by Special Guest Blogger, Beth Begany
They came. They saw. They mucked.
This was not your prototypical spring break, but these were no ordinary students who came to pitch in at our New York Shelter this month. Instead of bathing suits and flip flops, groups from Xavier University in Cincinnati and Florida International University (FIU) in Miami donned rubber boots, work gloves and dust masks as they pitched in to care for rescued farm animals on their "alternative spring break."
(Alternative breaks provide civic-minded students with an opportunity to volunteer and do community service. Both the Xavier and FIU students chose “animal rights” as the issue they wanted to work on, but neither group knew beforehand that Farm Sanctuary would be their destination.)
The Xavier students arrived on the heels of the season's worst snowstorm, and they spent a lot of time and energy helping clear snow and spreading straw so the animals would be safe and comfortable.
FIU students lavish Kirsty with attention.
Just a week later, the FIU students were thrilled with the last bits of melting snow and a squall that gave some of them their first glimpse of the “white stuff.” Their major shelter project was removing some old fencing and clearing debris from a demolished building. New York Farm Manager Mario Ramirez thought that project might take a week, but the FIU group finished in just two days.
"Having this kind of dedicated volunteer help means Farm Sanctuary staff can focus on other projects, which effectively means we can do more with less," says National Shelter Director Susie Coston. "Plus, students bring a level of enthusiasm that's infectious. It's great having them around and watching as they make personal connections with our farm animal residents."
And, that's an important part of the spring break experience.
While a few of the students knew about factory farming and farm animal welfare, most equated animal protection with companion animal issues when they first arrived. But a few days getting to know and caring for rescued farm animals changed that.
"This is a real teachable moment," explains Education Director Michelle Waffner. "When these students have the opportunity to learn about and work with farm animals, very often their eyes are opened and their opinions about farm animals change radically."
Which, after all, is what Farm Sanctuary is about: changing hearts and minds about animals and food.
So, we're gratified to be able to get to know the college students who choose to spend their spring breaks working and learning, and we applaud their open-mindedness and boundless energy. We can't help but be inspired by their stories of transformation as they build bridges of understanding with animals they previously thought of only as food – if they thought of them at all.
As one student put it: "I always viewed farm animals as just part of a farm. No more unique or special than a tractor or crops. But after my week at Farm Sanctuary, I know that cows, sheep, pigs, goats, chickens, and turkeys have feelings and emotions and deserve our respect."
Want to volunteer at Farm Sanctuary? Information about our opportunities can be found here.
Top photo: Xavier students pause for a photo.