The Plant-Based Movement to Transition Farmers Away from Meat and Dairy Production

Two fledgling projects led by animal-welfare groups hope to offer a lifeline to struggling farmers by helping them trade animal agriculture for alternative proteins.


By Nadra Nittle, Civil Eats 

January 13, 2020 


After repeatedly calling out the unfair labor practices and inhumane conditions rife in contract poultry farming, Mike Weaver left behind a 15-year career as a grower.


“My last flock of chickens went out January 8, 2019,” he said.


But his next move has surprised some of his neighbors in Fort Seybert, West Virginia. The 67-year-old  isn’t giving up farming altogether but transitioning to growing hemp.


“I’ve been a CBD oil user for almost two years, and I’ve been researching it for a good while,” said Weaver, who has also served as the president of the advocacy group Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM). “I thought, ‘Maybe, I’ll repurpose my chicken houses and see if I can raise industrial hemp and purchase the equipment to extract the oil.’”


A former special agent with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Weaver hopes to save water, hire more workers, and make exponentially more money growing hemp than he ever did as a contract grower for Pilgrim’s Pride, a subsidiary of meat company giant JBS.


Weaver belongs to a burgeoning movement of farmers shifting away from animal agriculture to crops of all kinds. And they’re getting help from unexpected quarters. The animal rights advocacy group Mercy for Animals (MFA) and vegan foods company Miyoko’s Creamery have recently announced programs to help farmers make a transition away from raising livestock. The groups say the shift benefits animals and the environment, while boosting farmers’ economic outlook.


As contract farmers struggle to stay financially afloat and concerns about animal agriculture’s role in climate change mount, MFA launched its Transfarmation Project in November to help farmers currently raising animals on a large scale grow crops such as hemp, mushrooms, and hydroponic lettuce instead. The group will include investors, engineers, entrepreneurs, and policymakers in an effort to provide alternatives. During the first phase of its fledgling project, MFA plans to help 10 yet-to-be named individuals leave factory farming behind.


“We decided to create a platform where we would have this conversation about our current factory farm system and how to get the people who want out involved in the plant-based space, whether it’s hemp or even solar and wind energy,” said MFA President Leah Garcés. “I’m not pretending that taking 10 farmers out of factory farming is going to end it, but we’re trying to work collaboratively and be constructive about creating new jobs for those who want them.”


As the MFA effort begins, Miyoko’s Creamery is gearing up to help one (also yet-to-be named) California dairy farmer make the move to plant agriculture next year. The company will use the farmer’s acreage for research and development efforts related to its vegan cheese and butter products. Miyoko’s will partner with Farm Sanctuary, an advocacy group, on this project, which it hopes to replicate on other farms.


“This is a worldwide movement,” said the company’s founder, Miyoko Schinner. She points to a recent report by a think tank called RethinkX that predicts that industrialized animal agriculture is going to collapse by 2035. “There will still be some high-end dairy, but it will be a very niche market. The trend will be more toward sustainable plant-based food,” she adds.


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