh produce was sparse. In 2005, the possibility of having an organic farm came to fruition and Moonrise Farms, a certified Naturally grown diversified fruit and vegetable farm with chickens for their eggs and goats for their milk, was born. I co-operated that farm for five years.
On January 1st, 2010 my path took me to the Big Island of Hawaii and eventually through 15 countries over 3.5 years and working on 11 different farms, everything from conventional small-scale corn farms to veganic permaculture farms. Sometimes having a room with private bathroom, sometimes just a cot under a lean-to with composting toilet, cold showers (or washing in the river) and cooking facilities on nothing but a rocket stove.
In late 2013, living in Montréal and volunteering on a farm on the west of the island, I received an email from an old friend and college roomate Kip, that went something like this,” Hey Jimmy! My friend Keegan and I are making this film Cowspiracy can you watch it and specifically tell us what you think about the agriculture section of the film?”
After seven months of trying to explain to them that vegan agriculture was not possible and that manure and/or blood and bone meal was required in some way, I was convinced otherwise. I became vegan in August of 2014.
Mélanie: I was born in 1976 am a native of Montréal, Québec. After spending the majority of my life in the city, I always had that dream to live in the country and have a farm (garden) project. In 2010 I experienced life on a small fruit farm in the Puna district of the Big Island and from there backpacked through 15 countries working and traveling while realizing another dream! I saw the possibility of seeing a small farm come to fruition while working on three farms back in Québec.
After seeing the film Cowspiracy I became vegan first for ecological reasons, but very soon after my reasons became for the animals. It was obvious that I wanted to create something without animal exploitation. Something that not only benefits ourselves but all living creatures as well.
Did you & your team have experience with farming prior to establishing La Ferme de l’Aube?
Jimmy: We did. I had co-operated an organic farm in the northern Arizona mountains east of Flagstaff for five years. Starting in 2010 I spent three and a half years on the road working on organic and permaculture farms in Hawaii, Mexico, Belize, Costa Rica, Panama, Ecuador and Québec, Canada where Mélanie also shared the experiences. Mélanie also took part in an intensive three-week internship at one of the most productive bio-intensive organic farms in Québec- Jardins de la Grelinette.
Were there any specific challenges in establishing a veganic farm?
Jimmy: Oh yes! What was unknown to us when we bought the house and land was that the area we wished to cultivate, a beautiful gentle south sloping spot, had had about 12 inches (30cm) of topsoil scraped off by the previous owner four years prior which he sold to have enough money to create the road to the house. When we originally walked the land and felt the very sandy soil, in my head I thought ‘perfect’. But after a 2016 initial growing season with many failures, subsequent soil tests revealed a soil ph of 5.2 (extremely acid) and phytoxic levels of aluminum. Aluminum which is present in most soils is neutral in soil ph levels above 5.6 but because our soil was so acidic, the aluminum became a very damaging mineral and caused the plant to not be able to take up any other nutrients. Specifically the aluminum seemed to burn the root ends.
Needless to say we had to refund the 6 clients that pre-ordered CSA-type baskets from us and cancel the scheduled on-farm kiosk. In the end we produced a fair enough for us, for we had planted about 1/2 an acre. But it was a very challenging time and there were thoughts if it was even possible. Yet here we are today in October of 2019 and we had another very productive season!
What you are growing in different seasons?
Jimmy: We grow everything from A-Z, over 70 different fruits, vegetables herbs and flowers which comprises more than 300 different varieties as we have a 16 week delivery season of fresh produce to our friends and partners.
We start around the last week of June with Strawberries, Asparagus, Meslun, Radishes, Green Onions and many fresh herbs like chives, lemon balm and oregano.
In July- Cherry Tomatoes, Cucumbers, Carrots, Beets, Kale, Swiss Chard, Collard Greens, Summer Squash/Zucchni, Snap peas, Lettuce, bunching onions, garlic and fresh herbs like Basil, Dill and Cilantro.
In August- the bounty is all of the same as in July plus Heirloom Tomatoes, Snap Beans, Eggplants, Peppers (sweet and hot), Potatoes and Artichokes.
In September- this is the bigger bounty, all of the same as in July and August plus melons, watermelons, winter squash, pumpkins and the roots, like rutebaga, parsnips and celery root.
Are you actively involved in veganic farming networks locally, nationally or globally?
Jimmy: I write yearly articles for Growing Green magazine published by the Vegan Organic Network (UK). We annually share a vegan agriculture informational kiosk with Stephane Groleau co-founder with Meghan Kelly of the Veganic Agriculture Network (Canada) at the Montréal Vegan Fest. I am the agricultural consultant for AUM films (U.S.A) which produced Cowspiracy and What the Health. And for the past three years I have been the coordinator of the Economic Transition Team and vegan agriculture expert for the Humane Political Party (U.S.A) where our team has published journal articles on comparisons of plant-based and animal-based agriculture on many different fronts. https://humaneherald.org/publications/. Recently I have become involved with the Animal Protection Political Party (Canada) in shaping their plant-based agriculture transition policy.
What is your perception of the future of veganic farming?
Jimmy: That it is the only future! We must end animal agriculture and we must end the use of animal by-products on land. So again it is the only future. Small-scale diversified vegan agriculture is the only viable option going forward for the future of all us animals. It will just require more farmers, but can be done on less land, less inputs and less waste.
Because we do it, my perception is that it works better than any organic or convention farming model I have personally witnessed in my 15 years of professional farming. But it is unknown and there is a block in the mindset of organic farmers that it is possible. Once organic farmers see the possibilities then I think change can happen rapidly.
Can you share any resources for those interested in learning more about veganic farming and/or gardening?
Jimmy: My favorite resources online are: Vegan Organic Network, esp. Growing Green Magazine, Stephane and Meghan’s Veganic Agriculture Network, Biocyclic-vegan agriculture. My favorite books are Growing Green by Jenny Hall and Ian Tolhurst and Will Bonsall’s Guide to Radical, Self-Reliant Gardening.
What are your thoughts about the current state of vegan farming (its prevalence, perception & acceptance) in North America?
Jimmy: Like I said before the idea is relatively unknown and like me when I first thought about it, the idea seemed illogical. Specifically in North America where we have the largest average farm sizes in the world, farmers cannot fathom the idea of productivity on a small-scale. Yet, again it is the only viable future, animal agriculture must end, monocropping of soy, corn and wheat must end. For the health of our soils and all beings who share the space the acceptance must occur and rapidly.
It’s true, many people are not aware that veganic farming is even possible, much less that it actually exists and people are successfully doing it. As your site states, “We promote soil health through different methods such as green manures, crop rotation, vegetable mulches, fertilization with plants (such as nettle and comfrey)”.
For those reading and interested to perhaps apply these principles to an existing garden or to even possibly establish a vegan farm of their own, what is your advice and tips?
Jimmy: Four main things:
1. Build the soil by creating a healthy soil. All that you mentioned above and making it the priority, for a healthy soil will produce healthy plants.
2. Plant as much diversity as possible. Planting all available perennials that work well in your area, whether they are trees, shrubs, vegetables or flowers. The more diversity in floral plantings the more diversity of faunal friends.
3. Find or make on-site a consistent source of veganic compost. This can be a mixture of just chipped branch wood and grassland cuttings (green hay). It can be dried leaves with kitchen waste. It can be a combination of all.
4. Never give up and keep on growing. Whether it is for a small business or personal consumption the key is to always be growing. Failures will happen, it is certain! Accept that but continue on. The only food security we have is to grow our own and to do so veganically will secure the futures of all.
Visit La Ferme de l’Aube online at https://www.lafermedelaube.com/
Feature & Interview by Annika Lundkvist at Pacific Roots Magazine Editorial Desk