Hi, it's Veronika here!

I've come across an interesting project recently and wanted to share the idea with you.

In recent years, things got tense between vegans and dairy farmers. Vegans want animal liberation and ensure families will stay together (yes, the cow families) and be safe from any harm and abuse. Farmers want carry on in their business and often blame vegans for dairy milk price drop. (Frankly, will every producer blame me for price drop just because I choose not to eat/drink what they produce...?)
This is just a very short summary that cannot grasp the complexity of the issue - but you got the idea for starters.

Now, what is this bold project I stumbled upon recently? It's a step-by-step guide for dairy farmers to transition their business from milking cows to milking almonds =)
It doesn't have to be almonds specifically but again, you got the idea.

Now, let's look at it more in-depth.

I've met Geraldine online in a vegan business group talking about her project how to help dairy farmers to transition from dairy to producing plant-based milk. I found that very interesting and wanted to share her idea further.
One by one, progressive farmers may transition but many others would struggle and that's understandable. They may not know what the alternatives are, they may not know how to do the switch, they may have many problems as many little and small businesses have.

While society's mind-shift is more and more showing, dairy farmers are under more and more pressure.
The dairy product price drops and general anti-dairy feeling is caused by rising numbers of people who may not be just specifically only vegans but chose more and more plant-based dairy alternatives. As a response of the industry, we are encountering quite desperate and mostly ridiculous PR articles and adverts trying to promote dairy more than ever and serving us still utopic happy-cow-in-the-field ideas of where dairy comes from. All of this is showing the weakened position in dairy in modern society.

But vegans promote "be kind to every kind". Humans included, correct? We want to help each other, not go into dairy war. And while many think about these problems, Geraldine took an action and she's turning the dairy problem into new opportunities to please all - vegans, dairy farmers and last but not least, the cows!

This is Geraldine's story:

I am a mom of 5 (1 human, 3 doggies and 1 pony) and breastfeeding my child has actually connected me even more with dairy cows and their suffering. So when my son was 6 months old this project started to form in my mind...

I have been vegan for almost 10 years now and made the transition for ethical reasons. I am a very sensitive person and always felt compassion for others. Animals, of course, but also human beings. Our circle of compassion should be extended to all beings if we want to create a better world.

I have noticed over the years an ongoing war between vegans and non-vegans, especially those who make a living from animal exploitation as they feel more attacked. Non-violent communication (from Marshall Rosenberg), is something I try to apply in my daily life when communicating with others. This implies putting yourself into the other's shoes to understand it from their perspective. That's what we want people to do regarding animal exploitation, to empathise. That's also what I do with animal farmers: to try and understand where they come from and what their situation is. I'm not listening to them to accept what they are doing but to be able to communicate with them in a way that they are more receptive to change. I don't believe they are bad people, I don't believe the mass majority of people is, they have just not yet aligned their values with their actions because they grew up in an environment that normalises this exploitation and it becomes part of their life, their identity.

Veronika: Let me step in for a moment, Geraldine. I see this quite often. Many people think that vegans are just city-hippies who never lived the "classic" countryside life. But I've lived in the countryside. While my broader family weren't made of proper farmers, they had indeed farm animals and were slaughtering them and using them for meat, feathers, skins and more. At my grandmother's house, it was normal to see these things and I've never questioned it when I was young. I used to feed the animals juicy dandelion leaves, admire them, talk to them,... while knowing one day they will be eaten. It was normal that time. Now I'm vegan and part of my family still can't understand it as for them, using animals for meat, feathers and skins is still a norm.
Now, back to your story =)

As I was saying, I believe the majority of people is not bad, therefore, I was quite moved by the difficult situation farmers were in these last few years, sometimes even ending in dramatic family events. In a world that is more and more industrialised, I also felt we could lose the small businesses, the handcrafted knowledge that actually is the foundation for a thriving local community. Something many of us are wanting to go back to, for the quality of products primarily but also to reconnect with people and the earth. 

Over the last 10 years I wanted to get more active for the animals, I launched a few vegan businesses and worked on building a vegan village, so it really became a passion for me as I believe ending animal exploitation is the only right way for the future. For the animals, for the environment and for us humans, to live a healthy more compassionate life.

One thing I always had in mind was to build an animal sanctuary. But I could never really get around my head to get it started because I never felt any land was big enough. I needed to save more animals. It could never be enough. It would not be sustainable in any way to just get more and more land. It would be expensive and lots of work and not really scalable, especially as animal sanctuary are surviving from donations and that makes it for a really uncertain future for them, sadly. So a year ago I had this realisation that animal farms are actually the ideal places for sanctuaries. They already have the land, the structures, the animals and the people caring for them. So how could we transform them in a way that they become places that become shelters for these sentient beings whilst still having the farmers earn a wage, and preferably a better wage so that, they too, can have a better life?

About the project

I made some research and talk to both ex-farmers and the active ones, to get a better picture of their situation and noticed that a lot of them actually want to transition out of animal farming but the two only options for them is to either do something totally different, another job, which is difficult because they need to leave everything behind them, a part of them they and often their families were for generations, and learn something totally different; or to transition to horticulture and start producing veggies but this is also a solution that involves lots of time, learning and costs with an uncertain outcome. And depending on their land it might not even be an option. 

That's were I wanted to fill this gap and make the transition easy so that they'll be more inclined to do it. And that's where I realised...

Animal farmers could actually become plant based milk producers. It's a simple process that doesn't require a lot of investment or learning, and plant based milk is a booming market that can ensure an income for these farmers.

In contrary to store-bought plant-based milk products, this milk will be freshly handmade by the farmers, with organic and local ingredients. No added things, no heating process, no "secret" ingredients. Only quality, healthy plant milk.

Veronika: So simply put, the farmers would do what they're used to and producing quality local fresh produce - while not exploiting cows. The new country lifestyle!

Farmers will keep their farm and their animals and care for them without using them in any way. They will source quality local ingredients and make plant milk on the farm. The animals will be able to live their lives, as a herd, in best possible conditions. No expectations or value put upon them.

One of the struggles of farmers is that they have no saying on the price of the milk and they go through big processors who own the market and pay very low prices to them. Sometimes the milk is bought less than it has cost the farmer to produce. That makes it impossible to sustain in the long term.

For all of that, Refarm'd was born.

At Refarm'd we want to give back the power to farmers, skip the middleman and let them decide what their work is worth. Each farm will have their unique ways, products and therefore taste, making it a great experience for the consumers. We want to revive the local community and that has to go through the small business first.

We will provide a platform that allows facilitating the communication and exchange between farmers, providers (for the ingredients, delivery system, packaging...) and the customers. Customers will be able to make subscriptions for recurring delivery at their home and/or one time purchases whilst travelling for example. 
Part of the payment made for the products will be aimed specifically at covering the costs of caring for the animals and enhancing their environment. 

Veronika: I know there's a big thing going on where big plant-based milk companies sell left-overs to dairy farms to feed the animals there and that understandably outrages vegans and those who choose to consume plant-based alternatives to not participate in animal exploitation. I see that in the Refarm'd farms the leftovers from creating plant-based milk would go to the animals that will now live safely as sanctuary guests there. So the use of such leftovers will not be controversial anymore and will help to sustain the local animals at the sanctuary - taking out of the equation both carbon footprint for transportation of such leftovers and the moral question behind the need of selling leftovers to farms that still exploit animals for profit.
This idea really works all well together! Well done, Geraldine, please tell us more =)

The vision

We are starting with plant-based milk but in the near future, we want farmers to diversify and use their inherited knowledge to make a variety of fresh plant-based products like cheese, yoghurt, butter, cream and so on. We also want to expand to help all types of animal farmers transition, also those for meat. They would produce plant-based meats using processes they were using for making animal-based ones. As this is a bit more complex and requires more knowledge, we want to start simple and make it easy for farmers to join, hence starting with plant-based milk first. 

Farms we are looking for at the moment are small scale ones, family farms, where the animals have enough space and good condition to be able to enjoy the rest of their lives where they are. It is also aimed at such farms because those are the ones struggling the most, overtaken by the big companies and factory farms. In the long run, we want newly born Refarm'd sanctuaries to welcome new rescue animals too (once the ones they will start dying from natural causes). This would allow us to start converting bigger scale farms, factory farms, as we would have room to rescue the animals who couldn't stay there for obvious reasons.

Another important part of the project's vision is sustainability and environmental impact. We want to not only make farms have the lowest carbon footprint possible, but we also want them to be providing a positive impact on the environment. We want farmers to work towards this goal and make improvements on their farm to become a model for sustainability. This will be achieved thanks to multiple solutions like optimising the animal's food consumption and production, planting trees (food forests), shifting to renewable energies and so on... This is a topic where there is room for lots of improvement and will definitely be an important part of Refarm'd!

We want to make vegan food more accessible so that the shift is easier for people.
How?
We want to reduce the cost by cutting the middleman and connecting farmers directly with consumers. We want to have veggie farms that work exclusively with local Refarm'd farms and provide them with the best quality products at the best price. We want to help farmers continue getting subsidies for keeping animals and making efforts to get their farm more sustainable.

Our global vision is to change people's consumption habits, making it easier for them to choose a more sustainable, healthier and compassionate way of eating. 

VISIT REFARM'D

What we need people to do

What we need right now is for people to fill the short form on the website so that we can see where is the most interest for such products. This will help us understand where to start first and have enough evidence for converting our first farmers. 
It is very important to share the project as much as possible so that we can reach a lot of people and move forward with the project. The sooner, the better. For the animals. 

A word for farmers wanting to transition

To farmers questioning their future and looking for ways to get a better one, I would like to say that we understand change is hard, that it can feel like giving up, letting the family down and losing a piece of your identity. It would be hard for anyone in your situation. We do believe that small businesses need to adapt to the market to survive and that's where we want to come in and help you make the right choices. 
We want to make the shift as smooth as possible and help free you from this burden. No investment or training required. You will reap the benefits of your efforts very quickly not just financially but mentally. This solution allows you to continue being a farmer, feeding the people, working with the land and caring for the animals whilst not suffering anymore from needing to make a profit out of them.
You will be able to align your values with your actions and do what you love most. You have nothing to lose, only a lot to win. And we will support you on your journey.


Veronika: 10 out of 10 cows agree they'd rather be friends with humans, not their business assets =)
Like these curious calves that were hoarding around me when we met on one of my walk in the countryside.

That was a lot of amazing ideas packed in one, Geraldine. I'm glad I met you and could share your vision as it sounds really great and would fix so many current problems for so many involved parties...
For all who are unsure about such changes or don't know about dairy farmers' struggles, those who see this topic only black and white, please look at this inspirational BAFTA winning video:

WATCH 73 COWS

Story of this particular farmer and his big herd made me discover Hillside Animal Sanctuary - and I know how much they struggle for space, resources and donations, as almost every sanctuary does. If we could ease the pressure on animal sanctuaries by converting current dairy farms to more sanctuaries, that would make our world a better place for sure. So Geraldine's vision will help more than just current dairy farmers and their animals. It will help many others as well.

Please share this story with others, let them know there are solutions that are better than what we currently have and let's make the world a bit better place one farm after another.

Hi, it's Veronika, your vegan friend and content creator of Veronika Honestly (no, not my surname).
I'm mathemagician (making money as maths tutor! 😁), a bit of an artist (well, trying to get back to art) and also animal and adventure lover.
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