The farmer who took his flock to a sanctuary instead of the slaughterhouse

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One day, Sivalingam Vasanthakumar decided to take his lambs to an animal shelter instead of the slaughterhouse. Now the farmer says his future is plant-based

For most farmers, driving animals to the slaughterhouse is part of their professional life. But Sivalingam Vasanthakumar – known as Kumar – never felt that. Driving his animals to the slaughterhouse was always uncomfortable.

“I worked in agriculture for 30 to 40 years and took so many animals to the slaughterhouse, but each time I wondered if it was ok,” he says. “When I backed the trailer into the slaughterhouse, the animals didn’t want to go; they could feel it.

While Kumar grew up on a small dairy farm in Sri Lanka, they never killed the cattle there. “It was for cultural and partly religious reasons. Dad was a vegetarian anyway, and I grew up not being a big animal eater,” he says.

Eventually the guilt got too much and in 2020, instead of taking his 20 lambs to the slaughterhouse, Kumar decided to drive them to an animal sanctuary in Worcestershire. “It was a good decision,” he recalls. ” I could not any more. I wanted to let them live.

Sanctuary staff send him photos of his flock. “They are all living happily ever after,” he said with relief.

Kumar, who lives in Devon and has a master’s degree in sustainable farming, says the practice also went against his growing environmental beliefs. Although the topic of eating meat versus vegetarianism or veganism is complex (there are exciting opportunities in regenerative local farming, for example, and growing vegetables isn’t necessarily low-carbon, according to how and where it is grown) for Kumar, the raising of food animals “is not ethically or morally justified in the Western world”.

‘I could not any more. I wanted to let them live,” Kumar says of his herd. Image: James Banister

“The way we eat meat is the wrong way,” he says. “We grow cereals for animal feed and import soybeans from Brazil. We can survive on vegetables. Cattlemen might ask what they can do instead, but just look at Riverford [the veg box supplier] for example. It’s all about growing vegetables completely on a commercial scale and earning a good profit. »

Kumar now focuses on selling South Indian food twice a week at Kumar’s Dosa Bar stall in Totnes, Devon, but he is planning a return to farming. He is in the process of buying a small property in Somerset through the Ecological Land Cooperative, which works to provide affordable land for sustainable businesses in England and Wales.

“The plan is to buy the lease, live on the land and grow vegetables to use in my dosas,” he explains. “I want to grow tropical vegetables like eggplant [aubergine]okra and ginger in jars.

Ranchers might ask what they can do instead, but look at Riverford – he grows vegetables and makes good profits

Kumar plans to follow many principles of permaculture and organic gardening, without pursuing organic certification. “The rest of the land will have fruit trees like apples, pears – local Somerset varieties – and crops like potato, onion and barley.”

He also wants to invest in a food truck. “I want to provide subsidized healthy food to people living in low-income neighborhoods,” he enthuses.

Kumar is positive about what he sees as a change in society’s food consumption habits. “More and more people are buying local products, becoming vegans and vegetarians and creating cooperatives,” he says.

Only in hotspots of ecological thinking, like Totnes, you might say? Maybe not for a very long time: This year’s Veganuary – the annual challenge for people to eat only plant-based products in January – attracted 629,000 registrations, including some from almost every country.

Instead of lambs, Kumar tends to do dosas these days. Image: James Banister

It is impossible to make consistent decisions about food when the subject is so complex and modern life is so busy, let alone when households are teetering on the poverty line, but more information can only be good thing, reflects Kumar. .

“People need to understand how food is produced, where it comes from and how animals are raised and slaughtered – then they can decide whether to turn to plants,” he says. But he acknowledges that change will not happen overnight. “It took me a long time to decide to stop selling my animals.”

According to him, farmers need more help from the government to switch from cattle farming to growing crops. That said, for the future, he feels “mostly optimistic” about increased plant-based diets and increased awareness among young people, in particular, “about climate change, agriculture and animal husbandry”.

Main Image: James Banister

This article is the second in our “job exchange” series. Over the past few weeks, Positive News has profiled people who have traded high-carbon careers for environmentally friendly jobs.

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