Today’s “Making Hay” blog entry is written by a very special guest blogger, Mollie Laffin-Rose. Mollie is currently interning in our NYC Campaigns Department where she is already wowing her new colleagues with her joie de vivre, advocacy prowess and flair for words.
Mollie Laffin-Rose hanging out in Orland with her new friend, Lily.
Advocacy is habit-forming, especially when it’s of the compassionate variety.
Take me, for example. Since I began interning with Farm Sanctuary in June, I seem unable to stop. I spent the summer at the sanctuary’s West Coast location in Orland, California, working within the Education Department. As an intern, my responsibilities included leading tours of the sanctuary and staffing the People Barn, researching and writing about the emotional lives of farm animal species, and representing Farm Sanctuary at public events such as farmers markets. I also spent countless hours with the hundreds of animal residents at the Orland sanctuary, observing first-hand what I had researched about animal sentience as cows, goats and turkeys in my presence expressed themselves unequivocally. Finally, I can’t discuss my internship in Orland without mentioning that I survived three months in an average daily temperature of 103 degrees.
Once the summer began to wind down (though the temperature didn’t), I realized that my motivation to engage in animal advocacy was on the rise. I had just spent three months getting to know hundreds of rescued animals, encouraging visitors to make the change to veganism, and writing what will hopefully be persuasive pieces on the inner lives of farm animals. How could I go home to New York and feel fulfilled by taking a restaurant or office job? Moreover, how could I go home and feel fulfilled by sitting on the couch and moping about the lack of jobs available? So I applied for another internship with Farm Sanctuary, this time within the Campaigns Department in New York City (where September temperatures average in the mid 70s). I think that advocating for farm animals within a city presents a unique challenge: farms and farm animals are seldom at the forefront of urban residents’ minds, but meat, dairy and eggs are ubiquitously available and heavily consumed.
On the other hand, you don’t need to move across the country, expose yourself to temperature extremes, or place yourself at the midst of a bustling metropolis like New York City in order to advocate for animals – or to discover that advocating for animals is fun.
Take Kings Beach, California resident John Merryfield, for example. Merryfield became a member of Farm Sanctuary almost three years ago, after hearing Gene Baur speak at a Thanksgiving event held at Lake Tahoe Community College, hosted by the student group A.W.A.R.E (Advocates for Wellness, Animal Rights, and the Environment). He had always felt very strongly about cruelty toward farm animals and the disconnection between cruel – yet conventional – farming practices. Merryfield remained nominally involved with the sanctuary until this May, when he attended the California Country Hoe Down and became reinvigorated by speakers such as Marc Bekoff, professor and author, and Jasmin Singer, Farm Sanctuary’s National Advocacy Organizer. Merryfield also spoke with vegan entrepreneur, publisher and fellow activist Josh Hooten, who had just completed a 600-mile bike ride from his home in Portland, Oregon to the Hoe Down as part of a self-organized fundraiser for Farm Sanctuary. A recreational athlete himself, Merryfield recognized the potential of pursuing advocacy efforts through one’s personal interests and strengths.
“I thought, ‘How do I connect what I love to do with what I really love – getting the message out about the treatment of farm animals and how we can change it?’” Merryfield recalled. “[Hooten and Singer] just basically were saying simple things like, ‘We’re all different, and we all have our own unique qualities and attributes.’ I like to stand-up paddle. I was never really active, but this to me was a simple connection to make. Just go paddle the lake.” So, Merryfield made a habit out of his animal advocacy by fusing it with a personal hobby and turning this fusion into a fundraiser. (This might be multi-tasking at its best.) The result was the first annual Stand-Up Paddle for Farm Animals.
Thanks to Carol Merryfield for this photo of John getting his advocacy on.
I have to admit, when I first heard that he was “stand-up paddling,” based on the sound of it, I had no idea how it was humanly possible. Stand-up paddling, it turns out, which has recently grown in popularity as a recreational water sport, is a synthesis of kayaking and surfing. Merryfield planned to paddle the perimeter of Lake Tahoe, a 72-mile stretch that he hoped to complete in two days. “I didn’t know how it was going to come together,” he said of the beginning stages of planning. “I just knew that I was going to paddle around the lake, and I knew that I was going to tell [the] community, ‘Hey, this is what I’m doing. Tell people.’”
He turned what would appear to be simply an athletic outing into a fundraiser for farm animals (check out his nifty fundraising page). “I e-mailed everyone on my e-mail list,” Merryfield said. “I’ve never solicited anything from them. I said, ‘Now’s the time. Let’s tell these people what’s going on.’” His gumption worked. While eight people joined Merryfield on the water for portions of what ended up being a three-day paddling trip, upwards of 60 additional individuals stayed dry but donated to the cause, bringing in almost $3,000 for Farm Sanctuary’s vital rescue, advocacy and education efforts.
As if that were not inspiring enough, Merryfield’s outreach even moved two individuals to switch to a vegan diet! “That’s even better [than raising money],” he said. “That’s a huge accomplishment. You talk to people [about veganism], and it’s like telling them to live on the moon. They say, ‘I can’t go from here to there.’ But there’s an eventual shift in awareness. They’re thinking about this stuff.”
Merryfield’s advocacy has developed into such a happy habit that he aspires to make the Stand-Up Paddle for Farm Animals an annual event. “It’s fun,” he said of the fundraiser. “I see the response in people, and I think I can make it work on a yearly basis. I’m not going to go away. I’m going to keep bringing this up to people so that they can truly decide if [factory farm] practices are congruent with their own values. Ultimately, I don’t think that they are.”
In fact, John, like me, is spreading his habit from one coast to the other. In addition to participating in the Truckee, California Walk for Farm Animals near his home, he will also fly east to participate in the New York City Walk.
Opportunities to be active for animals abound, and they can range from a three-month internship to a three-day paddling trip to a two-hour walk. With any form of standing up (or stand-up paddling) for farm animals, we can fuse advocacy with avocations in order to incorporate action for animals into our everyday lives. The result is powerful, fulfilling and not easy to kick!
To set sail with your own creative advocacy, visit our Tools and Resources page: How to Execute a Successful Fundraiser for Animals and sign up for our Advocacy Campaign Team. Oh, and check out Farm Sanctuary’s internship opportunities. (Fear not; there are plenty of opportunities that do not include inclement weather).
Guest blogger Mollie Laffin-Rose was born and raised in Queens, NY, and can't easily imagine herself living anywhere other than New York City. She made the switch to vegetarianism at 10 years old, but didn't start to follow and participate in larger animal advocacy efforts until high school. Mollie received a B.A. in Philosophy from Wesleyan University, where she focused her studies on practical ethics and animal rights. Since graduating, she has researched for a Wesleyan professor whose forthcoming book will be an academic introduction to the philosophy and ethics of animal rights. Mollie is working to grow from an armchair philosopher to a very active animal advocate. She made the switch to veganism within the past two years and very recently completed an internship with the Education Department at Farm Sanctuary-West. Mollie is enthusiastic to continue interning with Farm Sanctuary, in the New York City-based Campaign Department. She hopes to ultimately receive a law degree and practice animal rights law.