Refarm’d project is the most brilliant and inspiring ecologic – organic – vegan project running at the moment in the world. It’s what the world needs to go forward. Meet the woman behind the idea:
Please tell us a little bit about yourself first, what is your background and how this idea was born in your mind.
I am a French mom of a 2 year old, living in Spain 🙂 with my husband and our 3 doggies. I initially studied hospitality management and worked in several restaurants, shops and hotels. After becoming vegan, almost 10 years ago, I worked on several vegan projects like creating an online vegan shop in France, a green event planning company or even building a vegan village with other founders in Portugal. I also wanted to build my own sanctuary but I was never really happy about the fact that sanctuaries rely on donations and volunteers to work as it makes it quite risky. I personally know people having sanctuaries and they are always struggling, some had to close down. I wanted to create a new model of sanctuaries that would be self-sustainable.
One day I had the realisation that farms could be the perfect places to become sanctuaries as they already have the land, the structures, the animals and the people that care for them on a daily basis. It also avoids using more resources to save animals since we know that the farming industry uses so much already. And most importantly it has a direct impact on animal exploitation because each farm we are transitioning is one farm less bringing new babies into this world. We can’t continue saving animals if they continue breeding them by the millions. Well then I needed to find a business model to make this plan work and motivate farmers to make the transition, that’s how Refarm’d was born.
Which are the biggest chalenges the project faces so far?
What we are doing has never been done before, on multiple levels, and that comes with a lot of challenges. We really try to stick to our values of handling everything around a transformation so that farmers don’t have to and also providing a product that is high quality, organic, fresh, only with local ingredients and only sold locally. It’s also a small/medium scale production so that is also challenging as it has been very difficult to find apropriate machines. So much that we are now developing our own machines. The recipe has also been a big challenge as we didn’t want to use any added sugar or oil or any additives, but the biggest difficulty was trying to find natural sources of enzymes that are usually used for oat milk production. We didn’t want to use the lab-made enzymes as those require complicated processes and are also not really safe, especially for our farmers to handle in a small production room. And lastly, but not least, is logistics. Logistics and deliveries are really complicated and hard to optimise when you are not a big company. We have therefore developed our own delivery system but it’s still our main struggle as it is very costly. Well and then there is covid, and that just made our year and progress really difficult…
How do you find the farmers who are willing to make the transition, are there many who contact you by themselves? If yes, from which countries and how many stopped exploiting animals by now? Are they all using reusable glass bottles and in all cases it’s organic? Are they only young people or also older ones?
Yes, we don’t try to find farmers ourselves. We believe there is no point in trying to convince someone that likes what he is doing. Instead we prefer to help those who want to be helped. So yes, it’s farmers contacting us directly. Sometimes it’s organisations that work with farmers trying to find a way out that redirect them to us and otherwise it’s farmers themselves that heard about us or looked for help online. There is really a high demand from farmers, we have a long waiting list and got contacted by farmers all around the world. Germany, UK, France, Mexico, US, Pakistan, Switzerland, Spain..
So far we have started 3 farms on oat milk production (2 in Switzerland and one 1 UK). Yes, for all farms we will be making organic, fresh plant-based milk made with local ingredients only and sold in reusable glass bottles. We don’t require farmers to grow the ingredients themselves so that they can start immediately and because some just don’t have the land for. But 2 of our 3 farmers already planted oats and will use their own oats for next year’s oat milk production.We have a mix of “older” farmers and young. But it is true that it is often when the younger generation takes the farm over that they want to make changes.
What machinery is needed in order to make milk from oats in big quantities? Is someone funding for the purchase of the machinary? And how long does it take the transition to take place?
As mentioned, the oat milk production is small/large scale production. We are not transforming the farms in huge factories, it stays handmade in a small production room. We, at Refarm’d, are the one providing all machinery to the farmers for free. Our model is that from the milk sales, we give 85% to the farmers and the rest we keep at Refarm’d and this money is used to buy machinery for the next farm and pay for all operational costs. So basically every farm transitioning is helping us financing another farm transformation. The machines are small/medium scale machinery but as mentioned we have now started to build our own as we were not happy about what currently exists. They have machinery for milling the oats, cooking, filtering/pressing but also washing the bottles and bottling etc. As we are not asking farmers to necessarily plant oats or other local ingredients, the transition can be in a matter of weeks. We do initial market research to find out if there would be interest for plant-milk in the region and start finding businesses that would like to become pickup locations and resell the milk also. Depending on the farmers some may need more time if they need to restore a part of the building for food production for example.
On the website it’s written plant-based milks and not oat milk, are there some who produce soya or almond milk instead for example?
All the farmers we are working with will only use local ingredients. So depending on where the farm is in the world, the ingredients will vary and therefore they will be doing different types of milk. For now, our 3 farms, as they are in Europe only produce oat milk. But the idea is that they will be producing other types of plant-based milk also and in general other plant-based products like cheeses, butters etc.
Will they castrate /sterilize animals in case they have both females and males? In order for the sanctuary not to keep reproducing farm animals…
Yes all males are castrated which makes it possible for them to keep them and have a happy mixed herd 🙂
Have you received any negative feedback from farmers? Like you are destroying their business for instance? Maybe the fact that this way of making milk won’t give them subsidies as the governments give to dairy farmers for example…
As we are not reaching out to farmers directly ourselves, we haven’t gotten such feedback, no. Most farmers are more anxious about being certain that they can gain enough with plant-dased milk and so on. So some farmers wanted to wait to see how other farms work with us and succeed before taking the leap. In regards to subsidies, most farmers can keep them as the subsidies are not related to the animal exploitation but just to the fact of having farm animals and farm land. We are working on this point to help farmers keep subsidies and hopefully in the near future even get more governmental help for farmers transitioning.
Any governmental reaction to your project so far? It would be so good if this was welcomed and boosted by local governments…because what we need is institutional change, not one person or one farm at a time…
We have been in touch with someone working in the European parliament and for the Green party and they very much are pushing towards getting more help towards farmers switching to plant agriculture. It is really not easy though and often the changes brought to the criterias for getting subsidies are not making much sense or having an impact towards sustainability and environmental health.
Thank you for your time and good luck with your amazing project!