When dairy farmer Laurence Candy lost his cow herd to bovine tuberculosis in 2019, he had no idea it had sparked a chain of events that would lead his work to becoming entirely vegan.
Animal farming runs in his family, and he took over the Northwood Farm in Manston, Dorset, from his father. It produced dairy for 60 years; after the cow deaths, Candy planned to turn the farm organic, with a smaller herd. Then, after losing his milk contract a year later in autumn 2020, he turned it into a fully organic beef and dairy producer instead. Soon after the transition, Candy started reading about veganic farming. It was then that he sought the help of the Vegan Organic Network to move his farm away from animals altogether.
“This probably was the definitive moment and my start to becoming a vegan farmer,” he tells Plant Based News.
In October 2022, he became the UK’s first certified Biocyclic Vegan Standard farmer. This means he doesn’t use animals or any animal byproducts in fertilizers or production. The cow sheds are now grain stories, and the milking parlor is being transformed into a milling unit. Candy grows oat, wheat, and fava beans, and has no links to animal agriculture at all.
While the transition of Candy’s farm was partly circumstantial, it came after a lifetime of being unsettled by an industry marred by death.
“I have always had a relationship with ‘death’,” he says. “From a young age growing up on a farm, you become aware and witness when animals become ill and die or have to be put down by the vets or slaughter men. We have a saying in farming: ‘where there’s livestock, there’s deadstock’. I can honestly say that in my whole time, I never became ‘conditioned’ to witness the end of an animal’s life. This is probably a good thing, otherwise I would not question my actions.”
His experience of family tragedy helped him see the farming of animals through a new lense. In 2018, his father became seriously ill and was fighting for his life in intensive care. “I had some beef animals which were ready to go to market but I couldn’t sell them because of my father’s imminent possibility of death,” he says. “This experience puts everything into context.”
The following year, he lost his brother-in-law in a car accident, and his mother died of breast cancer in 2021. “The culmination of all these events, gives you a very deep understanding about life and death. It’s important to understand that we are all human. And this is the ‘why’ of why I have decided to be a vegan farmer – no more deaths and hopefully no more pain.”
Response from the farming community
As part of the transition, Candy gave the 28 cows remaining on his farm to Hillside Animal Sanctuary in Norfolk. He received a great deal of media interest in his decision, and even received a PETA award for allowing his herd to be rescued.
This, he says, sparked backlash from within the farming community.
“There’s been a lot of negative criticism about what I am doing,” he says. “On social media they have mocked me, implied I am mad and you can’t farm without animals. What has shocked me is that they criticised the sanctuary move. None can see the good in what I have done, and even said I was irresponsible.”
Candy adds, however, that he’s had a great deal of support from the vegan community, even receiving letters from “complete strangers” thanking him and offering him help.
The future of farming
Candy hopes that his story will provide inspiration to farmers. He is also calling on the farming and vegan communities to work on their “fractious relationship” and make moves to better understand each other.
“Both sides have created a culture of hatred. Hatred galvanizes the mind, it determines outcomes before reasoning,” he says. “My story represents a successful outcome. I was simply prepared to listen to someone else’s point of view… I hope I have shown the way forward and if the vegan community really wants to see changes, I hope they will themselves get behind this Biocyclic Vegan Standard movement and change the world for the better.”