Plant-based Eating and Lifestyle - Ruby Free

Why is switching to eating a plant-based lifestyle now more critical than ever? Ruby has the answers!

Plant-based Eating and Lifestyle  - Ruby Free

Where we chose to eat from in the food chain is key. Intensive animal agriculture and its associated land use contributes hugely to the climate and ecological crisis we’re facing today. In NI over 75% of land area is used for agriculture and agriculture is currently responsible for over a third of global greenhouse gas emissions in NI. But it doesn’t have to be this way, in fact, changing what we produce and how we produce it can actually help combat climate change and nature loss. It can be the very thing that saves it.

The food we choose to fuel ourselves with 3 times a day, every day, has far-reaching potential to bring each one of us to a place of health, respect and importantly – sustainability

The World Resource Institute released a report highlighting how the production of animal-based foods accounts for over ¾ of global land currently available for agriculture. Food’s primary purpose is to provide energy. It is also the single best tool you have in reducing your carbon footprint AND living a kinder, more ethical lifestyle. A recent EAT-Lancet Commission Report on Food, Planet and Health revealed that a ‘radical transformation of the global food system is urgently required,’ highlighting the need for us to double the amount of fruit, veg, legumes and nuts we consume, whilst cutting down our meat, fish and dairy consumption globally.

Usually, the most carbon intensive part of a UK citizen’s lifestyle - is what they eat, but it doesn’t have to be. Recent research from the university of Oxford has revealed cutting meat and dairy products from your diet could reduce an individual's carbon footprint by over two thirds. On top of this, if you are able to either grow your own veg, or shop locally and seasonally you can reduce your carbon footprint by another 10%! Many other small lifestyle changes like not buying new clothes, turning off taps, not using your car as much, recycling and re using more, help the environment BUT the single biggest thing you can do as an individual, is transition to a plant-based diet. Changing the world really does start on your plate!

Having stated the above, it’s not that we don’t believe animals don’t belong in farming systems, in fact, we advocate for mega-herbivores in farming systems, we just know you don’t have to view them as a commodity and a product.  

Before modern day farming systems were even invented; pigs, cattle, ponies, and sheep roamed the land as wild animals. In the Global North, these species were hunted by humans on very rare occasions, mainly over winter periods when plant sources of energy were low. In many countries throughout the world who have had access to nourishing plant sources year-round, or have live by a different set of beliefs, have never eaten meat in their culture or history, proving that humans do thrive without it.

Brushing up against flora, disbursing seeds across miles of land and tilling their turds into the ground, promoting soil health and boosting organisms, farm animals or as they are ecologically known, mega-herbivores are vital for a wild and healthy, UK and Irish landscape. However, times have changed, and farming these (now very domesticated species) of herbivores to a point where they have to be manually moved across land, otherwise they risk depleting an area of nature, is not in any way natural.

Eating less meat, or none, and allowing nature to reclaim huge swathes of land that would otherwise be used to feed and house livestock, is hugely important. Diversifying your faming system can allow you to use less land space. Ballyconnelly Farm use to farm dairy cattle and produced potatoes. Now, we produce a multi-species, no dig, perennial haylage which provides nectar and shelter to moth and pollinator species throughout the summer. It then gets cut and goes on to feed ponies and horses that add nutrient rich poop to the land. We are also increasing our regenerative vegetable production and are on a mission to let more nature into our farming systems. A few times a year, we also let a small handful of sheep roam the farm, adding richness to our soil.

We need more local, seasonal, fresh produce

In NI, most of what we produce is exported and most of what we eat is imported. The system is not favouring us, our health, or nature - its favouring capitalism. To put it simply, the processes we have engineered to feed ourselves have damaged natural habitats and biodiversity to the point where vital ecosystem services are in decline, but the good thing is, it has never been easier to discover plant-based meals that are just as tasty and, despite the misconceptions, cheaper that meat. Plant based, and preferably more local, plant-based protein sources like leafy greens, mushrooms, beans, sprouts and legumes are among many alternatives.

At Ballyconnelly Farm, we don’t just believe what you eat is important, we believe how you eat is important. In our modern, fast paced lives cooking can feel like a chore and eating is often rushed, therefore further disconnecting us with our food and where it comes from. In many cultures around the world, eating is like a ritual. Food is laid out and everyone around the table can help themselves to as much or as little as they want. This does not only encourage less food waste but also allows family and friends to slow down together – connect – and most importantly, enjoy food more.

At Ballyconnelly Farm we have plans to create community spaces that encourage a stronger connection to nature and to where our food comes from.

The lower farmyard is full of buildings with tonnes of history. The byre use to house cattle and sows from as early as pre-1800s through to the 1980s, towards the turn of the millennium. It was also used as a place to store goods and for a long time, a farm shop that many older locals, today, still tell us they remember. As we look towards the next 200 years and beyond, the future of this beautiful structure is yet to be written, but we hope it can be a place used to inspire imagination and creativity. We're on a mission to transform this space into one where nature is front and centre, allowing any and everyone to get back to being wild. A studio for art workshops, a field kitchen, a farm shop - you name it, we have so many ideas!

Ballyconnelly Farm, a small family farm in Northeast Ireland, Restoring Biodiversity & Reconnecting with Nature.

On our small patch of the world, we hope to showcase to society how the future of food production and nature conservation, coexisting can look. We understand a lot has to change to get there but know we have to start somewhere.

We are in a nature and climate emergency and it’s going to take a collaborative effort to protect and restore the natural world, but it is doable if we work together to diversify and change our ways. Before it’s too late.

To find out more about our current campaign, ‘Decade to Diversify’, watch this clip and follow our page.

September 28, 2022

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