by Michelle Waffner
One of the unique things about Farm Sanctuary is the educational experience we offer people as they meet our rescued farm animals. Each of these animals is an ambassador for the others of his or her species who have not made it to sanctuary, and every one has a name and a personal story. People are justifiably moved when they hear about what some of our farm animals have endured before being rescued, and they are often changed by the opportunity to meet an animal face to face.
Each day during our tour season (starting May 1 in New York and May 8 in California), people come and get to know the animals and they learn about factory farming and its impact on the animals, the environment and human health.
But even when we're not open for general tours, there's lots of activity, and this past weekend was no exception. We had two different and very special groups, and who they are and what they did while they were with us speaks volumes to Farm Sanctuary’s work.
On Saturday, we had our monthly volunteer work party, and a group of students from the Penn State Vegetarian Club traveled up for their bi-annual excursion to help us get the visitor center ready for tour season and to work on the sanctuary grounds. The club makes the trek every semester, and this is the fifth time Rusty, the club’s president and co-founder, has made the trip.
The other co-founder is a former Farm Sanctuary intern, and for the last several years, some of the students have participated in the annual Walk for Farm Animals in State College. This past winter, the club hosted Gene Baur for a talk and book signing. (One of the students I talked with was still excited when she shared that Gene signed her book for her!) After Penn State asked Gene to speak, he received several other local invitations. So, the Penn State Vegetarian Club effectively helped us reach many people in the region.
The students braved a cold night of rustic camping in a nearby state forest to help us, and they were indeed a bunch of stalwart - and pragmatic - souls. When asked why they decided to come, most answered that they really enjoyed the hard work and the ability to immediately see the impact of their labor. We can't thank them enough, and we look forward to their visit in the fall.
It was serendipitous that the Penn State students and other wonderful volunteers joined us on Saturday, because the next day we hosted another special group, and when they arrived the place was spiffed up and ready for them.
More than 40 people who attended an academic conference on animal studies at SUNY Cortland over the weekend traveled to Farm Sanctuary to put a face on some of the issues they work on. Many were college professors, others were students, still others were interested and active in animal issues and working for change.
Many had lectured or written about downed animals, but had never before met a cow who had been left for dead at a stockyard restively chewing her cud or a rescued layer hen taking a dust bath in the sunshine on a warm spring day. They had never seen the physical scars inflicted by factory farming, evident on debeaked hens and detoed turkeys. And, they certainly had not had the opportunity to offer up belly rubs to the delighted squeals of our resident pigs. These visitors went back to their lives with the first-hand knowledge that Farm Sanctuary is actively and energetically working toward compassion and change for farm animals, and that we offer lifelong safety to those we rescue.
They also experienced the transformative nature that a visit here can often have for people - a wonderful complement to the intellectual intensity of an academic conference.
"It was the perfect ending to the weekend," one of our guests said. "I'd never had the opportunity to meet farm animals even though I work on animal issues, so this was a truly healing experience for me as a human being. Knowing that this is here, it gives me hope."
Top photo: Penn State Vegetarian Club volunteers