If you’re like me, you want to be sure that your wine and food is totally vegan right from the start. Or you may just care what’s in your food and wine for health reasons. Especially when it’s something that doesn’t have to be there…

That means you’ll need to look into the fertilizer your vineyards and farms are using. A wine that’s 100% vegan starts at the soil!

Fish emulsion is a common organic fertilizer used by farmers and everyday gardeners. (Yep, even though it’s organic, it’s not necessarily vegan!) Vineyards often spray this type of fertilizer on the trees that grow within the fields and vines on their property. That means animal products are being used in the soil that grows the grapes for your wine. And that means your wine isn’t really 100% vegan after all.

So what is fish emulsion exactly? It’s a liquid fertilizer made from fish parts. Commercial fish emulsions are usually made from the “trash” parts of fish, meaning those parts that aren’t marketable to consumers for eating, like the heads, tails, carcasses, bones, and blood. While some people make their own at home, the store-bought stuff can also contain byproducts and waste from fish oil processing plants and canned fish factories. But some companies catch fish just to use as fertilizer.

Fish Emulsion Fertilizer - Vegan Wines
Photo Credit: Flickr, _paVan_

Why do people use fish emulsion? Because it’s organic and it contains the macronutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium that plants need. It’s typically used for “foliar” feeding – which means it’s sprayed directly on the leaves – but it can also be added directly to the soil at the base of the plants. Because it’s organic, it doesn’t create chemical runoff or easily contaminate nearby water supplies like synthetic alternatives. And by using it, vineyard owners and farmers get to keep their “organic” certification.

But fish emulsion is still created from the remains of animals. And while many vegans shop at local farmers markets to make ethical decisions about their food, many of those same small and local organic farmers use animal-based fertilizers for their crops. Some might make those fertilizers themselves at home, but most are buying those made by the commercial fishing industry or companies that buy up leftover parts of factory-farmed animals.

All you have to do is trace your food back to its roots – literally!

So what are the alternatives if you’re vegan or merely concerned with the treatment of animals? There are several vegan, plant-based fertilizers out there. One easy option for your own garden is to compost all of your food scraps – then you know for sure what’s in your soil!

There are also plant-based fertilizers derived from things like corn meal, alfalfa meal, soybeans, and even kelp or seaweed which are super rich in nutrients. A couple of brands are already making vegan fertilizers for sale, like Down to Earth and Soil Mender’s. It’s not the norm yet, but some farms do focus on vegan growing.

Just remember to think about what goes into the ground where your crops and foods grow. Farms often use a whole range of animal-based fertilizers, whether it’s the blood, bones, and manure from cattle slaughterhouses, chicken feather meal, or the remains of fish.

Ask your local farmer how he fertilizes his fields, research the way farms in your area work, and always educate yourself on the process of how foods – and wines! – actually get to your plate  – or glass!

It’s a bit of an ethical dilemma! What are your opinions on animal products being used in fertilizer? Do you ever look into this? How do you go right to the source to learn about how your food and grapes were grown?

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