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Vegan Permaculture

Working together. Photo by Amanda Volpatti

Mention the words ‘vegan permaculture’ and you’re bound to get a mixed reaction. For many, the idea that permaculture principles can be applied without the use of animals just doesn’t sit right. Yet a growing number of people are combining the two, and .nd that the principles align beautifully to create a system that is modern yet sustainable.

Vegan permaculture is built on the desire to live a lifestyle that improves the health and wellbeing of animals, people and the planet. In the Vegan Book of Permaculture: Recipes for Healthy Eating and Earthright Living (Permanent Publications 2014), Graham Burnett describes permaculture as ‘a useful framework for positive action whatever our lifestyle choices’. When the permaculture ethic of fair share is extended to include animals, a choice is made to seek alternatives to commonly produced animal products; vegans also phase out consumables considered as by-products of animal-based food sources. It’s an empowering small and slow solution.

Replacing Animals As A Food Source

The current Australian Dietary Guidelines make it clear that a well-planned vegan diet is healthy, nutritionally adequate and appropriate for all stages of life. Crops such as chia, moringa, potatoes and beans are perfectly adequate sources of protein, are relatively easy to grow at home, and store well to ensure a year-round supply. Concerns that plant foods lack calcium are also unfounded, with the calcium in dairy easily replaced by tofu, legumes, leafy greens, chia and almonds.

Researchers such as Professor Colin T Campbell – nutritional biochemist, researcher, and author – believe that it’s too much protein that is causing problems. Preventing and reversing diseases including heart disease, diabetes and some cancers is an increasingly common reason for adopting a whole food, plant-based or vegan diet.

A plant-based diet supports the permaculture ethic of people care through improved health outcomes. It’s also equally relevant as an application of fair share. A 2010 United Nations report identified a move towards plant-based foods as a solution to world hunger.

Bees and brassicas. Photo by Amanda Volpatti

Enjoying Abundance Without Animal Inputs

Stock-free and veganic farming are successful approaches that use many methods commonly associated with permaculture, such as: forest gardening, permanent mulch, ‘lasagne’ gardening, chop-and-drop crops, green manures and nutrient teas. Limiting disruption to the organic materials mimics the development of a natural ecology. Combined with approaches such as square-foot and bio-intensive gardening, it’s possible to grow large amounts of food in a small area.

Although an organic, grass-fed life is a more pleasant experience for livestock, it requires a large amount of land. For example, beef takes fifty per cent more land, and far more water, to produce than the equivalent of grains or potatoes – an unsustainable option for urban dwellers seeking self-sufficiency. Home-grown meat is also an issue for many renters who are unable to keep animals on their property.

And, given an ever-increasing number of authorities identify animal agriculture as one of the largest contributors to climate change, the link to earth care becomes clear. The documentary Cowspiracy: the Sustainability Secret (2014) is a must-watch for people wanting to explore the environmental motivations for adopting a plant-based diet.

There Will Always Be Animals In The System

As with all things permaculture – and vegan – applying the framework is highly individual. Although vegan permaculture recognises the place of animals, in its strictest application only wild animals are included.

‘Animals are not used in my veganic forest gardens, for food or for manure. They wander through and join the system as pollinators, biological managers and consumers’. Helen Athlowe (Veganic permaculture advocate)

Attracting larger animals to a suburban block isn’t a viable option. Many vegan permaculturists integrate rescued animals into their systems, allowing them to co-exist. In our system: rescued chickens scratch the compost and add manure where they roam; adopted guinea pigs run free among the pumpkin vines and keep the grass down; worms aerate the soil and share their wormy goodness. The native garden out the front, and flowering plants throughout the rest of the yard, allow us to share with the pollinators. We need the birds and the bees.


Clockwise from top left: We’re all connected; Pollinator attraction among the fruit trees; Dried legumes. Photos by Amanda Volpatti


We’re All In This Together

Our actions affect the world around us, and permaculture urges us to use appropriate technology to reduce our impact on society. We are faced with choices each day. Applying a vegan lens to permaculture is one way to interpret the permaculture framework.

Vegan permaculture appeals as an alternative way to reduce our reliance on limited land and energy resources. For some of us vegan permaculture will be the best way, whether it is due to personal ethics or limitations imposed by our home environment. When combined, these two ethical frameworks – both counter-cultures – have the powerful potential to create grassroots social change.

Amanda is a freelance writer based on the NSW southcoast.


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