Meet the next generation of food campaigners

Currently the suicide rate for farmers is three times the national average and Vegans Support the Farmers is raising £100,000 to help support the farming community. The latest data available shows that 133 UK farm sector workers that took their own lives in 2019-20.

“Someone taking their own life doesn’t just impact that one person, it has a long lasting knock-on effect in their family, friendship group, and community,” Foy added.

Fellow Vegans Support the Farmers founder, Tom Gardener, 30, explained how attending this year’s Oxford Real Farming Conference and reading its report showed the time for action is now.

“With up to 40 per cent of a vegetable crop being shunned by supermarkets due to aesthetics, there are strong arguments for removing the label ‘wonky’ fruit and veg, and changing the ridiculously narrow retailer specifications.

Reliance

“We have a responsibility to step up and help farmers with their fight for fairer treatment against the powerful retailers. We stand in solidarity with the farmer-led organisations fighting this battle, such as Riverford and Proud to Farm.”

The supermarket greenwash of wonky veg ranges tends to mean that farmers are only paid for the crop which meets store’s standards – and therefore the ‘outsized’ produce is treated as a free bonus for the corporates at the expense of farmers. 

And the downsides conspire against a workforce which is increasingly desperate, facing haywire weather patterns of wet and wild winters/springs and extreme summer temperatures followed by droughts. This is compounded by labour shortages due to Brexit, and rising costs of fertiliser along with lower subsidies.  

The big picture is stark when it comes to the food and water system as a whole. Supermarket policies have driven farming to the wall as well as consumers to food banks in droves. Precarious trade agreements and reliance on imports with only 60 per cent of general foods produced at home and shockingly just 23 per cent of fruit and veg. 

Communities

Increasingly, activists point to the inevitable witnessing of the empty shelves we experienced during the Coronavirus pandemic. Instead of a resilient farming sector what the governments have presided over is a race to the bottom in prices through the cheapest imports and a forget about our own farming attitude.

But as commentators have noted, all this has been said before, which activists claim begs the question why not do something about it, today and tomorrow instead of all our yesterdays and the recrimination and back-biting that brings with it?

The modus operandi for Vegans Support the Farmers is carefully calibrated to ensure that this is a really significant win-win for the British public and these two put upon groups, the vegan campaigners and the farmers. With plant-based diets becoming more popular and the supermarket policies continuing to force farmers out of business this campaign is building. 

Since September 2022 alliances have been made – when Save British Farming held a tractor rally in central London and this unlikely meeting of minds  came together it even made the farming press. A Farmer Dialogue Tour was launched, with visits to farming communities to communicate the aims of the campaign and its concomitant direct action.

Supportive

Kerri Waters, a co-founder, 40, explained: “The success of Vegans Support the Farmers has shown that both vegans and farmers are sick of this media portrayal of us as enemies, and have a hunger for real solutions that recognise we are all just wanting a better future for us and our families. 

“Once we understand each other and recognise our humanity, then we can put in place effective solutions to help animals and a just transition for UK agriculture. But none of that can happen if we ignore the injustice happen to our farmers and stand by why farming is destroyed in this country. Veganism is caring about all sentient life and that means me and you, animals and farmers.

“We are raising money for Young Farmers, a network building community among the next generation of farmers, which is really vital to their mental health. Through raising money for this network of groups, we hope to both extend support to, and build relationships with, real people on the ground. We are also working with farming organisations to back farmer-led demands, and raising public awareness on the situation for farmers.”

As for the next steps there have been touring vegan markets and events up and down the country to raise funds and work to change the way vegans view farmers. Talks at Vegfest and the Vegan and Animal Rights Conference in Manchester have, according to Waters, been  overwhelmingly supportive, stating that this is a sorely needed element to the vegan cause.

This Author

Jan Goodey is an environmental activist and writer who is a regular contributor to The Ecologist.

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