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The farmers who switch from animals to crops

Today is Earth Day, an international annual event where we show our support for our planet. Livestock farming is one of the leading causes of the climate crisis, and tackling our food system has never been more important.

Read more: Meet the woman helping animal farms go vegan

As part of my work as CEO and President of Mercy For Animals, I help farms “trans farm” – meaning I work with factory farms to transition from animals to agriculture. I founded The Transfarmation Project in 2019. The project funds and guides American farmers, whether motivated by economic, environmental or animal welfare concerns, as they transition from raising animals to growing plants.

I sympathize with those who cannot imagine working with factory farmers, even in a shared mission to dismantle the system. But I also recognize that this mission is monumental, and that we need such alliances if we are to achieve it.

This Earth Day, I’d like to celebrate three pioneering farming families – the Halleys, the Faaborgs and the Lims – who have repurposed their factory farms and are now fighting pollution and the climate crisis while growing specialty crops to feed people .

Read more: Why this Dorset dairy farmer gave his cows to a sanctuary and turned his farm vegan

The environmental costs of livestock farming

I won’t compare apples and oranges; this is a comparison of chickens with strawberries (or pigs with hemp, cattle with mushrooms, and chickens with vegetables or flowers). Did you know that chicken production produces approximately 5.4 kilos of carbon per pound of meat, while strawberry production produces only 0.69 pounds of carbon per pound of fruit? Converting a four-house industrial chicken farm to a strawberry farm would reduce annual carbon emissions emissions by 14 million pounds. This is approximately the amount of carbon produced by more than 1,300 cars annually.

This same switch would reduce annual phosphate production by 40 million pounds. Why are millions of pounds of phosphate a bad thing? In addition to making soil less fertile and lowering the crop yields on which the survival of our species depends, phosphate runoff from industrial farms pollutes lakes and rivers, causing frothy green algae blooms that kill aquatic animals, and creating ghostly vast oceans who can no longer survive. to live. Converting this industrial chicken farm to a strawberry farm would also generate 134 million pounds less sulfur dioxide per year. This insidious gas often causes particulate air pollution and damages trees and plants – nature’s vital carbon sinks.

The Halley family

The Halley family in their former animal farm, which now grows hemp
Mercy for animals The Halley family now grows hemp

If a four barn conversion can go so far, imagine the positive impact of a twelve barn conversion like the Halley family. The Halleys don’t grow strawberries, but their farm transition is a beacon of meaningful change in their Texas town and beyond.

As contract chicken farmers, the Halleys had raised more than a million chickens a year for thirty years. When faced with the financial pressures that often come with contract farming, they decided to quit bird breeding for good. But they didn’t know where to turn for help. Some research led them to Transfarmation. Just weeks after contacting my team in July 2020, the Halleys started their first hectare of hemp plants.

In October 2020 they celebrated a flourishing first harvest. After a proud harvest, they dried the hemp and stored it in spaces made from their old chicken coops (good feeling aside: their former cattle pasture is now a dog and donkey shelter).

The Faaborg family

The Faaborg family no longer keeps pigs
Mercy for animals The Faaborg family no longer keeps pigs

The Faaborg family’s “transfarmation” takes environmental protection to another level, from the trees planted on their property to the solar panel installed to power the entire farm.

The Faaborgs ended their 30-year tenure as pig farmers after a year of working with Transfarmation. Their former pig farm, just north of Des Moines, now offers fresh, value-added produce throughout Iowa.

The Faaborgs’ passion was to create low-carbon agricultural practices that had immediate impacts on climate change. Although the consequences are immediate, they are also increasing: the Faaborgs’ farm transition serves as a model for other farmers to copy. Now imagine if the four-house conversion from chicken to strawberry was multiplied by hundreds or even thousands of farmers across the country.

The Lim family

David Lim and members of The Transfarmation Project
Mercy for animals The Transfarmation Project helped David Lim grow plants

North Carolina farmer Tom Lim had raised chickens for 20 years before his contract was terminated without warning. Tom and his wife, Sokchea, had always tended a small plot of vegetables: long Ping Tung eggplants, jujube fruits, Chinese long beans, lemongrass, Thai basil, kaffir limes, and many more staples of their Southeast Asian diet.

With the support of Transfarmation, they have added specialty mushrooms to their crop production and are now expanding to include berries, tomatoes, lettuce and other specialty crops. The Lims’ farm transition has reconnected a happier, more fulfilled couple with what brought them to farming in the first place: caring for the land and feeding people.

Plant-based is the future

It is predicted that the plant-based food industry will be worth $85 billion by 2030. Plant-based food producers will need an abundant, reliable source of key ingredients: peas, mushrooms, oats, leafy greens and more. Likewise, demand for hemp as food, textile fibers and medicines is increasing. Transfarmation not only works with farmers to help them transition to plant-based production, but also connects them with companies that need their products. It’s a win-win-win situation – for farmers, the planet and animals.

This Earth Day, let the Halleys, Faaborgs and Lims be a testament to the power of courageous personal change. We can all be counterforces against climate change and protectors of the land, water and air – and everyone who lives there. We may not have a farm to convert, but we can choose plant-based foods, and we can support farmers by purchasing plant-based products directly from them. The consequences of plant-based shifts on pollution and climate are tangible; We know they make a difference. Chickens and strawberries have proven it.

Visit us at thetransfarmationproject.org for more information.

Read more: New online toolkit helps farmers leave livestock farming